Cooking with stainless steel and cast iron cookware

I cook, a lot.  I have a set of stainless steel saucepans that I use nearly every day.  I also have a griddle pan that fits over two burners on my stove top that I use weekly.  But the one thing I use every single day is a frying pan.  I make eggs most mornings.  I often make grilled cheese sandwiches or quesadillas for lunch (especially when one of the boys is with me).   I steam asparagus, wilt greens, fry potatoes or cook up burgers (among other things) for dinner.  The lowly frying pan is my kitchen workhorse.

I have a love/hate relationship with my frying pans, though.  You see, I love the ease of nonstick pans, who doesn’t?  But I DO NOT love the chemicals in nonstick pans.  I realize that for every article written about the health hazards of nonstick pans such as Teflon, there is an equal number claiming they are safe.  At least they are safe up to a certain temperature.  Everyone agrees (even the manufacturer of Teflon) that after 500 degrees the Teflon releases a gas that can cause headaches and flu-like symptoms.  It seems pet birds are particularly susceptible to these gases.  Also, it is very easy to scratch the surface of a nonstick pan and expose the aluminum underneath.  I know, I know, some scientists will claim that allegations of aluminum and a link to Alzheimer’s are greatly exaggerated and will point out that aluminum cookware exposes the user to less aluminum than a couple of Tums or aspirin, but do I really want to risk it?  Isn’t it better to err on the side of caution if given the choice?

I admit it, I’ve fallen victim to those infomercials spouting the latest and greatest “green” cookware.  I currently have two green pans and a white one that will soon be headed to the trash.  Why?  Because after a couple of weeks the nonstick coating wears off (in my food perhaps?) and the pans DO NOT WORK as advertised.  I really should have known better.

green cookware

Besides the three expensive “green” pans above, I have three stainless steel frying pans and two cast iron pans (one belonged to my grandmother and is over 100 years old!) as well.  What?  You think eight frying pans is a bit of overkill?  I couldn’t agree more.

cast iron cookware

I saw an interesting article about seasoning stainless steel pans to be nonstick.  I tried it and it worked, for a while.  As with anything, it wears off eventually and needs to be re-seasoned.  Check it out for yourself here.

I’ve also ready many articles and tried many techniques to season my cast iron.  Same thing.  Nothing I can do will make my cast iron work exactly like a nonstick pan.  I followed this tutorial and my pans have a nice patina, but I cannot use them for multiple batches of, say scrambled eggs, without having to do a quick wash in between.

I’ve come to the conclusion that trying to make my frying pans nonstick is kind of silly.  I am NOT fat phobic.  I never, ever cook with little or no fat because I’m trying to stick to a fat-free or low-fat diet.  Never, ever.  I believe that fat is GOOD for you.  I believe God created tallow and lard and coconut oil and palm kernel oil, and butter and all of those lovely fats that many people regard with fear and loathing as a good thing.  I cook with any or all of those fats on a daily basis.  I eat eggs AND the yolks every single day.  How’s my cholesterol?  Perfect, thanks for asking.  My HDL/LDL ratios are perfect.  My triglycerides are perfect (below 50).  Flies in the face of conventional medical wisdom, doesn’t it?  I’m convinced it is because I use fat that God made, not fat created in a factory or lab.  You’ll never see margarine in my house.  I never use seed oils (canola, vegetable, corn, soybean, to name a few) either.  I use heat tolerant oils for cooking at higher temperatures (coconut oil and avocado oil are current favorites) and non-heat tolerant (olive, walnut, macadamia) for salad dressing.  Check out this article on oils from Mark’s Daily Apple, especially if you are skeptical about cooking with fats/oils.

After much trial and error I’ve found the best way to cook with either stainless steel or cast iron.

  1. Preheat the pan before adding any fat. The heat will cause the surface pores to open up, which will allow the fat to penetrate the surface and act as a barrier so food doesn’t stick easily.
  2. Use plenty of fat. I cook with coconut oil or avocado oil mostly. However, when I make scrambled eggs I will add butter and swirl it around to coat the pan.
  3. If any food is stuck on the bottom or sides of the pan, use a paper towel to remove any residue before using the pan again.

Cleanup is easy.  I use soap and water on my stainless steel pans, but NOT scratchy scrubbing pads.  I don’t want to cause scratches on the inside of the pan.  They are made with steel and nickel and I don’t want to unknowingly ingest metal.  If I’ve got the time I’ll quickly give the pans a wipe with coconut oil or flax seed oil and reheat them and allow them to cool in order to do a quick re-seasoning.

For cast iron I try to just wipe them out with a paper towel or sponge.  I might rinse them under very warm or hot water if they are particularly greasy and use a stainless steel or copper scrubbing pad (non-soapy) to remove stuck on bits.  I’ll give them a quick re-oiling and but them on the heat until the oil just begins to smoke.  Then I allow them to cool and they’re good to go again.

If something is really stuck to the bottom of any pan the best and easiest way to remove even the worst residue is to add water to the pan, pour in a little vinegar (homemade ACV anyone?) and turn on the heat to bring to a low boil.  Allow the water/vinegar to boil for a couple of minutes.  Turn off the heat, allow to cool, and then wash as usual.  You’ll be surprised at how easy it is to get your pans clean.

I hope you’ve found this helpful.  Once I got past the idea that every bit of my food must slide magically from my frying pans I was able to embrace a slightly different cooking and cleaning method.  It doesn’t take much more time to do it my way.  I think the overall health benefits are worth the extra bit of effort.  Do you?





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