If you’d like the tour in person, feel free to ask next time you’re in the store and we’ll be happy to answer any questions you may have. We start with our favourites, cast iron and steel, then go into the differences between the non stick surfaces on the market. At the end, we’ll round it out with a list of suggestions for your kitchen.
Read our post on good cooking habits
As Lodge likes to say, this is America’s Original Cookware. Used as early as Han dynasty (206BC-220AD), cast iron cauldrons and pots were valued for much of the same reasons as today. They’re sturdy, almost indestructible, and hold heat efficiently which makes cooking much easier. Cast iron is the original non-stick pan; the trick is in the seasoning of the iron. Oils get baked into the pan, creating a durable, natural coating through polymerization. Maintaining this seasoning is why cast iron has specific cleaning guidelines; you don’t want to clean off the seasoning. If you do, it doesn’t competely ruin the pan (contrary to what dad used to say), but you will need to re-season. The older your seasoning, the better the results, so try to maintain that layer!
Cast Iron Tips
Everything. Except acidic dishes. (Check out the Enameled Cast Iron below for tomato sauces)
Cast iron will give you the best sear and flavour on meats, grilled sandwiches and eggs because of the seasoning of the surface (we use the cast iron as a backup for the BBQ on miserably windy days). The heat distribution can’t be beat, unless you’re spending a heck of a lot more money than cast iron will cost. My cast iron wok is one of my favourite tools in my kitchen; the heat comes up the sides of the wok, and I can toss the stir fry with both hands without fearing the wok will move. Cast iron can go on the camp fire happily, but is also safe for glass-top cooktops (just keep it inside the elements; a big two-burner griddle is only suitable if you have a “bridge” element).
A side bonus of cooking with cast iron regularly, is that you will get small amounts of inorganic iron in your diet, especially important for women. Depending on your body, this can be a huge health benefit, or a concern. Check with your doc!
Think outside the baking pan. For baking, cast iron will give you the best crust. Pies, crumbles, cornbread (obviously), pizza (try flipping the skillet upside down for thin crust, or right side up for amazing deep dish), bread pudding, and anything you’d love to have more crispy edges.
Deep Frying. The weight and heat retention of cast iron means that it will keep your oil at a consistent temperature. If you’re looking to do a big fry and want to filter and reuse the oil, enameled cast iron is the way to go, however. The seasoned cast iron will oxidize the oil faster at high heats, shortening it’s usable lifespan. .
Heat it up! Cast iron likes the heat. If you have someone in the house that only knows “high” and “off”, then this is a great pan for them. Cast iron takes a while to heat up, however; and if the pan isn’t ready when the meat goes in, it’ll stick and cook unevenly. On the other side, if you let the pan get too hot, you’ll burn your dish and have a harder cleaning job ahead of you. Use the Water Test to keep it under control, and be patient!
Don’t play with it. If you move your eggs or meat before the first side is fully cooked, they’ll stick and make a mess. Wait for them to fully cook, then they’ll slowly peel off a well-seasoned pan, you’ll get a great crusty sear and the pan will stay clean.
This is not fat free cooking. If you’re avoiding extra fats in your diet, this is not the pan for you. Cooked properly at the right temperatures, frying in a pan with oil will not result in greasy food. Let the dish rest on something absorbent like a paper towel if you really want to remove any excess fats, but keep in mind those fats are also what gives us the “full” feeling, preventing us from overeating.
: Acidic dishes can react with the cast iron, causing a slight metallic tang in dishes like tomato sauce due to the increased iron content. Not everyone can notice this, and as far as I’m aware there’s no danger in it for the majority of the population.
Vinegar will strip off the seasoning right off the pan (great if you want to clean up an old pan, not so much for cooking). Not something commonly used in cooking, but I thought I’d mention it. Leafy greens can also turn black in cast iron, but that doesn’t stop me from adding spinach to my frittatas.
Don’t clean cast iron with lots of soap. You can put a hot cast iron pan under hot water to clean (if you get a huge cloud of steam, the pan was too hot to cook in, let alone clean!). Scrub with a stiff brush or nylon scrubby; anything too abrasive or soapy will start to strip off your hard-earned seasoning, making more work for you. You can use coarse salt and a paper towel to scrub off stubborn bits if you don’t want to use water.
Don’t soak a cast iron pan for longer than necessary to soften stubborn bits. The longer it is in water, the more likely you are to strip the seasoning.
Store cast iron completely dry with a light coating of vegetable oil. This will help maintain the seasoning and prevent rusting in storage. Don’t use animal fats that can turn rancid; just a light coating of canola or soybean oil wiped on with a paper towel will do the trick. Any moisture that stays on the pan for any length of time has the potential to cause rust if the seasoning isn’t thick enough. In our humid environment (we live in a rainforest, everyone!), moisture can collect when you least expect it. Storing the pan completely dry can leave it vulnerable to rust.
Seasoned Cast Iron Product Listings Coming Soon!
Enameled Cast Iron
Cast iron is fabulous, but heavy, prone to rusting and reactive with acidic dishes. While still heavy, enameled cast iron takes care of the last two issues; no more rusting (or seasoning), and completely inert and safe for cooking. We carry the Le Cuistot brand in store, and are happy to order in Staub for those who prefer. We love both lines; the Le Cuistot line is much more affordable for still great quality, and Staub makes amazing nubby lids that help to baste your meals. These colourful pieces will be the talk of your kitchen for years to come!
Enameled Cast Iron Tips
Soups, stews, roasts. This is the original Slow Cooker.
Stove top, in the oven, these pots love it all. The heat conduction is as amazing as you’d expect from cast iron, sear your roast on the stove top, then slip in a roasting rack if you’d like and put it in the oven to cook. Saute your ingredients before added liquid to make your soups and stews for amazing flavour!
Think outside the baking pan. For baking, cast iron will give you the best crust. Pies, crumbles, cornbread (obviously), pizza (try flipping the skillet upside down for thin crust, or right side up for amazing deep dish), bread pudding, and anything you’d love to have more crispy edges. The enameled coating means lasagna and other pasta dishes will be happy, too!
Deep Frying. The weight and heat retention of cast iron means that it will keep your oil at a consistent temperature. The enamel coating will keep your oil from oxidizing too quickly, and the easy release of the enamel will make cleanup a breeze! Clip your deep fry thermometer to the size of the pot (or use dangle in your probe thermometer)
For baking, cast iron will give you the best crust. Pies,
While durable, we still don’t recommend using metal utensils in enameled cast iron. It is possible to scratch the surface, and chips can happen if you drop the cookware. Fortunately, it’s only cast iron below, so buff off the edges, put a little oil on it, and you’re still ready to cook!
Not non-stick, but still easy cleanup. Why is this awesome? You can use your enameled cast iron on the stove top to sear and brown your base ingredients or roast, then deglaze and finish in the oven or simmer. Even deep frying residues clean off easily from the non porous surface.
We do carry a specific cleaner for enamel surfaces from Le Cuistot if you do see residues or discolouration from overheating. Barkeepers friend also works great if you don’t want to add another product to your cupboard.
Display that beautiful piece!
The enamel coating on your pot is beautiful; this is a perfect piece (or collection) to put up in that awkward shelf above your kitchen cabinets. Keep a step stool around to get it down, since hopefully you’ll find lots of uses for your new dutch oven!
If you can’t display it, make sure you respect it. The enamel can be chipped if it’s banged hard enough against another surface or corner, so don’t let it rattle around with your stainless steel.
Cast iron is fabulous, but heavy, prone to rusting and reactive with acidic dishes. Enter stainless steel. With the addition of chromium and nickel, the weight is greatly reduced, and the metal is completely inert and resistant to corrosion. A drawback, however, is that stainless steel doesn’t hold heat. At all. Sure, a thin pan will heat quickly, but it also cools quickly, resulting in hot spots that burn food easily. This is why cookware is generally made with a cladding of stainless steel on a core of aluminum, copper or other conductor. Cladding up the sides of cookware is most desirable for very even heating.
A quick note on cladding: stainless steel and aluminum are not friends. Three ply cookware is great for heat conduction, but can warp if used at high heats improperly. Five ply cookware typically uses an aluminum alloy that acts as a mediator between the two metals, making for a stronger bond and a longer-lasting pot. The image on the right shows the construction of our Zwilling Sensation cookware, which can withstand high heats (800F+) without being damaged. Be aware of the limitations of your cookware, treat it appropriately, and you’ll enjoy long use.
Stainless Steel Tips
An alternative to cast iron for high heat cooking and browning. Searing meat, stir frying, toasting nuts for salads, frying. Steel will take on a bit of a seasoning (especially a carbon steel or french pan), but even heating is the key to getting food to release nicely.
With practice, you’ll be able to cook an egg without making a mess, but it takes skill and close attention to the temperature.
Preheat your pan over medium heat. Go too fast and risk damaging less expensive cookware. Add your oil once the pan is heated, coating the entire surface. Once the oil starts to shimmer, you’re ready to go. Water droplets should dance briefly then sizzle off, same as cast iron. If they vaporize violently, your pan is too hot.
Pat your meat dry. Wet, cold meat will stick like glue. Let your chicken breasts and steak warm up to room temperature, and pat dry with a paper towel before putting into a heated, oiled pan.
Don’t play with your meat. Or dumplings. Let the pan do the work; once your dish has cooked and browned completely, it will peel itself off the metal (if not, did you dry it? how’s the temperature?). It might be a little stubborn releasing, you’ll have to use a decent amount of oil/fat to prevent this. Non-stick pans don’t need much oil, but stainless steel prefers at least a tablespoon or two. When in doubt, leave it be! If your temperature is right, and the bottom thick enough, it won’t burn.
De-glaze your pan by adding a little liquid to help dissolve and clean up the “frond” (brown flavourful stuff; familiar yet?). This will save you a lot of scrubbing when it comes times for dishes, and keep the flavour in your meal, not down the drain.
While stainless steel is usually the worst part of being a dishwasher, it really doesn’t need to be that bad. First, don’t burn stuff in your stainless steel pan. (Obvious, I know, but if used properly, stainless steel isn’t hard to clean)
Soaking is perfectly fine. So is scrubbing with whatever you want to use. Mirrored finishes may get scratched if you’re using steel wool, but there is no seasoning or coatings here to worry about.
While Stainless Steel is dishwasher safe, keep in mind that dishwashers are hard on cookware. To get the best results, clean by hand. (Consider your good office clothing; sure it might be machine washable, but there’s a huge difference between delicate cycle and hanging to dry, and putting it through heavier cycles like you can your towels.)
To remove staining (usually from overheating), we recommend our favourite steel (and everything) cleaner is Barkeeper’s Friend.
Non Stick Cookware
Convenience. Our society has become obsessed with convenience and speed, and we love it when robots can do our grunt work for us. I’m not advocating for a return to the stone age, far from it. My kitchen has just as many gadgets and appliances as most. I am, however, suggesting that every tool has it’s place, and for certain jobs it’s best we go back to basics.
There is no such thing as an all purpose pan; non-stick pans have been pitched as such by their manufacturers, but most foodies will tell you otherwise. You can taste the love that goes into food; and the tools used are a big part of that love.
That being said, non-stick pans have their place, and there are a lot of non-stick options out there. Let’s break the most common down, then reflect on some more guidelines to their use.
Non Stick Surfaces
(PTFE), well known as Teflon, was accidentally discovered in 1938. First used for industrial purposes, the wife of an engineer suggested using the coating on her cookware, bringing into the world the first Tefal (Teflon+Aluminum) pan in 1961. These pans are hydrophobic and reduce friction, making for easy cleanup. Despite the concerns, they remain the better quality non-stick surface over ceramics and are not going away any time soon.
Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) is a chemical that was used in the production of the earlier pans, but is persistent in the blood stream and toxic. Most newer pans (and ALL of ours) are PFOA free (watch for this when you’re buying!).
PTFE, the main component that makes these pans non-stick, starts to break down at higher temperatures. This results in toxic gases being released that can cause flu-like symptoms in humans and is fatal to birds (important to know if you have a pet bird and forget your frypan on the stove…). These temperatures are not reached during normal cooking practices; only if overheated. Like with most products, I would be more concerned with a cheap pan; higher quality coatings are more durable and less likely to contain “other” chemicals.
Click on the tabs above to learn about alternative non stick coatings!
Ceramic coatings are like many products; there are good, better and best options. Greblon, one of the higher rated manufacturers, holds up very well in our experience, as have our Zwilling Ceraforce frypans. There are some peculiarities to be aware of. Ceramic is extremely hard and non-porous, which helps create the non-stick surface. It is more brittle than the PTFE coatings, resulting in chips instead of scratches when metal utensils are used indelicately. The different manufacturers have reinforced their coatings in various ways, so read reviews of any pan you’re looking into. New pans always work; the true test comes after 3-6 months. (This is why we demo with 1-year old pans from our home!)
Newest on the market are “Marble” or “Granite” non stick coatings. Strauss has come out with their “Tough Pan” that we have here in store. These are variations to make a more durable Teflon style non stick cookware. All are still PTFE based and should be treated as such, but they should hold up better to abuse. The weight of the pan has the biggest impact on its cooking abilities, so be sure that any pan you buy has a solid, heavy feel.
Non Stick Cookware Tips
Eggs, fish filets and other delicate, sticky things. Pancakes, crepes, and spicy green beans with almonds. Left overs heat up nice and evenly with easy cleanup, and rice and porridge are much easier to handle.
Do use lower heat settings on all non-stick pans. Check for the max heat suggested by the manufacturer, and pay attention to how you use the pan. Temperatures like 350F are easy to get to on a medium setting (exact temperatures vary by stove, pan, and the food inside; use the water test to maintain a proper cooking temperature). Dangerous things can happen on PTFE pans if they exceed 450F; if the water vaporizes off the pan, turn it down or risk getting “Teflon Flu”.
Don’t use metal utensils or bang the pan unnecessarily. Yes, some coatings are stronger than others. Do you test out your helmet by running into walls on purpose? Keep the sturdiness for the accidental hits. Layering your pans with protectors or tea towels will help keep them undamaged.
Don’t use unrefined oils on higher heats. For some reason, the residues of an overheated oil seem to glue onto non-stick pans more so than others. Maybe they’re just more noticeable. Once an overheated oils polymerizes, it stick on just like on cast iron seasoning. Like plastic. Regular soap won’t removed this residue, and can cause the pan to start to stick to everything. This is especially common on ceramic coatings.
Gentle is key. Even with the more durable coatings, it’s best to use gentle cleaners and scrubbies. Non stick pans should be ridiculously easy to clean, that is the point after all. As for dishwashers, the high speeds of the jets and caustic cleaners can be hard on the coatings. They do best when washed by hand.
Maintain your pan with Barkeeper’s Friend. Since you can’t scrub the same on a non-stick pan as on a stainless steel pan, residues can happen from overheated oils. If you find the “non-stick” qualities of the pan are starting to suffer, give it a treatment with Barkeeper’s Friend and watch the magic come back.
Protect your investment! Non-stick coatings, no matter how durable, should be protected from harm from banging and scratching. Put a tea towel between frypans if they’re going to be stacked (or get a star shaped pan protector to keep it neat). Ceramic pans especially are vulnerable to chipping if they get constantly rattled around in storage (or in the dishwasher!)
Build your Quiver
Like I was saying at the start of this post, there really is no such thing as a great “all-purpose” pan. The closest, in my opinion, is the cast iron frypan. That being said, not every house needs all the pans; a good searing pan for high heats and a non-stick for eggs is usually enough for most families. Here’s a breakdown of my suggestions for a great “quiver” of frypans; think about what kind of cooking you like to do, then figure out what the best tool will be. When in doubt, pop into the shop (or reach us on social media) for a chat and personal recommendations!
1. Searing Pan
Even if you’re a vegetarian, every house should have a pan that can handle the higher heats. Cast iron or stainless steel are best (or copper, but $$$). Please don’t use non-stick pans for high heat cooking.
Worried about the fat content? A griddle surface (raised bars, like a BBQ grill) will keep your burgers, steaks and chicken breasts up out of the grease and reduce the fat content of your meal. Our cast iron griddle is our go-to pan for when the weather just won’t let you fire up the BBQ.
Shop our Griddles
2. Egg/Delicates Non-Stick Pan
Eggs, fish filets and other delicate, sticky things are a pain to cook. If you’re really careful with your temperatures, and have skills with a spatula, you can do a great over-easy egg in a stainless steel pan. But. This is where the convenience of a non-stick pan is really handy. Pancakes flip without fail, and spicy green beans with almonds won’t make a mess of your steel.
Buy a size that suits your needs; you’ll want a large enough flat surface to cook the number of eggs you normally prepare.
3. Saute Pan
This is the ideal pan for a one-pot dish that you’d like to finish in the oven. They’re essentially a wider, deeper frypan. Perfect for searing a larger roast before putting it in the oven, browning beef then making a meat sauce or stew or Sheppard’s Pie. We’ve started to carry a rondeau pan, which looks like a short, wide stock pot, perfect for cooking for large families.
4. Griddle/Pancake Pan
A flat cooking surface makes eggs and pancakes easy to get under to flip. Grilled sandwiches, quesadillas, tortillas and the like come out beautifully and you’re not digging in the sides of a higher pan trying to pick them up. Non-stick griddles are great, just keep an eye on your temperature so that you don’t get too high (a ceramic coating will handle the heats better than the PTFE pans). Cast iron griddles are the best; their seasoning will keep your eggs from sticking (as long as the pan is hot enough!) Lodge makes a couple of great reversible griddles that have a flat side and a griddle side for very reasonable prices, doing double duty in the home.
Thank for reading our Tour of Cookware! Every home is different, every family has its own needs based on favourite meals. I hope the information here will help you make informed decisions on what cookware you really need in your kitchen. When in doubt, please feel welcome to ask for suggestions! We have a huge selection of cookware here in store, something for (almost) every recipe. Happy Cooking 🙂