Five Percent: Conserve Energy

Climate Change Is Important: Energy Conservation is the First Step

April 4, 2009

Simplicity: Cast Iron Skillet Beats All

Category: Conservation – Tom Harrison – 5:08 pm

skilletTheresa and I have been married for a while now, coming on 15 years. During that time, we have had a lot of pots and pans. I’ll talk about our frying pans.

We started out with a cast iron skillet that I had owned since the year after I graduated from college. My Mom taught me about how to season a cast iron pan so food wouldn’t stick.

Then as we got more money (still “dink”s — dual income, no kids) we went upscale, buying Calphalon. These are anodized aluminum — solid and thick, with steel handles solidly bound on. These pans were the ones used by chefs in real kitchens — they heat evenly, look cool, and have handles that don’t get too hot. But it lost its anodized finish — I even took them up on their guarantee once, which they honored, but the second one met the same fate.

By now we decided to go for pretty and solid — we got All Clad pots, with stainless steel wrapped around an aluminum core. They can even go in the dishwasher. Wow. And they are shiny. Unfortunately, no matter how hard I tried, we couldn’t figure out how to fry an egg without it sticking.

So we tried Calphalon non-stick. It was great for a while, but in a matter of months, the superdy-duper non-stick coating started coming off. Online reviews reported the same thing.

So we bought Analon — not as high-end, but people said it was great; still aluminum, not so heavy. And at first, it was. We were very careful to use only non-abrasive utensils and for cleaning, but after a year or so, the non-stick coating started coming off.

So today, we looked at each other and decided to go buy a new cast-iron skillet (we can’t find our old one). $25 from Crate and Barrel. This pan has no special qualities, or high-end metals, or any special bonding methods to keep the handle on, or any coatings. It’s cast iron. It also will last 100 years, and yes, if you season it well with a little oil, you can use whatever utensil you like and it will still hold up and eggs will not stick. Too bad we didn’t keep the original cast-iron skillet I bought after college — a little steel wool and some vegetable oil and it would be as good as new.

And in the 15 years between, we have gone through 5 different frying pans — all touted as top quality, but none living up to the claims of durability made by their manufacturers. No, cast iron doesn’t conduct heat as well as aluminum, and it will rust it you don’t oil it, and food will stick unless you take care of it properly, and you can’t put it in the dishwasher. But then again, it is not coated with a substance that can be poisonous, requires special utensils, or doesn’t last, and thus will end up in a landfill, or getting recycled after, on average, 3 years of use.


  1. Another option is plain cast aluminium: cheap, last forever, if properly seasoned is reasonably non stick (like cast iron), and heats more evenly than cast iron. The drawback is that it is not indicated with acidic foods as it reacts with them.

    Comment by Riccardo — May 4, 2009 @ 8:08 pm

  2. I am finding the cast iron great for most things, but you have to be a little patient with things like eggs, which will stick if the heat is too high. The original Calphalon pans are anodized cast aluminum, and do season well — they would be perfect for omlettes, and as you say, less good for things like acidic tomato-based sauces. And in addition to heating more evenly, it’s a heck of a lot lighter — my wrists are getting strong from carrying the cast iron skillet.

    I think Americans tend to have excessive concerns about “sanitizing” every item that touches food — it takes a bit of getting used to to not use soap on properly seasoned pans. But while non-stick coatings are washable-with-soap, they are downright toxic when exposed to excessive heat (say, for example, if you put it on a stove).

    Comment by Tom Harrison — May 4, 2009 @ 9:22 pm

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