Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Why I prefer Cast-Iron Pans for Baking

That picture is of a very simple to make grilled (pan-fried) Asian-Style Sesame Asparagus that uses some Gluten-Free Tamari for a nice little twist on the basic grilled asparagus. I placed the recipe (not that it is difficult enough to create to warrant having a "recipe") on my gluten-free recipes page.

This recipe, like many others, works really well for me when prepared using cast-iron pans. In this case, I used a flat cast-iron griddle to sear/grill my asparagus. Though the final product looks good and tastes great, some recipes like this can take more time to clean up after than they do to create, which is one of the main reasons I love cast-iron pans: I have yet to find anything I can not clean off of them with relative ease.

So, why else do I love cast-iron for cooking with? Here are a few of my reasons:
  • Cleaning - as mentioned above, a well-seasoned cast-iron pan is darn near impossible to "ruin" with something that will not come off. You can scrub them with steel-wool if needed. You could (if really desperate) probably take a grinding wheel to them. heh. They are amazing!
  • It's not Teflon: there have been a few studies that suggest the non-stick coatings used on various pans are not good for you (to say the least), and that those coatings are getting into our food and water supply. And, one of the worst things you can do to teflon (it is a plastic) is to overheat it and cause fumes to be released as it burns. And, nearly everyone that has used a non-stick pan has at some time or another accidentally done this.
  • OK, cast-iron is not a "non-stick" surface, but how long do your non-stick surface pans last? I have had "good ones" and cheap ones, and regardless of the brand or coating, as soon as any wear or scratches mar the surface, your non-stick pan has just been condemned to a downhill slide towards uselessness as it loses that magical non-stick ability. I just got sick of pitching pans - what a waste! A well-seasoned cast-iron pan is darn near as non-stick as teflon, especially at cleanup time.
  • IRON: Yes, something us gluten-free people are susceptible to is a dietary shortfall (and bodily uptake) of Iron. Cooking in cast iron introduces extra iron into your diet somewhat naturally. The iron in the pan oxidizes a bit as water gets on it and dries (i.e., it rusts), and there is a little transference of Iron into your diet. With small children, you want to make sure not to overexpose them to iron (be it through dietary supplements or any other means), but for adults any added iron should be just fine.
  • These pans are indestructible. They are built like a tank.
  • The only downside: they are heavy. Some of our largest fry-pans are really difficult to pick up with just one hand, especially if full of food. And, you don't want to accidentally drop one on your foot.
  • You can get some absolutely awesome cooking results with things like cast-iron dutch-ovens that would be nearly impossible with regular cookware. Because they are so heavy, you get wonderfully controlled heat conduction.
  • Versatility - We use our pans both for stovetop and in-oven applications (sometimes both for one recipe). We love our cast-iron dutch-oven for exactly this reason - our homemade baked-beans and pulled-chicken recipes are prepared on stovetop and oven. As long as there are no plastic handles and such to worry about, the whole thing just goes right into the oven safely.
I really like the Lodge Brand Cast Iron products, especially the pre-seasoned ones. Even the non-pre-seasoned pans are fine if you do not mind taking time to season them yourself by coating lightly with oil and placing in an oven for a few hours (it may save you a few bucks). I have noticed that even WalMart carries a fair number of their products lately, as well as Old Time Pottery, and quite a few other places. Highly recommended product - and, made right here in the good old USA.

Whew, another long posting. I like writing and getting ideas out of my head, since it seems to clear the way for new (and perpaps even better) ideas in the future - and this gluten free blog is one of my idea outlets. But, my sister recently accused me of being a bit loquacious with my blog entries, so perhaps I'll start writing shorter passages. Or, maybe not. :)

10 comments:

Lynn Barry said...

"...one of the main reasons I love cast-iron pans: I have yet to find anything I can not clean off of them with relative ease."

I must be using the wrong cast iron pans, I always had a problem cleaning then so I get the non-stick pans (mybad). I might take another crack at it since my new cooking pal Mike is so high on them.
The asparagus makes me drool it looks so delicious.

Tell sis that you gots to write what you gots to write and it ain't gunna be short...hehehehe

Lynn

Anonymous said...

I appreciate the tribute to the cast iron pan. I love mine. Esp my cast iron grill pan from Lodge, which I use instead of a real grill.

Ellen said...

Continue to be loquacious, please! I enjoy your long posts!

Ellen

Anonymous said...

Generally, just as you do when baking in glass, you want to lower the oven temperature by 25 degrees when baking recipes in the oven.

Doyle Bailey said...

Long posts are OK when they are good-this is good stuff. I have found that our cast iron cookware cleans up very easily and that food never sticks in a way that is a problem.

Neil said...

does anyone know if it has a detrimental effect on the seasoning on a cast iron pan to bake in it?

greenturtle said...

"does anyone know if it has a detrimental effect on the seasoning on a cast iron pan to bake in it?"

Absolutely not. There's nothing better to bake in than cast iron, and no, it does not affect the seasoning of the pan.

Feel free to check out my cast iron blog, if you're interested:

http://ramblingsoncastiron.blogspot.com

Coreen said...

Even it's a long post but it's very informative and interesting.

Umm...the dish looked tasty.

One surprising fact which I came to knew from this blog is that Cast Iron adds extra iron in our diet.

I make use of utensils which are made of wrought iron components. Is it right to use them? I guess they don’t add any extra chemicals in our diet. Iron is definitely good for our health as it’s a nutrient. But what about steel in your chilly chicken dish? Yak man! My question is whether steel utensils are safe to use or not

Anonymous said...

I'd always heard you couldn't get cast iron clean enough to use with gluten and then cook gf - are yours dedicated gf or do you not find cross contamination to be a problem?
~Ali

Mike Eberhart said...

Ali,
I have never heard anything about not being able to get cast iron "clean enough" after using gluten. Our cast iron pans are not dedicated-GF in our household, and I have not had a problem. As with any baking implements, I was them thoroughly after exposure to gluten.

If anything, I have found the cast iron to be easier to get completely clean. E.g., regarding a recent posting here I did about cooking eggs in the oven in that segmented "cornbread" cast-iron pan,... well, the previous "no stick" muffin-pan I was using had all sorts of crevices where each muffin-cup joined with the surrounding pan, and it was nearly impossible to clean. The cast-iron cleans SO much easier. A well-seasoned cast-iron pan is nearly impervious to any major sticking -- and, you can essentially take a chisel to it if you ever accidentally burn something really bad (try THAT with a "non-stick).

So, I would not be worried about cast-iron (vs. non-stick) for removal of any gluten. It can be cleaned completely from my experience. I am down to "non-stick" for just a few things like spring-form pans and cake pans now (haven't found a cast-iron replacement. heh).