Cast Iron Research

Cast Iron Basics

“Cast Iron”
This article on Wikipedia.org provides an overview of cast-iron cookware.

“Numbers & Letters”
The CastIronCollector.com provides a lot of resources on the collection, use, and restoration of cast iron. If you have an old pan with mysterious numbers on the bottom, check out this article for help deciphering them.

Cast Iron Info
TheKitchenProfessor.com has tons of great info on cast iron, its history, how to restore it, and more.

Wagner & Griswold Society
Even if you don’t have an old Wagner or Griswold pan, you’ll still find lots of helpful and interesting info on the website for the Wagner & Griswold Society.

Southern Cast Iron
This magazine, now available in print and digital editions, is chock-full of recipes, featured chefs, helpful info, and other resources.

Cook it in Cast Iron: Kitchen-Tested Recipes for the One Pan That Does it All
The Test Kitchen from Cook’s Country is at it again, this time putting cast iron through the paces. They tested this cookware in various ways and found it to be the “workhorse” of the kitchen—I couldn’t agree more. Although the introduction is rather short, it’s full of great information that may dispel some misconceptions about cast iron. They also provide a list of the best cast-iron manufacturers according to their own tests. As for the recipes that fill the rest of the book…they’re okay. I don’t think the chefs quite captured the Southern flavors we all know and love (and which require cast iron), and most of the recipes are complex or have unusual ingredients. I’m sure these recipes turn out great, but the homecook (like myself) may want something easier to incorporate into those busy weekdays.

The Lodge Book of Dutch Oven Cooking
This book, written by J. Wayne Fears, provides an in-depth look at Dutch ovens, including the history, manufacturing process, benefits, various ways of cooking with Dutch ovens outdoors, and recipes. This is a good resource if you’re interested in cooking outdoors. However, I have one complaint against this book: Mr. Fears recommends placing aluminum pie plates inside the Dutch ovens to keep them clean during the cooking process…whaaat?? That defeats the entire purpose of cooking with cast iron. So feel free to skip that part.

“Lightweight Cast-Iron Skillets”
The folks at CooksIllustrated.com spent some time experimenting with lightweight cast-iron cookware. You’ll have to subscribe to their site to see their top picks, but the last line of the article sums up their results: “Lightweight cast iron proved a disappointment.”

Manufacturers & Accessories

Lodge Manufacturing
The oldest manufacturer of cast-iron cookware in the US, Lodge continues to provide budget-friendly cookware and bakeware in a variety of styles and sizes. They also carry carbon steel and stoneware pieces as well as enameled cast iron. Their site also has some helpful tips and videos about caring for cast iron and enamelware.

Le Creuset
Le Creuset changed the cooking industry when they began manufacturing beautiful, colorful enameled cast iron in 1925. While their price point is higher than Lodge’s, they have many more choices in colors and styles.

Cleaning

“3 Ways to Clean a Cast Iron Skillet”
In this video from ThePioneerWoman.com, guest blogger Erica provides three ways to clean a cast-iron pan. In the third method, she uses steel wool to scour the pan, which I don’t recommend at all. Steel wool will remove the seasoning from you pan! Instead, use a silicone scraper or a stiff brush. You can also heat water in the pan to loosen up baked-on food.

“How to Clean Your Cast Iron”
I love Paula Deen, but I don’t agree with this video from PaulaDeen.com. In it, we’re instructed to never use soap and water because it will make the pan rust. Instead, we’re shown three ways to to clean the pan: 1) bake off the gunk, 2) wipe it off with oil; or 3) use salt to scrape off food. While it’s true that water will cause cast iron to rust, a simple light seasoning on the stove will resolve that. Oil and salt can certainly be used to “unstick” that stuck-on food, but baking the pan for an hour after each meal is unnecessary. Also, please note that rubbing a cold pan with oil does not constitute seasoning; the oil must be heated to create that nonstick coating. All-in-all, this video is fine for chefs but not for busy homecooks.

Seasoning

“Chemistry of Cast Iron Seasoning: A Science-Based How-To”
SherylCanter.com has some good info on seasoning cast iron. This article outlines the science behind seasoning and explains why flaxseed oil is the best kind of oil for seasoning. While the author’s recommendation is sound, she says the pan should be coated in flaxseed oil and then baked bake at 500 degrees F for an hour. That temperature is way above the oil’s smoke point, which would cause toxic fumes to be released into the air. That’s why I suggest baking the pan at a temperature commensurate with the oil’s smoke point.

Health Benefits

“Iron: Fact Sheet for Health Professionals”
This fact sheet by the Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS) provides in-depth information on iron. I particularly like the nifty chart that provides the Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDA) for Iron. (A man 19-50 years old should receive 8 mg while a woman of the same age should receive 18 mg!)

Iron Infographic
This infographic on ResearchGate.net shows how Ferric iron (what you get from eating out of cast-iron cookware) is converted to Ferrous iron, which the body can use.

“Food prepared in iron cooking pots as an intervention for reducing iron deficiency anaemia in developing countries: a systematic review”
This article from the National Library of Medicine provides an abstract of the results of a medical study published in the Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics. It explains that cooking in cast-iron cookware can resolve iron deficiency and anemia in communities in developing countries.

Cast Iron Vs. Alternative Cookware

“How to Choose the Safest Cookware and Bakeware”
This article from DIYNatural.com lists several types of safe cookware and bakeware, including cast iron and enameled cast iron.

“12 Ways to Avoid Toxins in the Kitchen”
This article from MightyNest.com lists different ways you can mitigate toxins in your kitchen, such as avoiding chemical nonstick cookware and looking for high-quality stainless steel.

“Is Your Cookware Damaging Your Health?”
This article from diynatural.com lists three types of cookware to avoid: chemical nonstick, aluminum, and copper. It also links to studies that address aluminum and its link to Alzheimer’s.

Chemical Non-Stick Cookware

“What is PFOA?”
This article on WebMD explains what PFOA is and how it can negatively affect your health. Even though most companies have now stopped using it, similar chemicals are taking its place.

“The EPA Doesn’t Want Americans to Know How Dangerous Teflon Chemicals Are”
This 2018 article from treehugger.com points to a report released by the CDC that states chemicals from the PFA family (which are used in chemical non-stick cookware among other places) are far more dangerous than previously believed.

“Teflon Replacement on Track to Test Definition of Hazardous Chemicals”
This article from treehugger.com (the new name for Mother Nature Network), explains the new chemical used in place of PFOA might be just as dangerous because it accumulates in our water supply.

“Is Nonstick Cookware Like Teflon Safe to Use?”
This article on Healthline.com provides good recommendations on how to use and care for chemical nonstick pans in a way that reduces your exposure to harmful chemicals. However, I disagree with the author’s assessment that modern-day nonstick pans are safe to use when used properly because research indicates these chemicals may be just as dangerous.

“Teflon Dangers in Nonstick Cookware and a Better Alternative”
In this article on HealthAmbition.com, the author details the health concerns with PFOA (which is no longer used by most cookware manufacturers). She suggests using pans with ceramic coatings, which do not emit fumes or leach chemicals. While these pans have their limits (don’t put them in the oven!), they can be a nice alternative to chemical nonstick pans. Personally, I prefer cast iron.

“Is Nonstick Cookware Safe? Here’s Everything You Need to Know, According to the Experts”
The ever-helpful folks at GoodHousekeeping.com tested several chemical non-stick pans to see if they reached the heat threshold of 500 degrees F. This article lists the concerns over using the pans but also provides tips if you’re not willing to give them up (yet—I mean, did you read the articles above?).

Aluminum Cookware

“Is Cooking with Aluminum Pans a Health Risk?”
This article on Foodtrients.com provides a great overview of the concerns associated with aluminum cookware and new anodized aluminum. The author also lists several other ways you could be exposed to aluminum and suggests a bi-monthly detox.

“Is Anodized Aluminum Cookware Considered Safe Cookware?”
This article on YourCookwareHelper.com provides detailed information on anodized aluminum and lists several other ways you could be exposed to it. The author recommends you avoid anodized aluminum cookware due to the cumulative effect of aluminum on the body.

Stainless Steel Cookware

“Stainless Steel Leaches Nickel and Chromium into Foods During Cooking”
This study published by the American Chemical Society in 2013 states, “Stainless steel cookware can be an overlooked source of nickel and chromium, where the contribution is dependent on stainless steel grade, cooking time, and cookware usage.”

“Stainless Steel: All About Food Grade 304, 18/8 and 18/10”
This article from the mightynest.com outlines the differences between the different grades and series of stainless steel. The author states stainless steel is safe when the right grades are used appropriately.

“Does Stainless Steel Leach Chemicals”
This article from healthybuildingscience.com states that stainless steel leaches nickel and chromium but in amounts to minimal to be of concern (which some may disagree with). However, she lists cast iron and enameled cast iron as other safe cookware options.

Ceramic Cookware

“Ceramic Cookware Safety Issues”
This article by Healthy-Cookware.com provides a detailed overview of ceramic cookware, possible health concerns, and tips for buying and using your ceramic pieces.

“Safe and Healthy Cookware: What You Need to Know When Choosing Non-Toxic Pots & Pans”
This article from FoodRevolution.org classifies different types of cookware based on whether they leach chemicals, how durable they are, if they’re multi-purpose or not, and price. Cast iron is considered “moderately safe” because it leaches iron (which may not be a good thing for some people), while enameled cast iron is considered healthy and effective.

Cook tops

“Why Can’t You Use Cast Iron on Glass-Top Stove?”
In this article from hunker.com, the author lists four reasons why you shouldn’t use (or at least be careful using) cast iron on a glass-top stove, including the risk of scratching the surface or having too much weight on the glass. While this may be true for older models of glass-top stoves, I’ve found other sources that indicate cast iron is fine on new models as long as they’re not dragged on the surface and the stove’s weight limit isn’t exceeded.

Restoration

“Safely Remove Rust from Cast Iron”
Cowboy Kent Rollins has a ton of great info on cooking and caring for cast iron. In this video, he shows shows the several methods he used to restore a cast-iron skillet. I highly recommend his techniques.

Food

More-with-Less Cookbook
This is Herald Press’s all-time best-selling cookbook, first written by Doris Janzen Longacre in 1976. Although the introduction has been updated in various editions over the years, the message remains the same: that we can (and should) “eat better and consumer fewer of the world’s limited food resources.” Filled with recipes and suggestions by Menonites, this book was way ahead of its time. While I have concerns about eating more grains (especially the GMO grains that fill our stores and create havoc on our bodies), I love the idea of considering the impact of our food consumption on the rest of the world. If you read this with an open mind, it may just change the way you eat.

A Skillet Full of Traditional Southern Memories & Recipes
This is a classic cast-iron cookbook by Lodge Manufacturing. The intro gives the history of Lodge as well as some helpful information about cast iron and seasoning. The chapters are divided by food category, from apps to beverages. Each recipe specifies the specific cast-iron cookware needed, down to the Lodge name (e.g. Lodge Combo Cooker). If you don’t have that specific cookware, you’ll need to improvise. While there are sketches throughout the book which help to add some visual interest, there are no photos of the prepared foods.

Dutch Oven Classics
Like A Skillet Full, this is a classic cast-iron cookbook by Lodge Manufacturing. Focusing exclusively on Dutch oven recipes, there are only 43 pages in this paperback. Each section is divided by food type, and there is an index. However, there are no photos of the prepared food.
(This item is not listed on Lodge’s website, and I can’t find it on Amazon. You may be able to pick up a copy at Lodge’s store like I did, though.)

“Cornpone Versus Cornbread”
This article from VirginiaLiving.com provides a historical overview of cornpone and cornbread and includes recipes for both.

“A Guide to Field Peas”
Learn everything you never thought you’d need to know about field peas in this article from TheLocalPalate.com.

“Does Bacon Grease Go Bad”
In this article by doesitgobad.com, the author states definitely that bacon grease does, indeed, go bad. It even provides a chart based on whether the grease was store-bought or homemade (but I’ve never seen bacon grease in the store—have you?).

Syrup Making

“Making Sugar Cane Syrup – An Old Florida Tradition”
This video of the Florida Cracker Kitchen features The Cowboy Poet. This is a fascinating view into the history and methods of making cane syrup.

“How to Make Sugar Cane”
This video by Deep South Homestead shows how to make cane syrup using a mechanical pump (which is how Robby’s Pa did it).

Other Resources on Plain Living and the Simple Life

Foxfire
Pick up any edition in the Foxfire series, and you’ll be amazed at all the skills and practices that we’ve (nearly) forgotten over the past few decades, including animal care, banjos, hide tanning, wild plant foods, butter churns, and more. Each of these books is a great resource and an excellent historical account of American life.

The More of Less: Finding the Life You Want Under Everything You Own
Ready for a challenge? This book by Joshua Becker has a simple concept: focus on what you really value to free up your time and resources and live more meaningfully. My husband and I saw the great potential in a minimalist lifestyle, and we’ve been pursuing it for years. When it came time to write Modern Cast Iron, I didn’t want to betray that ideal and recommend that readers buy a bunch of cast iron. Instead, I made sure that every recipe can be made in a skillet or Dutch oven—that’s it. When Mr. Becker heard about this, he readily endorsed Modern Cast Iron (how cool is that?). I highly recommend this book to everyone!