Cooking has become a cherished pastime of mine over the last several years. It began in college when I found I could no longer stomach the meals the cafeteria was providing me. I knew I wanted to know what was in my food, so I moved off campus into my own apartment and began calling my mother incessantly for recipes, and then calling her back after mulling over what it meant to julienne an onion. And to be honest, as time has gone by my questions have only increased in number — though, to be fair, this is most likely because I am becoming increasingly familiar with the intricacies of the subject. But one thing I’ve noticed in the past year is my ever-mounting desire to understand what I should and shouldn’t have in my kitchen for efficiency as well as health purposes (yes, I have replaced all plastic food storage containers with glass ones).

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I’m the clean type. I don’t like dirty dishes soaking in soap to slowly soften residue for removal  hours later. I prefer things to get clean immediately, hence my affection for non-stick cookware. But, as many of us know, there’s a not-so-secret staple in it that is a major danger to our health: Teflon. This synthetic polymer is found in metal pans to ease the process of cooking and cleaning. But at what risk? From health dangers to environmental hazards, the cons of cooking with it outweigh the pros. Even manufacturers warn their consumers of cooking at too high of a heat when using Teflon due to the emission of toxic particles and gases from the coating breaking apart. Take a look at the below chart to get an in-depth look at exactly what happens when you cook with Teflon at certain temperatures:

cooking with Teflon

So once the dangers of Teflon were nailed into my head I began using the healthiest alternative I knew of: stainless steel. I quickly realized why so many people have trouble with these, however. My morning eggs, veggie stir-fries, and more became burnt bottoms to my pans (to which I have discovered that trial and error is necessary in achieving the right heat to oil ratio). But then I became aware of the joys of a cast iron skillet — another healthy alternative to non-stick cookware that doesn’t have me constantly trying to get it right. Here are seven benefits of making it a staple in your kitchen:

1. It’s Non-Toxic

Cast iron skillets don’t emit any toxic chemicals into the air or into your food. In fact, the only thing that they have been found to release is iron, which many people are deficient in.

2. It’s Nonstick

So long as you care for it the right way and season it properly when adding in your ingredients, a cast iron skillet will provide you with the nonstick outcome most cooks hope for. Learn some tips and ticks to ensure you do it right every time here.

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3. You Can Use It In The Oven

A big benefit of any kitchen item is being multi-purposeful; not only can you use a cast iron skillet on the stove, but you can also use it in the oven.

4. It’s Easy To Clean

As mentioned above, I’m not a fan of letting my pans soak for too long, which is why I like how easy it is to clean cast iron skillets. The food comes off easily, and you don’t even have to use soap. In fact, using it isn’t recommended, as it damages the seasoning.

5. It Doesn’t Scratch

When I first began cooking, I remember being told time and time again not to use any metal when scraping food from my non-stick cookware for the fear of Teflon flakes making their way into the food. This left me either using plastic or wooden utensils, but if need be, you can still use your silverware to stir your ingredients or scoop out the finished product since they do not scratch.

6. You Can Use Less Oil

One of the things that bothered me most when switching to stainless steel was how much oil I found myself using during my trial and error stage, but that has yet to be a problem with a cast iron skillet.

7. It Stands The Test of Time

Something I’ve found to be a big bummer in newer technologies is how quickly products need to be replaced. There’s something to be said for age-old items passed down from generation to generation with the knowledge that our health nor our wallets are not at risk. Want to learn how to make the most out of your skillet and have it last “forever”? Check out some valuable information here.

Top Image: Making Thyme For Health
Infographic: EWG

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