Freaked out by evidence that Teflon may be dangerous, many cooks are blowing off their nonstick skillets in favor of … what? Sure, conventional pans aid in the development of the fond so crucial for a good pan sauce, but what do you reach for when you need to cook an egg, a tortilla espanola, or a bunch of pancakes?
Cast iron, of course, the zeitgeist-y answer your grandma could have given. There’s been a lot of talk about cast iron of late, mostly how to season and care for it; not as much about what cast iron can and can’t do for you in the kitchen.
Cook’s Illustrated leaps into the information gap with a story in its August issue, “Reconsidering Cast Iron,” which pits seasoned cast iron pans against nonstick. Testers cooked scrambled eggs, cornbread, steak with a tomato-caper pan sauce, and chicken cutlets in each pan. The winner? It was a bit of a wash. Nonstick released food effortlessly, was less heavy, and was easier to care for, not requiring reseasoning after each use. On the other hand, the only food that actually stuck in the cast iron skillets was the scrambled eggs, and testers found that the egg performance improved greatly as they used the cast iron over a period of time (and the seasoned coating thickened). Cast iron is also cheaper, more durable, produced a better sear on the steak, and can go directly from the stovetop to the oven.
In the end, Cook’s recommends going with a good cast iron skillet (the testers liked ones by Lodge or Camp Chef) and taking care of it. Follow the magazine’s advice, and you’ll have cookware you can hand down to your grandkids.