Best Gifts for the Paleo Diet: A Cast Iron Skillet

My Lodge Chefs cast iron skillet. My favorite pan.

This is the first in a series called Best Gifts for the Paleo Diet. Today we discuss cast iron skillets, one of the most basic kitchen tools in the Paleo kitchen (indeed, in any kitchen). I’ve had mine for probably about 13 years and it is the single most used pan in the house, and I have a lot of other pans.

First of all, why cast iron? What is wrong with stainless steel or a non-stick pan or even aluminum? Stainless steel, while good for many cooking jobs is not non-stick and will require a fair bit of cleaning even if you are cooking fat. Non-stick coatings like Teflon or Silverstone are potentially toxic. The coatings wear off eventually and either end up in your food or down the drain. Either way the scenario is not good.

If you are using or are considering using aluminum, think again. Aluminum is a toxic metal and should be avoided. If you cook any foods that contain acid; tomatoes, citrus or vinegar, the acid leaches aluminum out of the vessel and into your food.

The benefits of cast iron from the What’s Cooking American website:

You can use a single cast iron frying pan or cast iron skillet for just about any cooking task: Bake a cake, sear a filet, roast or fry a chicken, fry potatoes, stir-fry vegetables, etc. One skillet is all you need, but because cast iron cooking is lot of fun and makes the food you cook taste great, you’ll probably going to want more than one cast iron pan.

An old-fashion way to cook fat-free: The benefits of cast iron pans and skillets are terrific: Foods glide out of it as from no pan made with Teflon; it goes from stove to oven; no special utensils are needed to cook in it; it won’t warp, and cleanup is a cinch. A well-seasoned cast iron pan will only get better with age, and will last you for a lifetime. It’s time people realize the culinary wonder that a cast iron pan can be!

Professional chefs consider cast iron cookware to be precision cooking tools, as these dependable pans enable precise control of cooking temperatures. Their heat retention qualities allow for even cooking temperature without hot spots. Cast iron pans can be used on top of the stove or to bake in the oven. All our grandmothers had cast iron skillets and cast iron stove-top griddles. In fact, your grandmother swore by it and the pioneers depended on it.

There are several brands of cast iron cookware available. Below is a table these brands.  The list includes a 12” skillet, a 10” skillet, and two sets of 3 pans each starting at around 6” up to 10”. I have all three sizes and use these the most.

Brand/Size/Price Description
Lodge 12” Skillet With Assist Handle $20.97 Pre-seasoned heavy cast-iron skillet. Superior heat retention and even cooking. Two handles for heavy lifting. 12 inches in diameter, 2 inches deep. Heirloom pan for kitchen or camping
Lodge Logic 10” Chef’s Skillet (My favorite!) $16.00 Cast-iron surface conducts heat better than any other material. Sloping sides makes pan ideal for making omelets or sautéing vegetables. Pre-seasoned to prevent food from sticking. Surface grows more stick-resistant with use
Le Creuset Round Skillet, 11″  $124.91 10-1/4″ enameled cast-iron skillet with 1-3/4-quart capacity. Chip- and crack-resistant enamel won’t react to foods. Integral iron handle; easy-grip helper handle; dual pour spouts. Hand washing recommended; safe to use at any oven temperature and under the broiler. Measures 11-3/5″ by 16-8/9″ by 1-3/4″,  limited lifetime warranty
The Camp SK-12 Cast Iron Skillet -12”   $24.46 Seasoned Cast Iron is ready to cook and easy to maintain. Comfort Grip Handles for effortless lifting and Control. Dual Pour Spouts for cooking convenience. Seasoned finish helps create non-stick finish. Lewis & Clark Commemorative Edition
Universal Housewares Pre-Seasoned Cast Iron 3 Piece Skillet Set   $24.99 Comes with the 6 1/4″, 7 7/8″ and the 10″ Skillets. Traditional Cast Iron Cookware without the hours of pre-seasoning.  Factory Pre-seasoning more durable than home seasoning. Naturally adds iron to your foods
Heuck 33002 Pre-Seasoned Cast-Iron 3-Piece Skillet Set   $35.88 3-piece set consists of 6-1/2″ skillet, 8″ skillet, and 10″ skillet. Cast-iron construction for even heating; pre-seasoned and ready to use. Rugged handles with hole at the end for convenient hanging storage. Hand wash only; oven-safe up to 500 degrees F. 20-year limited warranty

One thing you may have noticed is that all of the pans listed above are “pre-seasoned”.  This means that an oil coating was applied at the factory. I do not rely on those coatings. They usually wear off after a couple of uses. It is best to re-season the pan yourself.

Seasoning cast iron:  

Wash the pan in hot water and use soap. Dry it completely. To make sure it is completely dry, put it on a burner on a medium heat for about 1 minute. Then preheat your oven to 350F.  Take a small amount of cooking oil (I’ve been using coconut oil lately) and rub it all over the warm pan, inside and out, using a paper towel. Remove all excess oil, place in the oven upside down on a cookie sheet or pan, and bake in the oven for 1 hour. Turn off the heat and allow the pan to cool in the oven.

For daily use, pre-heat the skillet for 1 ½ minutes on a medium heat. A drop of water should sizzle and evaporate on the surface. For the first several uses, always add fat to the pan first and cook your meal. When done cooking, allow the pan to cool. Wash in hot water with a nylon mesh scrubber. Do not use soap. Using soap will strip the seasoned surface off of the pan. Scrub off the bits of food. Dry thoroughly with a paper towel, heat the pan on a burner for 30 seconds to 1 minute, remove from the heat and coat the inside with a small amount of oil. Wipe off all excess oil and allow to cool. Keep in mind that if you use coconut oil the surface of the pan will be dull once the pan is cool.

Cooking with fat every time create a beautiful non-stick surface. I have cooked eggs in my pan without fat (just to try) which did not stick. However since everything tastes better with fat, why not use it?

 

 

Some people complain about the weight of the pans,  but it’s that weight that gives cast iron that fantastic ability to cook evenly, even under the worst conditions (think camp fires). They heat evenly with no hot spots. Cooking is consistently good. And they are nearly non-stick, if you maintain the surface correctly.   If you treat your cast iron pan right it will give you several lifetimes of service.  A cast iron skillet is truly a best gift for the Paleo diet.

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