The classic cast-iron skillet has been a staple tool in home cooking for ages and can even be a beneficial way to get a small daily dose of iron in the diet. However, as with most everything, there is an appropriate time and a place for using it. Cast iron, when heated at high temperatures, leaches out iron which then is readily available for our digestive systems to absorb in the meals we cook.
That being said, be wary of how much iron you naturally obtain from your diet. There are many foods already rich in the mineral and adding more through cast-iron cooking can give your system an iron-overload. Excessive iron in the body becomes a "pro-oxidant" meaning it increases the free radical formation in the bloodstream which is exactly the opposite and possibly harmful effect of the beneficial anti-oxidants we should be seeking out.
You may not realize that a multitude of foods already contain adequate levels of iron: red meat, dark leafy greens, molasses, beans, lentils, dried fruits (peaches and apricots), pumpkin and sunflower seeds, nuts (walnuts, pistachios, almonds). If any of these are a big staple in your diet, odds are you are getting enough daily intake of iron. Cooking with cast-iron is most ideal for vegetarians/vegans, those with anemia, women (especially pre-menopausal) and kids.
Proper seasoning is essential for getting the most out of your cast-iron. While word on the street is that it's a high-maintenance piece of equipment, it is really very easy to care for. "Seasoning" is really just a fancy term for oiling a pan. Start by coating the skillet with vegetable oil and then let it sit in a warm oven for about an hour. Do this a few times with brand new cast-iron and then seasonally afterwards. When cleaning, do not use soap or scouring pads with cleanser. After each use, simply rinse with warm water, heat it on the stove to dry and apply a thin coat of oil to protect the seasoning. Over time, it will uphold a nice, natural, non-stick surface.
- Kyndl Mueller, L.Ac.
Photo credit: Simone Ritter Art