This story was originally published in January 2020.
My small skillet — the one I use to make eggs and grilled cheese — is showing wear. The dark surface has dulled to a gray-ish color. And it takes more and more to keep foods from sticking.
In my decades of cooking, this is a familiar thing. Modern cookware — even good cookware — only lasts for maybe five years before you have to replace it. So I have done so again, and again, and again.
I’m tired of this cycle. While I am still happily cooking in my ceramic-coated pots from years ago, I find that the pricey nonstick skillets I have just don’t last. And while they aren’t chipping (never use a nonstick pan with a chipped coating), their usefulness is dwindling.
Now, it’s time for another round of pan replacement. All of this has led me to reconsider what pans I’ll have going forward.
And that’s how I decided to make a cookware change. It’s time to say goodbye to pans I know I’ll need to replace in a few years.
So, forget the nonstick pans I have used, loved and replaced since the early aughts. I am going with the original nonstick — the one that has been used in kitchens and over fires for centuries: cast iron.
Yes, it means that I have to shift how I care for my cookware. The nonstick coating is only as good as the care it receives. Cast-iron should be cleaned while still hot, then thoroughly dried, oiled and put away. No more tossing it in the dishwasher and letting the machine do the work. Yes, it means that I will eventually have to do full reseasonings of my pans. And yes, it means a heavier lift. Cast iron is, after all, iron.
I am willing to accept all of that because the benefits are numerous. Not only are good cast iron skillets a fraction of the price of good modern cookware, but they also have the benefit of longevity. In other words, the ones I buy now should last me for decades or longer. In fact, I could probably find some good antique skillets, reseason them and use those — because cast iron will last and last and last.
With proper care, of course.
Moreover, the nonstick-ness of well-seasoned cast iron skillets far surpasses that of their coated aluminum counterparts. So my eggs and grilled cheeses are destined to be even better than the ones I was making before.
Plus, cleaning cast iron pans — while a different process — is actually pretty easy. They need little more than a good rinse and perhaps a touch of soap (yes, a little mild dish soap is actually OK on cast iron).
I’m excited. In fact, when I made a frittata recently in my first replacement skillet, it came out perfectly cooked and was easy to get out of the pan.
I cannot wait to cook more. Steaks, chicken, cornbread — there’s no limit to the amount of recipes perfect for cooking in cast iron. Sandy Oliver, food historian and a Bangor Daily News food columnist, even has a recipe for naan cooked in cast iron.
Farewell to my old pans (what would you do with them? Is there a pan recycling center?). You’ve served me well, but I am not sorry to see you go.