As any seasoned cast iron cook knows (pun intended), cast iron is the original non-stick cooking surface. Well how and what makes cast iron non-stick and give you the cooking and care tips to make sure your cast iron never sticks. While most home cooks are familiar with various “Non-Stick” cooking pans (does Teflon ring a bell?), cast iron is capable of being non-stick as well. However, it should be mentioned that cast iron relies on the user to create and maintain its non-stick cooking surface through the process known as seasoning. Seasoning is the process of combining heat and fat to polymerize and form a hard, protective layer on your cast iron.
A Brief History of Non-Stick Cookware
Teflon was the first commercially available “Non-Stick” cooking surface. Teflon was discovered in 1938, Trademarked in 1945 and first used on cooking pans in 1954 and finally introduced in the US in 1961. As recently as the 1990’s and early 2000’s Teflon has been identified as a potential health risk due to the coating’s potential for breaking down and emitting toxic fumes when exposed to excessively high temperatures. Ever since, alternate options for non-stick cookware have become more common including Ceramic, Copper, Stainless Steel, Ceramic-Infused Titanium and Anodized Aluminum.
What Makes Cast Iron Non-Stick
Cast iron becomes non-stick through a chemical process known as polymerization which occurs during seasoning process. When cast iron cookware is covered in oils and fat and heated to high temperatures, the oils and fats change from liquid to solid and bond with the cast iron to form a hard, slick and shiny protective layer. This protective layer is know as the cast iron’s “seasoning” and acts as a barrier between your food and the metal that is naturally non-stick.
This newly formed non-stick layer can be used to cook the most delicate foods such as fried eggs or even a pan seared fish! However, much attention and care is required to maintain and reinforce your non-stick surface over time. Unfortunately, the seasoning on cast iron cookware does not last forever. It take both re-seasoning and ongoing care to both maintain and build on the existing seasoning to ensure that your cookware remains non-stick. Below we’ll give you some key tips in maintaining your cast iron to ensure the non-stick surface remains intact.
How to Ensure Your Cast Iron Remains Non-Stick
Choose your cooking utensils wisely
Metal utensils have the ability to agitate, scuff and scratch the seasoning of your pan which can lead to not only rust but also sticking of food to your pan. It’s best to use utensils made of wood or silicone which will be much gentler on your seasoning when doing things such as stirring soup or moving around veggies when sautéing.
Dry your cast iron thoroughly
Water is the enemy of cast iron. Cast iron is a porous metal that can absorb water after long exposure. For that reason, you should get in the habit of making sure your cast iron is completely dry after each use and you should never soak cast iron cookware in water. If water were to penetrate your non-stick surface, it can cause the seasoning to break down and ultimate will lead to rust.
Avoid cooking acidic foods
Acidic foods such as tomatoes should be avoided when hoping to make your seasoning last and remain non-stick. Acidic foods when exposed to the seasoning for long periods of time can break down the seasoning on your cast iron. Additionally, it has been noted that long exposure to acidic foods such as tomato sauce can loosen trace amounts of metal molecules from your cast iron and impart a faint metallic flavor to your food.
Oil after every use
When you’ve cleaned, rinsed and dried your cast iron cookware, it’s important to add a light layer of oil before storing. This oil will be an added layer of defense from moisture in the air and will prevent the chance of oxidation and the forming of rust.
It turns out that cast iron can be non-stick after all. However, there comes additional responsibility on you to keep it that way. Remember, the only reason your cast iron is non-stick is because of its seasoning. Both consistent and layered seasoning as well as following the tips outlined above will be sure to prolong the non-stick qualities of your cast iron cookware.