Cast iron pans may be all the rage today—Our Place recently released a Cast Iron Always Pan as an alternative to its well-loved ceramic option—but the material is a tried-and-true classic. So classic, in fact, that the iron alloy can be traced back to China in the 6th century BC. The long history makes sense, as cast iron pans are nothing if not durable. Treated correctly, a cast iron pan can do its part in the kitchen for generations.
Another boost in the pan’s popularity comes from a collective movement away from the toxic cookware that overtook our kitchens for decades on end. From Teflon to aluminum, some of the most ubiquitous pots and pans of years past cooked our food in toxic chemicals that have been linked to myriad diseases—cancer, cardiovascular disease, and dementia, to name just a few.
If you’ve been pondering the merits of cast iron, read on to learn why this type of pan is among the most reliable—and the most sustainable—on the market.
What Is a Cast Iron Pan, Exactly?
According to Lodge Cast Iron, a brand that has been crafting skillets since 1896, one means of creating a pan is by pouring liquid iron into sand molds and allowing it to solidify. Once the iron hardens, the sand breaks off, leaving a finished pan in its place. While some companies still follow this process, automated methods are now employed to expedite the process.
Unlike other options that get their non-stick finish from chemicals, cast iron comes from this feature naturally. A well-seasoned cast iron—one coated with fat or oil that bonds to the metal through a process called polymerization—can cook up any food sans sticking or chemical leaching.
This seasoning is why cast iron devotees will suggest that you eschew scouring pads and even soap when washing your cast iron pan. Instead, rinse with water, simmer off stuck-on bits over the stove, and, if you must use soap, reseason with oil and heat once the pan is dry.
Are Cast Iron Pans Eco-Friendly?
Tough enough to tote anywhere, cast iron is great for kitchen, campground cooking, and beyond. And with a seemingly endless lifespan, these pans are an undeniably eco-friendly choice.
In terms of secondhand options, cast iron is king. Once found in a thrift store or passed on from a friend or relative, a solid scrub and reseasoning is enough to get your pan to a just-like-new state. And if for whatever reason you outgrow your cast iron, the donation will always be welcome.
In addition, the aforementioned seasoning offers a natural alternative to the plastics that coat nonstick plans (for example, polytetrafluoroethylene, aka PTFE, or Teflon), eliminating one more synthetic product from your world. Many cast iron pans come either unpackaged or only in cardboard, shrinking their footprint even further.
A final element of cast iron’s sustainability is its versatility, which helps it take the place of any number of subpar skillets. While some dishes—like acidic tomato sauce or delicate (and flavor-imbuing) fish—may fare well in a ceramic pan, cast iron is more than up for most meals, from bread to veggies to eggs to desserts. You will find that this forever pan can handle an equally infinite number of recipes—after all, it’s been around for so many years that chefs around the world have had plenty of time to experiment.
Though cast iron does boast many superior qualities, it's only as sustainable as you allow it to be. Take good care of your pan, reseason as needed, and, most importantly, commit! You may find that less kitchenware is actually more.
Shop Sustainable Cast Iron Cookware
If you're ready to add a cast iron pan to your collection, here are some sustainable options to get you started.
1. Our Place Cast Iron Always Pan, $155
This Instagrammable enameled cast iron pan does it all. It works with all stovetops, there's no seasoning required, and you can use it to grill, sauté, bake, sear, broil, and more. It always doubles as a gorgeous serving dish for guests.
2. Great Jones King Sear, $110
This 12-inch cast iron skillet is safe for all stovetops, comes pre-seasoned, and—like all Great Jones products—is crafted with non-toxic materials.
3. Milo Mini Cast Iron Dutch Oven, $110
This enameled cast iron Dutch oven is made from 40% recycled materials that would have otherwise gone to a landfill. It's also dishwasher-friendly, making clean-up a breeze.