This or That: Cast Iron or "Green" Nonstick Pans?

We tried out two alternatives to chemical nonstick pans.

January 27, 2010

Can you handle it? Cast-iron pans are durable, but heavy.

RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—Cooking at home is better for your health, but it can be a challenge if you don't have good cookware. Unfortunately, most pots and pans used for nonstick cooking, which is supposed to make cookery so much easier, are made with chemicals that have been linked to male infertility, pregnancy difficulties, high cholesterol, and thyroid problems. The experts we've talked to say it's best to phase out your nonstick cookware as it wears out, and cook with it only on low heat until then. But what should you replace it with? There are two main options.


This: Cast Iron

Pros: If properly seasoned, cast iron is naturally nonstick, without any toxic chemical needed. The material heats evenly and retains heat well, making it ideal for any cooking surface (use it in your oven to make the perfect buttery biscuits), for example. And cast-iron pots and pans last forever—some people still use the ones their grandparent handed down to them. That makes cast-iron cookware the most economically and environmentally sound purchase you can make for your kitchen.

Cons: It's heavy, and can be difficult to handle for people with arthritis. Also, unless you've purchased enameled cast-iron pans, it's not a good idea to use them for acidic foods. Tomatoes, citrus juices, beans, and other highly acidic products can eat through a cast-iron pan's seasoning, causing your food to discolor and taste metallic. And some foods, such as eggs, can stick to even the most seasoned pans, and so may require a dab of butter or extra cooking oil.

That: "Green" Nonstick Pans

Pros: A few brands of "green" nonstick have been introduced over the past few years to give people the benefits of nonstick with none of the associated health problems. The ones on the market now are made using nanotechnology and are coated with an ultrathin layer of ceramic. They're much lighter than cast iron, and are truly nonstick, so you can even cook your eggs without that extra butter or cooking oil. And, like cast-iron pans, they're good for use on any cooking surface.

Cons: They certainly don't last a lifetime—that is, none of them have been around for a lifetime, but they're not likely to last that long. As with chemical nonstick finishes, nano ceramic finishes can chip off, particularly around the edges. Heat retention and distribution isn't as good as with cast iron, either. Finally, very little is known about the environmental fate of nanoparticles, and increasing evidence is showing that those tiny particles could cause big-time damage.

This or That? Read on to find out.

This or That?

Go with…"green" nonstick pans. Most devotees of cast-iron cookware, including this reviewer, will never part with their beloved cast iron. But if you're looking to transition from chemical nonstick to something a little healthier, the green nonstick pans are lightweight, easy to keep clean, and can cook any kind of food, and are therefore the more appealing alternative for most people, despite the questions about their longevity. The most widely available brand in the U.S. is Green Pan, and it can be purchased on the Home Shopping Network and through and other retailers.

If you're interested in giving cast iron a shot, however, here are a few cooking tips to keep cast-iron cookware in good shape and nonstick:

• Keep it seasoned. According to Lodge Manufacturing, cast-iron pans need to be seasoned after each cleaning. That will keep food from sticking, and, if they're seasoned well enough, the company says, they will even be able to tolerate a tomato or two without tasting metallic. Apply a thin layer of vegetable oil to your pan after each cleaning. If you have a pan that looks gray or has rusty spots, Lodge advises that you clean it well with a plastic or nylon brush or scouring pad and let it dry first. Afterward, cover it with oil or melted vegetable shortening, and place it upside down in a 350- to 400-degree oven for an hour. Once the hour is up, turn the oven off and let your pan cool before storing it.

• Clean with care. Never wash a cast-iron pot with soap or harsh detergents, or in a dishwasher. Scrub it down with a scouring pad, and if it needs a more thorough cleaning, boil some water and one tablespoon of baking soda to remove oil and grease. Always dry it when you're finished to prevent rust.