Gastronomical Gear, Volume 2: Pans

Outside of your knives, the cooking implements that come in contact with the food the most are definitely the pans. There is certainly a ridiculous amount of variety and choice in the world of pans, and a lot of terminology that is thrown around. What you need from a pan, conversely, is quite simple. You don't want your food to stick. You want the pan to get hot, stay hot, and transfer that heat to your food evenly.

As we strive to reduce our impact and encourage a healthier and more responsible diet, one thing that is constantly overlooked is the affect what we use to cook, not just what we cook, can have on our bodies. I'm not going to get into the science or health aspects of Teflon and non-stick cookware. All I need to know is that Teflon pans, when heated to a certain temperature (say, smoking hot to sear a piece of meat) release certain toxic gases into the air. Gases that kill pet birds. Frankly, I'd rather not inhale.

Alternatives, you ask?

Cast-iron skillets are 'preferred by chefs,' and for good reason. With proper treatment, they develop a better non-stick coating than their Teflon counterparts, and they'll last a lifetime. That's a lot more than you can say for most cookware. All the non-stick pans I've used in the past were only non-stick quite temporarily.

When I cook, I like to have control over what goes into my food, and with cast-iron, I know because I put it there. Certainly there's a little more upkeep involved in cast-iron cookware, but the results, involving both the food and those consuming it, are well worth the extra time needed to season, clean, and dry.

Surely there are a lot of options within the cast-iron world, and they can be quite expensive. The Le Creuset lines are beautiful, colorful, and enameled to protect the outside of the cookware, but they are quite pricey. Personally, I prefer the rugged beauty of the Lodge pans, and while the outside needs attention to prevent rust much like the inside needs attention, I don't mind giving it. Like I've said, a well-maintained cast-iron set can last a lifetime. Or two.

For my personal use, I have an 8" and a 12" cast iron skillet, as well as this cast-iron grill pan.

These three fill darn near every culinary need, and outside of a few instances, do most of my cooking.

I do like to keep a nice, clad, stainless pan around for certain applications, usually involving acids, that would be detrimental to my cast-iron. An aluminum pan would serve the same function, and at a lower price.

Say searing a chicken breast and then using the drippings to make a pan sauce. Something that would involved de-glazing the pan with alcohol, probably wine (or maybe Bourbon) and that is not something I like to do with cast-iron cookware.

The copper cladding in this pan is really nice as it adds that 'get hot and stay hot' quality of cast-iron and heats the food quite evenly.

While the cast-iron and stainless do provide me with 99% of my pan needs, there are a couple of applications (namely Crepes and Omelettes) than I keep a small Teflon pan around for. You have to be careful not to heat the pan too high and certainly not use metal tools, but the Teflon pan is nice for a handful of applications. I would never spend the big bucks on some of the flashy Teflon cookware out there when the inexpensive restaurant supply brand pans do the trick for a fraction of the price.

As with most things, there is no wrong or right, just what works for you. If you're in the market for cookware, I would definitely advise you to look towards cast-iron and avoid the many pitfalls of over-priced non-stick cookware. They have their place in a kitchen, it's just a very small one.


TexasDeb said...

Timely advice.

As competitively priced as a brand new Lodge pot or pan may be, I have also found a variety of cast iron pans and skillets in thrift stores at prices under $10.

Flapjacks said...

i have a cast iron post in the tubes. my fleet of cast iron meets damn near every need i have in the kitchen. one pan is perfectly seasoned for eggs, which is great. no sticking for them!

Anonymous said...

Consumer Reports agrees: http://yourgreenfriend.com/toxic-cookware-looking-at-green-non-stick-pan-alternatives/