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There is actually quite a big difference between Cast Iron vs Non Stick cookware. While there are many different variation of nonstick cookware, the vast majority share the same characteristic. They are lightweight, cheap and generally disposable. Cast Iron on the other hand are durable, affordable, and great for searing. While both have a nonstick coating, cast iron will never rival that of teflon. There is a lot less maintenance involved. This article will go in depth about the difference between cast iron and nonstick cookware.
Cast Iron vs Non Stick Performance
Cast Iron and Non Stick cookware are suited for different task. While they can share some of the task like sauteing, not everything is interchangeable.
Nonstick cookware is best for cooking things that stick a lot. For example, nonstick cookware is actually best used for stir frying noodles. Unless you use a lot of oil, frying noodles on cast iron will only result in it sticking. Fish is another good example. Using a nonstick pan will make your life infinetly easier. Even though cast iron has a nonstick performance, it will never rival that of teflon. Some people like to use eggs as a benchmark for nonstick performance, but really it is a bad indicator. Try cooking dry starchy food to see the real difference between the two.
Cast Iron vs Non Stick Durability
One advantage that Cast Iron have over non stick is durability. Since the teflon needs to applied by the manufacturer, it is a one shot deal. Once the coating goes, so does the pan. It will never regain that original nonstick performance. On the other hand, cast iron nonstick coating is dependent on the seasoning. As you cook in it, it only gets better.
In terms of structural durability, cast iron wins again. Cast Iron are usually made very thick. They resists warping and denting. If you accidentally drop it, it wont dent like an aluminum pan. Aluminum nonstick are usually made very thin. They are prone to warping under high heat. They also cannot take much abuse.
In terms of searing, cast iron is the winner all around. Because of the heavy duty construction, it can hold a lot of heat. When you go to sear a piece of steak, all that mass will carry the heat with it. In a nonstick, since its made so thin, the pan will loose all its heat. This will cause food to steam.
There is another issue with nonstick cookware as well. Traditional nonstick cookware uses teflon. At temperature of 500 degree Fahrenheit and above, it will start to deteriorate. At 572, it can release fumes that can cause flu like symptoms. If you have small birds, this can actually kill them. Luckily, most will not reach that temperature. You can usually temper it with oil. Just dont heat up the pan dry.
Ceramic cookware has a higher temperature. However, they are generally not very durable. They will start to develop micro tear that reduces its overall nonstick ability.
One thing to note about cast iron seasoning. At higher temperature, you can destroy it. If anything, you should get one pan for searing and another for general cooking.
In terms of price, they are all over the range. Nonstick cookware are generally cheap though and they should be. The best nonstick cookware are the cheapest. Since the coating are usually sourced from the same source, the pan will only last as that coating. It makes little financial sense to “Invest” in high end nonstick. Just replace it when it goes.
For cast iron cookware, I like Lodge. They are generally very affordable and durable. The bare cast iron models are still made in usa and you cant go wrong. While you can buy the higher end Le Creuset, those are mostly for looks. In my other article about Lodge vs Le Creuset, I actually found that Lodge outperforms Le Creuset. The enamel coating degrades the ability for heat to transfer.
Cast Iron vs Non Stick Health and Safety
Both are generally pretty safe. Nonstick cookware has the teflon issue, but aside from that, there isnt much issue. Some people are worried about ingesting the teflon coating. However, the teflon coating is chemically inert. It should past right through your body. Cast Iron is safe as well. If you need to avoid iron in your diet, you should avoid it. In terms of manufacturing, teflon uses a lot more chemical to manufacturer. Where as cast iron is basically made in sand mold. Almost no chemical is used in the manufacturing of it. If you want less of a carbon foot print, go for cast iron.
Which Model to Get?
Given all of this information, you should buy the cookware depending on what you intend to cook. For Durability, go for Cast Iron. For nonstick performance go for cast iron. Things like eggs can be cooked in both cast iron and nonstick. However, for steaks, you should go for cast iron.
Certain models are better for cast iron as well. Things like Dutch Oven, grill pan and Woks are better. They have the heat retention properties that nonstick dont have. They also generally look better so that you can bring it to the table. If I had to choose between the two, I would go for a cast iron. But a cheap ten dollar nonstick pan for stir fry and fish is not a bad choice.
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