Non Toxic Food Preparation, part two

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After using my stainless steel frying pan for some time, I found myself wanting more. I was glad to get rid of my regular non-stick pans, but I wasn’t entirely thrilled with the stainless either. Finally, I found that non toxic cooking in cast iron pans was my jam.

I liked it, of course, as I didn’t have to worry about what I was breathing in. Or what was getting into my food. But even with the little tricks I’d been told, sometimes the food stuck.

And it was driving me batty.

So I decided to take a look at the small cast iron pan that I’d pretty much decided to never, ever use. It was gifted to me by Todd’s grandmother, and boy did I hate it. I tried frying eggs in it and they stuck so bad that breakfast was a complete waste.

But all of a sudden, people in the “green” and “real food” worlds kept raving about how awesome their cast iron pans were, so I kept reading about them, still hesitant to dig it out from the basement storage.

non toxic cooking in cast iron

photo credit: crystalflickr

And what I learned was that I used it all wrong.

I basically did the three things you should never do to a cast iron pan.

  1. Cook with margarine/vegetable oil.
  2. Let it soak in the sink.
  3. Wash it with soap and let it air dry.

How to season cast iron pans

Soon after my husband and I were married, his grandmother gave me one of her old cast iron pans.

I hated it.

Seriously. I tried to fry eggs in it and they stuck horribly.  So I ended up taking a steel wool pad to it to get it clean each time.

*Sigh* Those of you who know and love your cast iron are just sitting there shaking your heads, I know. Because for those of you who do not know, you never scrub a cast iron pan! And if you do, you need to re-season it.

Once I finally figured this out a couple of years ago I resurrected the pan and came to love it. So much so that I’ve been on the lookout for them at garage sales all summer long trying to build up my stash. I ended up having to wait until our rummage sale at church and found a set of 3 unseasoned pans for just a couple of dollars.

Score!

Now the advice here on the web on how to season a cast iron pan is quite diverse. Some cook on a low heat for a long time, some do an extremely high heat for shorter periods. I can’t say that a low temp is wrong, but I’ve only done the high heat variation so take this as you may, but it has worked out well for me.

Steps to season your cast iron:

  1. Clean your oven. If it’s dirty, don’t skip this step or you will be dealing with mad amounts of smoke in your house. Please don’t ask how I know this…(ha!)
  2. If you have a very sensitive smoke alarm near your kitchen, put a chair underneath it to make it easier to turn off or disable it for a couple of hours. (please remember to put it back up when you’re finished!)
  3. Whether you are re-seasoning or doing an initial season, wash and scrub the pan. You don’t have to go to crazy, but for a re-season you’ll want to scrub off any rusty spots, pits in the seasoning, and any burnt on gunk off. For a new season, the reason you scrub is that now a days pan manufacturers are putting a food grade wax on the pan which makes it hard for the oils to carbonize onto the metal. Just a quick scrub will do it!

    My new 'unseasoned' pan and my small pan that needed to be re seasoned.

    My new ‘unseasoned’ pan and my small pan that needed to be re seasoned.

  4. Slather the pan inside and out in some sort of fat. Unsalted butter, coconut oil (what I use since it turns liquid from the heat of my hands and makes application easier), olive oil, or beef lard all work wonderfully. And from what I’ve heard on a few different sites is that veggie oils take longer to carbonize (plus they are over processed anyways) so use a natural fat. You want the entire pan covered in a thin layer with no pooling.
  5. Place the pan face down on your top oven rack with an aluminum foil lined baking sheet underneath it on the lowest rack.

    Cast Iron

    Yes, I know I didn’t use foil. I didn’t own any at the time. And yes, my baking sheet now has carbonized oil on it as well.

  6. Turn up your oven to 500 degrees.
  7. Open windows, turn on the vent fan above your oven, and have fans ready to go if need be. These pans will smoke!
  8. Cook your pan for a few hours or until there is no smoke coming off of it when you check on it.
  9. Let cool.
  10. Repeat cooking your pan until you have a nice black carbon layer on it. This took 4 times for my unseasoned pan, and only once for a my re-seasoned one. (also, use butter/oil liberally the first few times you use it after seasoning) How my unseasoned pan looked after 2 cooking times

    Seasoning it this way is supposed to make it last basically forever, as long as you use and wash the pans correctly. I can’t comment on that to much since I’ve only had my new ones a few months, but the pans I recently seasoned have been cooking and frying food wonderfully!

    Non toxic cooking in cast iron pans

    Many people don’t care to use cast iron pans because everything tends to sticks.

    But did you know if you properly season, use, and care for your cast iron that won’t happen? Here are a few tips I’ve learned along the way for using your cast iron pans and hopefully it’ll help you get the most out of them. Because when used properly they should be fairly non-stick.

    1. Make sure the pan is correctly seasoned. If food begins to stick, you can easily re-season it! (always season a new pan. Even if it states it’s pre-seasoned – you may be unhappy with it if you don’t depending on the brand.)
    2. Preheat the pan every time you use it. Place it over whatever flame you’ll be using (or in an oven with whatever temp you’ll be baking at) until it’s hot. To test you can place a few drops of water in the pan and if they sizzle and jump around, it’s hot enough!
    3. Always have pot holders around! It takes awhile to remember that the handles get hot when you’re used to using modern pans and skillets.
    4. Use a bit of oil or grease each time you use it. Natural oils like butter, lard, and coconut oil are great choices and always using a fat to grease the pan will prevent sticking.
    5. Use a hard-edged stainless steel spatula. It won’t damage the pan or the seasoned finish and will help keep food from sticking.
    6. Don’t use sharp knives to cut anything in the pan. It usually ends up leaving marks in the seasoning and those marks may tend to rust, causing you to re-season it.
    7. Once cooled, clean right away. (or use a pot holder to grab the handle while you wash it.) Don’t let it sit overnight with leftover, gunked on food in it.
    8. On the same note, don’t let it sit and soak for long periods of time in the sink. Moisture is not your friend when it comes to cast iron as it will cause it to rust.
    9. When washing stuck on/dried on food use only hot water and either a dishcloth, plastic dish brush. Dry it immediately on the stove. All you need to do is pop it on a hot stove for a minute to make sure all the water is out. Heat is a must when drying them! Otherwise you’ll get rust.
    10. If you do have stuck on food in the pan, try boiling water in the pan to remove the gunk before you move on to scrubbing. If something is really stuck on I usually grab a stainless steel spatula and use that for “scraping” it off.
    11. Never put it in a dishwasher!!
    12. Spread a very thin layer of oil inside the pan after each washing. I try to remember to do this, and the reasoning behind it is the fact that it will prevent moisture in the air from damaging your pans. I use mine often enough (many times multiple times each day) were this isn’t an issue, but if you live in an area with high humidity, or let it sit for days between uses, this gets to be more important.
    13. Use them often. The more you use it, the better the pan will become!

    I currently use my cast iron pans everyday, sometimes for each meal, and they stay on top of my stove top for easy access. I fry potatoes in them and cook meat and eggs. They also go right into my oven from the stove top for fritattas and are great ways to cook veggies. I also bake cakes in them sometimes as well as cornbread.

    My team of cast iron currently includes:

    • Two 6 inch pans, one gifted and well used (I had to re-season after I ‘wrecked’ it) and one thrifted for $1.00 and seasoned by me.
    • An 8 inch pan, thrifted for $1.00 and seasoned by me
    • A 10 inch pan, thrifted for $2.00 and seasoned by me
    • A 12 inch, preseasoned Lodge pan with stainless steel handles. A true workhorse! I got this one for Christmas last year and I don’t know how I lived without it. The handles don’t get hot when cooking on the stove-top, so you can move and carry it without grabbing a hot pad first. And if we ever have an intruder, it’s heavy enough to take care of them too.  (it’s also available in a 10 inch size)

    My cast iron pans are a staple in my kitchen now and the majority of the food I make gets cooked, fried, or baked in them! I even got rid of my  stainless steel pan because I never used it!

    Donielle Baker

    Donielle Baker

    owner and editor of Natural Fertility and Wellness at Natural Fertility and Wellness
    I believe women can learn how to heal their bodies & balance their hormones through natural methods. An advocate for natural health, I have a passion for nourishing/real food nutrition and natural living. My personal background includes both infertility and miscarriage and I started Natural Fertility and Wellness in 2008 in order to share all of the information I found helpful in my journey to heal from PCOS and overcome infertility.
    Donielle Baker
    Donielle Baker
    Donielle Baker
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    4 Comments

    1. Aly Kat

      I am just now beginning to fall in love with and acquire more cast iron. I started because my baby girl had low iron levels and the doctor wanted to give her iron drops that smelled disgusting, baby girl wouldn’t let near her, and were loaded with artificials & who knows what else. So I would cook all of her food in a small cast iron pot or small skillet – both from Lodge. The pans just added a bit more iron to her diet & she is doing great now.
      My hubby also brought home a large Lodge griddle/grill that fits over 2 of our burners – someone was just getting rid of it. It looked “rusty” but we cleaned it up & re-seasoned it & it is beautiful now!
      We were blessed to receive Lifetime stainless steel cookware for our wedding and do tend to use it the most. One of my hubby’s rules when we got married was “No non-stick cook ware! It’s BAD!” lol Good man!
      What are your thoughts on the porcelain (??) coated cast iron?
      Never thought of using them for baking cakes. I never thought of looking at the thrift store for cast iron, either, but it makes total since, with the way most Americans cook now a days, that many would be getting rid of grandma’s cast iron. Thanks for that tip, too!

    2. Natalie

      I want cast iron pans, but I’m afraid to use them with a glass, electric stove top. What kind of stove do you use? I love that you thrifted your pans!!

      • donielle

        @Natalie, I do have a gas stove – which makes it easier to use these heavy pans! I do know people that use them on an electric stove, but they have to be really careful not to move them around much. And I’d suggest getting one with handles that don’t get hot as it’ll make it easier to pick it up.

    3. Allena

      Yep! Set of three cast-iron pans was one of our best wedding presents 8 years ago. We recently added a 12-inch skillet as our family grew . . . now I just need a bigger burner for it! Love my stainless steel sauce pans too, and am looking forward to reading with what you have replaced your non-stick ovenware for cookies, cakes, and biscuits.