Are Cast Iron Skillets Safe?

Is your cast iron cookware safe to use? Or should you go for stainless steel? In this article, you’ll find out all you need to know about the health benefits of cast iron. You’ll also get to know about the dangers of cooking with bare or non-enameled cast iron. Cast iron is relatively easy to analyze, as far as health effects go. Not much like the more complex pans, which have multiple layers or man-made coatings. So let’s start by exploring a little bit of cast iron.

History of cast-Iron

For over thousand of years, cast iron has been used as a reliable cooking surface. However, it might be a surprise to some of you that it wasn’t the Europeans who discovered metal casting. In fact, those were Chinese who made huge progress in casting techniques.

Europeans in the Iron Age developed different technology just as sheet metal. Here comes the difference between advancing procedures of both nations. Early Europeans hammered pots and pans into shape while the Chinese poured iron into molds. This led to different materials and procedures used for making cookware between the two continents.

Composition of cast-iron

You can’t extract pure iron from the ground. Pure iron is rare, difficult to use and mainly comes from fallen meteorites. It’s much softer to be molded into cookwares. That’s why it can’t directly be used for making pans without adding in some carbon for hardening. But still, around 97-98% of a cast iron pan is plain old’ iron, which is why we’re so interested in its health effects. This article also applies to carbon steel cookware, which is made up of 99% iron.

Iron is very soft and therefore doesn’t make for very sturdy pans. To tackle this problem, an adequate quantity of carbon is added to the pans which makes it hard enough to be molded into cookwares. However, even with added carbon, cast iron pans are around 97-98% pure iron.

Major benefits of cast Iron Skillets

Cooking with cast iron cookware has pros and cons. They easily get rusted and the other problem is with their heavyweight as compared to other skillets. But the benefit is that they last forever (if properly treated) and also retain heat longer, making them an ideal pan to keep food warm.  This can be considered as a reason for their popularity in different continents. But a quick Internet search on how to correctly cook and clean these pans turns uploads of contradictory information.

If cast iron has been used for so many centuries without any noticeable harm, why do people question it at all? Here are two reasons for this.

First of all, Cast iron is actually not the best material for many types of cooking, so you will not need to have a cast-iron pan every time you cook. Second thing is, people often cook with their pan on a near-daily basis. Over the years, that adds up to a lot of exposure to whatever the pan gives off.

Cast iron has many benefits and  is great for a lot of reasons. It is much cheaper than any other cookware, it lasts longer than any other and has a longer age. It remains hotter for a long while than all other materials which are used for this purpose.  All that heavy iron also means that these pans retain heat really well, so they excel in tasks like searing a thick and juicy steak. Some other, thinner pans wouldn’t do as well, since a cold steak would drop down the pan’s temperature upon contact.

When we talk about the disadvantages of using cast iron, one must talk about its weight as these pans are extremely heavy and need a lot of care. Carbon steel pans are much smoother and slightly more non-stick than cast iron and also they have 25% less weight. Cast iron skillets are not a very good conductor of heat so there are chances of developing hot and cold spots during cooking. There are chances of leaching iron and adding a weird taste to cooked food. Seasoned pans are friendly to use in terms of non-stickiness and also avoiding the metal taste in cooked food.

These drawbacks of cast iron pans can be handled by using different types of pans to cook different varieties of food. Even low rated Teflon pans are a good idea to make eggs. It does not leach anything under normal heat conditions, and even ingesting tiny amounts of Teflon should not really harm you as it is inert.  But toxic fumes producing while heating the Teflon pan at high heat should be avoided to ingest. 

But be aware

As nothing is a hundred percent perfect for any purpose, here comes the major con of cast iron. Iron has a great probability of being leached and mixed up with the food.  As we have discussed above, this is an advantage for some but a potential safety concern for others, in particular, those with:

  • Hemochromatosis
  • Adult men
  • Regular red meat eaters
  • Postmenopausal women

If you like the lasting heating effect of cast iron and you don’t care about any other thing, then there is a possible solution for the leaching problem. You should better avoid cooking acidic meals in any kind of utensils, because that acidity can scratch the metal off the surface and then resulting in possible mixing up with the meal.

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