7 Pros (and 6 Cons) I Learned After Cooking On Cast Iron Over The Years

My obsession with cast iron cookware started around 2021, when my then-girlfriend (and now wife) came across a video of someone seasoning their skillet. Intrigued, we bought a 3-piece skillet set and tried it out ourselves. We’ve accumulated a few more pieces through the years, and I’ve only grown fonder of cast iron since then.

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed cooking with my cast iron pieces. I don’t know if I’m alone in this, but I somehow feel more accomplished after I cook something in a cast iron skillet than when I cook the same dish in a stainless steel pan. However, there are also some aspects of cast iron cooking that I don’t like.

Here’s what I like and don’t like about cast iron cooking.

What I Like About Cooking on Cast Iron

For the most part, my experience with cast iron cooking has been positive. Here’s what I like best about it:

1. It’s more non-stick than my non-stick pan (without the forever chemicals)

I’ve cooked on non-stick and aluminum pans for most of my early adulthood, and I didn’t know any better. To me at the time, a pan is a pan is a pan. It wasn’t until I asked my mom “what will happen if we eat this piece of flaked off Teflon?” that I got really concerned.

“It’s carcinogenic!”, “it’s poisonous!, “it stays in your body until you die!” (Asian moms are like WebMD).

Of course. a cursory research on the topic revealed to me that Teflon will harmlessly pass through your intestine when ingested. With that said, I’m not willing to let rogue particles hang out inside my intestines.

With that, I started experimenting with other types of cookware.

Stainless steel is good, but I found that I had to use a heck of a lot more oil as everything just sticks to it. Stoneware? It’s good, but I’m quite annoyed that its coating is also fragile. And then I landed on cast iron.

With nothing more than a polymerized layer of oil, a well-seasoned cast iron pan will reward you with an even and slick coating that — to me, at least — is better than Teflon.

Of course, the caveat here is that you have to build this layer up from scratch, and that stuff like eggs and fish will stick to it like crazy for the first few weeks. But after that rough patch, your cooking experience will improve tremendously.

Also read: Cast Iron Seasoning 101: Everything You Need to Know

2. It’s great for slow cooking

We have a very small and cramped kitchen, hence we can’t get all the kitchen doodads that we need. For one, we decided to forego buying a pressure cooker and a slow cooker. Instead, we bought a tight-lidded Dutch oven to do both tasks, and quite satisfactorily at that!

Before that, I used an aluminum pot for dishes that call for slow cooking, and boy was it annoying.

Light aluminum pots are not good at holding heat, and I find it hard to maintain a consistent temperature with it as it is too good at transferring heat from source to metal to meat.

Since cast iron is a denser material, it can retain heat far longer compared to my old aluminum pot. With that, I found that It’s much easier to maintain a gentle simmer using a Dutch oven. The fact that I can sear, sauté, and simmer from the one pot is also plus.

I also prefer slow cooking in a Dutch oven over a pressure cooker from a flavor standpoint. Now, this purely subjective, but I find pressure cooked meat blander than slow cooked meats. Moreover, I can control when the vegetables can go in to preserve their texture with a Dutch oven. The same cannot be said for a pressure cooker for this reason:

Also read: How to Slow Cook Without a Slow Cooker (Using Cast Iron Cookware)

3. It’s easier for me to control the cooking temperature

Here’s a pleasant surprise: I thought I’d be burning food all over the place with a cast iron pan, but as it turns out, the opposite is the case.

I thought that since cast iron retains heat for much longer, and the fact that it heats up slowly, then it would be harder to make quick adjustments to the temperature.

However, it is this gradual heating process that helped me prevent sudden temperature spikes, making it easier for me to manage heat levels to avoid burning food.

Moreover, the amazing heat retention capabilities of cast iron means it won’t cool down dramatically even if more ingredients were added to the pan while cooking.

The real game changer here is knowing how to properly pre-heat your pan before starting to cook. Once you’ve achieved the right temperature, it’s pretty easy to maintain it.

4. I can use it almost anywhere

Compared to other materials, cast iron can tolerate higher levels of heat without deforming or being damaged. How high? One study shows that gray cast iron increases ductility (which increases the chances of deformations occurring) at 500°C – 770°C. This means that they can handle pretty much the highest temperature that your kitchen range or oven can throw at them.

With that, a cast iron skillet can go where other types of cookware can’t. My skillet has been used over the stove, inside an oven, and on charcoal grills without much of a hitch. And I don’t have an induction cooktop just yet, but I do know that my cast iron cookware can be used on top of one. Talk about versatility!

Also read: Can Cast Iron Be Used on an Induction Cooktop? Yes – Here’s Why

5. You can be rough with it

There are a lot of memes on the internet about how you have to “baby” a cast iron skillet – but I say humbug!

I am of the mindset that you should own your things, and they shouldn’t own you. So go ahead, use metal utensils, and most of all, use soap to clean your skillet. It’s more hygienic, trust me.

“But what about the seasoning?”

Well, what about it? Unlike other cookware with fancy artificial coatings, a cast iron pan won’t be ruined once its coating scratches or flakes off. Instead, it can be repaired back to its former glory by applying a fresh coat (or coats) of seasoning.

Better still, its seasoning will not be damaged in any way when exposed to this heat the pan needs to be exposed to this heat for longer to properly develop the seasoning. In contrast, heating Teflon pans above 500°F(260°C) can release toxic fumes as the Teflon degrades. These fumes can cause a condition known as polymer fume fever, a temporary flu-like condition with symptoms like fever, chills, headache, and body aches.

Also read: When to Replace Non-stick Pans: 5 Signs to Look For

6. It is relatively inexpensive

While most cast iron cookware are certainly more expensive than your run-of-the-mill aluminum pans, they are relatively inexpensive compared to cookware made from carbon steel, stainless steel, copper, and ceramics. On top of that, they are also simple to manufacture, hence cookware made out of cast iron can be placed at a lower price point compared to those made from other materials.

Heck, my daily driver is a three-piece skillet set for PHP2,500 (~USD50)! It is a no-frills chunk of metal that gets the job done beautifully. The 10-inch model comes at around PHP1,000 (~USD20; similarly priced to Lodge’s 10.25-inch classic skillet), and from my cursory search on Amazon, it is the most affordable option compared to similarly-sized pans at the same price point:

Material (10-inch Pan)Price (at Low Price Point)
Carbon SteelUSD40
Aluminum (with Teflon)USD35
Stainless SteelUSD30
Cast IronUSD20

Also read: Cast Iron vs. Stainless Steel: What’s Best for Home Cooks?

7. It’s still chugging along quite nicely

It’s been a few years now, but my cast iron skillets are still physically the same as the first day I get them. No nicks, dents, or scratches. Nada. Heck, they are so damn near indestructible that I think I’ll treat them as heirloom pieces from now on. Better yet, they have gotten better with age as the seasoning improved.

This is all because of how these pieces were constructed. Since they are just one chunk of solid metal cast into shape, so they are quite rigid and rugged. Most do not have bolted-on handles whose screws may come loose or corrode in time. They also don’t contain less durable materials like plastics and rubber that are likely to wear out sooner compared to the body of the pan.

With that said, they are not indestructible. They can be destroyed by holes caused by corrosion, cracks brought about by thermal shock and deformations due to overheating. So proper care is still needed to maintain.

Also read: Can You Ruin a Cast Iron Skillet?

6 Things I Don’t Like About Cooking on Cast Iron

While I admit that I have a very big bias towards cast iron pans (the word “cult” is literally in my domain name), I am not that inundated with love to overlook its shortcomings. Here are a few gripes people have about cooking with cast iron cookware.

1. It can get a little heavy

    A cast iron pan’s thickness and density is a double-edged sword: sure it makes the utensil pretty much indestructible at the hands of people, but it sure does make them heavy and unwieldy as well. I’ve had impromptu forearm workouts every time I carry a food-laden skillet from stove to table.

    While you’ll certainly get used to the heavier weight in a week or two, some cooking techniques like tossing and stir-frying may get more exhausting when done in a cast iron pan. Heck, just lifting the lid off my “double” Dutch oven proves to be quite a challenge, especially since the handles get hot.

    Speaking of which…

    2. Their handles get hot

    Since cast iron cookware are casted into shape, it means that every inch of that utensil can conduct heat. I learned this the hard way the first time I seasoned my pans right after purchasing them.

    Being used to non-stick pans with non-heat conducting plastic handles, I utilized pot holders sparingly. But after touching hot pan handles one too many times, pot holders and oven mitts have been part of my cooking ensemble ever since.

    If you want to handle hot pans even without pot holders, you can buy silicone handle covers that do not conduct heat well. However, I’d still exercise caution by using a potholder anyway as I often get paranoid about the silicone handles slipping and revealing a tiny sliver of hot metal that can singe my skin when accidentally exposed.

    3. Takes longer to reach optimal temperatures

    While cast iron cookware stay hot a lot longer than compared to other materials, it can take them significantly longer to reach the desired temperature. I preheat my pans on the stove for about ~5 minutes on medium to get their temperature going. 

    Apart from the pan’s thickness and density, cast iron is not a poor conductor of heat. Measured by Watts per meter-Kelvin (W/mK), the thermal conductivity coefficient of cast iron is 55 W/mK. Here is how it stacks up against other metals commonly used for cookware.

    MaterialThermal Conductivity (W/mK)
    Copper386
    Aluminum239
    Cast Iron55
    Carbon Steel45
    Stainless Steel25

    Cast iron performed better than both carbon steel and stainless steel. However, copper and aluminum have thermal conductivity scores that are leaps and bounds higher than that of cast iron.

    While being a poor thermal conductor does play a significant factor in making cast iron in heat retention and thermal emissivity, it does make them/ unresponsive when quick temperature corrections are needed. 

    4. Not the best at evenly distributing heat

      Here’s an unpleasant surprise for me: cast iron is not actually good at distributing heat evenly.

      Before buying a cast iron pan of my own, I’ve read countless articles about it. One of the most common tropes repeated in these articles is about how cooking on cast iron is great because it “heats evenly”. But from science (and personal experience) that is not the case.

      Since cast iron is a poor conductor of heat (as highlighted in the table in the previous section), the temperature in certain parts of the pan that are farther from the source of heat will take longer to rise. This creates hotspots on the surface of the pan which can result in an uneven charring or browning of food. You can lessen the impact of this drawback by preheating your cast iron pan before use.

      To me, what gives the illusion that cast iron distributes heat evenly is the long preheating ritual we do before we cook. I usually place my pan in medium heat, then rotate it every minute or so to eliminate hotspots. By the time I’m done, the surface temperature of my pan is now more or less even.

      5. May be too high maintenance for some people

      You’ve probably heard by now that the process of cleaning a cast iron pan is vastly different compared to non-cast iron cookware like aluminum, stainless steel, and copper. The full cleaning and seasoning guide will be written a few sections below, but in summary, this is how the process goes:

      • Wash 
      • Scrub
      • Towel dry
      • Heat dry
      • Apply oil
      • Wipe away excess oil
      • Store

      Compare that to other types of cookware that can be washed just like how you would wash your typical dinnerware. 

      With that said, and I’m acknowledging my bias here, I find the act of cleaning and seasoning my cast iron pans therapeutic. Besides, the thought of being rewarded with a practically non-stick pan in the coming years motivates me to season my cast iron implements well.

      Also read: Cast Iron Cleaning 101: Everything You Need to Know

      6. Will rust when not properly maintained

      Just like any other piece of iron, cast iron cookware will rust when exposed to the elements for some time. Rust protection is one of the primary reasons why cast iron pans are seasoned. However, even a well-seasoned pan will still rust if it was soaked for a long time or has been left to dry in the air without being wiped off or heated.

      While I would not panic when I see some spots of rust on my pan as I know it can be removed quite easily, this could be off-putting for some people. It can also lead to widespread corrosion when not addressed early.

      Also read: How To Fix a Rusty Cast Iron Pan: The Root Causes + Easy Fixes

      I’ve Cast My Vote, How About You?

      I think I’ve established well enough that I have a particular affection for cast iron pans, and I hope that this article made you appreciate this humble material and the weirdly vocal subculture that champions it. While I do acknowledge that the world of cast iron will not be for everyone, I strongly encourage you to give it a try and figure out if its pros outweigh its cons. 

      If you’re still hungry for more info about cast iron and other cookware made from carbon steel, stainless steel, copper, and aluminum, then be sure to check out the rest of the Cult of Cast Iron blog!

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