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Nov 30, 2010 01:58 PM

Why not buy the new lightweight Cast Iron cookware with steel/wood handles?

I want to switch from my nonstick and aluminum cookware to cast iron for prime reason of avoiding toxicity.

I would rather buy the lightweight cast iron because I think I will have a difficult time with the heavy weight. Would I be at a disadvantage? Also, I don't think I would like the traditional cast iron's hot handles because even with nonstick I manage to occasionally burn myself and I don't like that.

I understand that people use cast iron because of the way it heats evenly and retains heat and such advantages would be lost with a lightweight cast iron. But again, I am only buying cast iron to prevent toxicity caused by nonstick cookware and since I have never used pure cast iron cookware, I probably will not notice these disadvantages.

So if anyone has researched any other negatives about lightweight cast iron, please let me know. I plan to use it for indian cooking - curries, bread/rotis, egg breakfasts, french toast, soups, etc I hope to make a gradual switch to cast iron, hopefully lightweight.

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  1. I will probably be the first of many to suggest that you consider getting some carbon steel pans. They are a lot like cast iron pans, but are lighter, more responsive, and can be seasoned more quickly and easily. They are also very reasonably priced.

    1. Well, like you said, lighter cast iron cookare have less heat capacity and therefore less heat retention. On the other hand, they have better thermal response and will heat up faster. Light weight cast iron cookware are also more fragile. Cast iron is brittle, so a thinly made cast iron cookware can crack if you drop it on the floor.

      Another material to look for is carbon steel cookware. Carbon steel can be made thin and yet more malleable and flexible, so they do not crack as easily.

      1. The problem with ANY pans, regardless of material, with wooden handles is that you cannot put them in the oven. That is NOT a good thing.

        12 Replies
        1. re: Caroline1

          I don't need to put pans that I use on the stove in the oven; my cooking doesn't require oven use. I only use the oven for baking and to replace nonstick sheets, I'll have to do a separate research for that....ufff!

          1. re: sweetlion

            You're cute! New to cooking? There are LOTS of valid reasons for putting something you start on the stove into the oven to finish cooking. The very best method for preparing steaks indoors is to sear them in a hot cast iron pan, then put them in the oven in the cast iron pan to come to medium rare before removing them to a warm plate to rest before serving. Most fine restaurants use this method. Browning meat in a casserole (that has a lid) or a Dutch oven to sear it, then adding aromatics (onions, carrots, celery), broth and/or wine, then slowly braising it in the oven in the same cast iron vessel you started with makes a wonderful meal. This method is called "braising," and it's an incredible way to cook pork! Unlike finishing a dish on the stove top, oven finishing guarantees no scorched spots and even heat, and if you live with a gas stove, when you want to slow cook, the oven isn't likely to have the flames blown out by drafts. So in effect, yeah, you do need to be able to cook with the same pots and pans on the stove and in the oven, and it's extremely useful to be able to just lift the pan from the stove and put it in the oven to finish cooking without changing pans. Try it, you'll like it! '-)

            1. re: Caroline1

              Agree-- and cornbread in a cast iron pan in the oven is the primary reason I bought a smaller size cast iron pan-

              1. re: DGresh

                Actually, that was also the reason (cornbread) why I bought my first cast iron skillet -- which is also my first cast iron cookware.

              2. re: Caroline1

                Thanks for the reply. I know I'm cute ;) Actually, you didn't read my first post of what I cook. Our family is vegetarian, so there goes the need to put steaks and what not in the oven. :P

                1. re: sweetlion

                  Well, you can make some pretty awesome vegetarian dishes by doing some of the cooking stove top then finishing in the oven. Like eggplant? baba ganoush, ratatouille, moussaka. Then there are vegetable stews that brown nicely stove-top and finish best in the oven (no hot spots from the burner). Trust me, don't buy ANY pans with wooden handles that aren't guaranteed oven safe to 500 degrees. Oh, and no one makes those. '-)

                  Oh, and for the record, ain't no such animal as light weight cast iron. That's an oxymoron. So you might like carbon steel better. Lighter than cast iron. Good luck!

                  1. re: Caroline1

                    There is some variation, though. While it's not "lightweight", I've got a Griswold slant logo #8 skillet (early 20th century), and it is a good 2 lb lighter than the Lodge skillet of the same size it replaced. It's 3 lb, just about the same weight as my De Buyer "Mineral" pan (also same size), though at 3 mm thick, that one is heavier than most carbon steel pans. It's also probably not much heavier than some makes of stainless steel / alum cookware (Demeyere comes to mind).

                    Back to the original post... I'm vegetarian and echo what everyone's saying about having pans that can go between the oven and stovetop. But on top of that, one of the best reasons to buy cast iron is because it is, while no indestructible, very durable. I would agree with everyone who's saying go with carbon steel if you want something that's similar to cast iron but lighter weight.

                    1. re: will47

                      That's not a "variation" in cast iron. It's a variation in the thickness and design of the pans. Cubic centimeter to cubic centimeter, cast iron is going to weigh pretty much the same and it will never come in as light as aluminum. Cast iron is a HEAVY metal! '-)

                      1. re: Caroline1

                        I meant variation in the weight / thickness of the cookware, not variation in the weight of iron.

                        1. re: will47

                          Old cast iron is I think of higher ductility than what's being made now. I have a Lodge grill pan, but I think the iron in my old Wagner Ware and Griswold skillets is superior. The metal is thinner, the overall weight is lighter, and if you hit an edge any of them will ring like a bell.

                          Now I think we need to introduce the OP to the concept of the pot-holder …

                2. re: Caroline1

                  That's funny!

                  Yes, the oven is for more than cookies.

                  Cookware is one of the few things in life that can last for your entire life if you make the right choice. However, plastic and wood handles with NOT last for your lifetime. In fact, most manufacturers who produce pans with those types of handles aren't known for producing pans that last for more than 5 years. Something to think about when making an investment.

                  If I were you, I would buy cast iron dutch ovens and skillets and heavy aluminum saucepans, like All-Clad or Calphalon.

                  1. re: Caroline1

                    I realize this thread is so old that you’re never going to see this. But in case you do, traditional Indian cooking doesn’t require use of an oven. Most Indian homes don’t have an oven even today. At least in my part of India which is in the south-west. My grandmother used to cook on a wood fire. My parent’s generation cooks on a countertop gas stove, nothing like the stoves you have in North America. I’m sure our recipes can be altered to include oven cooking but it’s not a requirement. Hope that helps you in understanding where the OP is coming from. :)

              3. Not sure how helpful this will be, but when we decided to ditch the old nonstick pans a couple years ago, we decided on stainless steel (got a couple calphalon triply) and have been very happy with it. They're not heavy at all. We also cook almost exclusively vegetarian, for what it's worth (but I did want the option of putting them in the oven). And the handles don't heat up enough to burn, when they're stovetop. I can tell you more about our experience, if you'd like, but I know that's not really what you asked about.

                9 Replies
                1. re: mselectra

                  Thanks. But isn't there a risk with stainless steel also. See below:

                  Avoid using abrasive materials when cleaning stainless steel cookware – Stainless steel cookware can become a problem if an abrasive material is used frequently to clean it thereby releasing small amounts of chromium and nickel. Nickel is not poisonous in small quantities but it can cause an allergic reaction. People with nickel allergies should avoid cooking with stainless steel cookware.

                  Maybe I am worrying about little things now. But I figure if I am changing I would like to be worry free with my new cookware choice.

                  1. re: sweetlion

                    The same source also says "Stainless steel cookware is considered one of the best and safest choices in cookware.".

                    In most cases, you should not have to frequently clean stainless steel with super abrasive materials, especially if you follow the guidance about pre-heating the pan and adding oil at the appropriate time. Assuming you don't have a nickel allergy, I would not spend a lot of time stressing over this. More to the point, it's important to have at least one non-reactive skillet / saute pan, because it will be quite a while (if ever) before your cast iron or carbon steel pans will be suitable for cooking acidic foods.

                    Sure, everything in life has possible dangers, but overall, I think it's clear that stainless steel is a pretty safe and durable material to use for cookware.

                    1. re: sweetlion

                      Silit Silargan cookware seems pretty worry-free to me.



                      PS. I really like my Silit Silargan "Fry N Serve" pan.

                      1. re: tanuki soup

                        That's nice looking stuff, Tanuki.

                        1. re: tanuki soup

                          I second the Silit endorsement. We are very happy with our Silit fondue pan, partly because it's incredibly easy to clean.

                        2. re: sweetlion

                          You can get iron toxicity from cast iron. Many people think iron excess is a very under-appreciated health problem. There is no such thing as completely safe. The best you can do is pick your risk.

                          1. re: silkenpaw

                            In order to pick up any sort of toxicity from using cast iron cookware, one of two things has to be in place. For one, you have to be allowing cooked food to sit in the cast iron vessel for an unreasonable length of time or be using it for storage. In either case, not a good thing. OR it is possible for an individual to have a health condition in which iron in the diet presents problems. It's relatively rare, but can happen. As for iron deficiency, are you aware then when cast iron fell out of fashion in favor of enamelware in the late 19th and early 20th century, iron deficiency became a common health problem? Using cast iron for cooking has more benefits than draw backs, assuming one cares for it and doesn't cook dinner in a seriously rusty cast iron pan. '-)

                            1. re: Caroline1

                              "Using cast iron for cooking has more benefits than draw backs"

                              Yes, for majority of the people.

                          2. re: sweetlion

                            sweet: IMO, the levels of trace minerals you might get from CI or SS are so low as to be insignificant. Unless you're feeding a man who eats nothing BUT red meat (highly unlikely given your OP), a little extra iron is a good thing. Especially so if you're vegan, young and female.

                            Speaking of trace minerals, tin is one in which many Americans are chronically deficient. So you have another alternative: tinned copper.

                        3. sweet: In your research, do not neglect to read the several threads here concerning the MYTH that cast iron heats evenly on the stovetop. It definitely does not heat evenly--a 100F temperature differential between center of pan and edge is typical. Ultimately, you will find that it creates hot spots and requires far more stirring on the stovetop. Thicker CI is just less bad, hot-spot wise, than thinner. It DOES retain heat well, but that is not always a good thing.

                          "hot handles"... CI handles actually stay pretty cool to the touch (10x less conductive than copper). Only steel has lousier conductivity (25x!). That's why most $$$ copper still uses cast iron for handles. If hot handles bother you, $5 buys you a nice silicone sleeve that will slide onto your handle. Or learn to use a chef's towel.

                          The eartheasy website you cite's information on SS is dubious. There are good reasons not to choose SS cookware (including its even crappier conductivity than CI), but ingestion of nickel and chromium is not one of them.

                          I applaud you junking the nonstick.

                          14 Replies
                          1. re: kaleokahu

                            Yes, but sweetlion is junking the nonstick for a completely differently reason than yours.

                            1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                              Chem: "Yes.." what? The OP repeated the will-not-die myth that cast iron heats evenly. S/he should understand that this not true, even if s/he is interested in CI for health reasons. This is especially true where s/he is considering thinner-gauge vessels. Would you have him/her buy CI only to learn this years later and have her/him buy again?

                            2. re: kaleokahu

                              I have a bit of a problem with faulting the cast iron... It's the BURNERS! I believe you will have hot spots with absolutely any cooking material you place on a burner, whether gas, electric, or induction. When it comes to distributing heat from an uneven heat source (ANY burner!), I believe cast iron is as good as most and better than many. Which is just one more reason I think it's important to have pans that can be used stove-top AND go directly into the oven. You will not have hot spots on the bottom of any pan in an oven!

                              1. re: Caroline1

                                Car: With respect, it's really not the burners, although it's possible to overheat the pan (especially on gas hobs) and scorch anything on anything. The hot-spotting with CI that others have identified and all of us despair is just one phenomenon of the crappy conduction properties of CI. You don't even have to have a scorch to see it: unless the hob actually heats the entire bottom of the CI pan, there will be large temperature variations between where the heat is and where it isn't--up to 100F from center to edge. This was my problem a few days ago when I tried caramelizing onions in my LC Dutch oven--the onions around the periphery were MUCH less done than in the center, and to even it out, I had to stir far more often than the recipe instructed, even at the lowest heat.

                                I also must disagree that any hob will cause hotspots. My radiant hobs don't, at least as long as the pan is not 'way oversized for the hob. If you use one of these (many "winds" of the element betwixt center and edge), AND you subscribe to the "all cooking happens from below" school of thought (e.g., Politeness), maybe CI is OK.

                                In previous threads you have wished for burners that give even heat across the appropriately-sized area (maybe like the AGA or institutional woodstove I want). Resistive burners are almost as good as radiant at this, induction and gas far less so. So yes, you are right: burners can play a role in hot-spotting. It is unfortunate that CI and steel make matters worse.

                                1. re: kaleokahu

                                  Okay, Big Guy, tell you what... Here's a little experiment for you to do. Remember the scorched flour on the bottom of pans? Okay. Gather yourself at least three types of pans, one cast iron, the other two can be copper, aluminum, stainless, enamelware, Pyrex, carbon steel, whatever yanks your crank. Dust the bottom of three pans with flour, set them over a low burner until scorching appears in the flour. Take a picture. Wash the pans. Dry well. Dust the bottoms of all three with flour and bake them in an oven until scorching appears. Take photos. The stove top scorch will show a pattern of hot spots in all three pans that will be the same and identify the hot spots produced by the burner. The oven scorch patterns will be even. *IF* cast iron was the culprit in hot spots, this would not be so... Have fun! This is a recreational science experiment designed by me for your personal elucidation! Who loves ya, Baby? '-)

                                  1. re: Caroline1

                                    Car, Liebchen: A worthy experiment, but only if we also bring a STOPWATCH along with us. All empty pans will scorch eventually on the stovetop, but at different times and in different patterns depending on hob and pan. Hobs like my radiant (and some tightly-wound resistive coils) will first brown evenly and then scorch evenly, even under cast iron. Under gas and induction hobs, however, the pattern of the jets/coil will ultimately translate through into scorches for all pans, but the TIMES for SS, carbon and CI to scorch will be shorter, and the scorches more distinct and discrete, than aluminum, copper and thick clad. CI over gas is pretty much a worst/worst combination.

                                    You didn't respond to my statement above that one needn't actually have scorches to prove hot-spotting in CI. My FOS recipe duplicated in copper on gas was far more evenly cooked and with less stirring than the same hob/recipe in CI. In the latter case, it was more like slowly stir-frying (for 3 hours).

                                    If Santa tucks an IR thermo pistol in my holster, I'll do your bidding and more...

                                    1. re: kaleokahu

                                      You are way over thinking things, not to mention unduly complicating them. What's a stopwatch going to show? That the flour burns faster in a thin aluminum fry pan than it does in a cast iron pan? We already know that. It's a given. So why the stopwatch? And no need for an IR thermometer to tell you what your eyes will tell you with much less trouble.

                                      Basically, I am guilty of overcomplicating things too. If the goal is to determine whether cast iron (and/or other materials) produce hot spots unrelated to hot spots in a burner, then all that needs be done is the flour/oven part of my above suggested experiment. It will determine once and for all whether hot spots are inherent in cast iron. My many decades of cooking with cast iron both stove top and in an oven says it ain't the cast iron! The hot spots come with the stove.

                                      As for your experience with more even cooking in copper than in cast iron, no one that I'm aware of has ever said that cast iron is the EQUAL of copper when it comes to heat distribution and response. It's only almost as good at faaaaaaaaaaaaaaar less the price! That makes cast iron the poor man's copper. And NO polishing...! '-)

                                      1. re: Caroline1

                                        Car: The watch and the therm are going to show that, most other things being equalized, CI (as do SS and carbon) suffers from a large degree of temperature unevenness on the stovetop. Let's just call it that rather than hot-spotting, OK? Those metals tend to spread the hob's heat neither far nor fast (the latter unless very thin, which exacerbates the scorching variant of unnevenness). They will quantify for us that differential over time. My prediction is that 'luminum and copper will consistently show more even browning and temperature--and less scorching--over time, whereas thin steel and thicker cast iron heats/browns/scorches in localized areas closest to the flame/ribbon/coil well before--if ever--heating the periphery or (God Forbid!) up the pan's walls.

                                        I think you are totally on to something when wishing for a hob that heats uniformly across the entire pan bottom. This would pretty much solve the problem, wouldn't it? You're already my Kennedy of kitchen innovation ("I see the world as it is and say...").

                                        But I gotta saw off the limb a little bit, too. At least for stovetop cooking, IMO it's 'luminum--not CI--that is the poor man's copper.

                                        What would you think of a test where we use a standard depth of roux, like 1/4 inch, instead of weighted parchment or a dusting of flour?

                                        Yeah, I complicate things sometimes. Jester to the Stars, 'smore like it.

                                        1. re: kaleokahu

                                          Well, this poor woman will stay with cast iron and not aluminum. At least you can boil onions in cast iron without having noxious odors permeate the entire house!

                                          As for the roux, it would only do the exact same thing that dusting flour on the bottom of a pan does, but without wasting fat. A roux would darken first over the hot spots before bringing up color in the cool spots.

                                          As for how fast different metals heat, if you really must play with your stop watch, my prediction is that copper will show scorching fastest, though there is some possibility that aluminum might be a tie instead of coming in second. And then cast iron will bring up the rear. But in the end (pun intended) they will all show identical hot spots if placed on the same burner. But this is all moot... Bottom line (continuing the Leno-esque puns) is that I have to cook with the pans I have to cook with... '-)

                                          1. re: Caroline1

                                            Car: What works, works. You can make it work cooking in Pyrex, too.

                                            Thinking back, I can't remember ever boiling onions. Is that something you do regularly?

                                            I proposed the idea of using roux to better mimic real food in the pans. Actually I was thinking of using a water-flour slurry that would take a little heat out of the pans before it browns/scorches, yet still yield visible effects.

                                            "...my prediction is that copper will show scorching fastest, though there is some possibility that aluminum might be a tie instead of coming in second." I think this will depend on the hob setting. I think at a simmer or low saute setting, this will NOT be the case. Obviously, given Cu and Al's greatly superior conduction, you COULD cause almost immediate scorching in an empty floured copper or aluminum pan, whereas thick CI would indeed come in last. But that wouldn't really be a test of anything other than conduction at the point of heat, would it? And on HI, without also measuring the temperatures at the periphery, we wouldn't know how even the heat is across the whole bottom that may well be hot but not yet scorching.

                                            One of the pros uses parchment weighted down by beans to make his "scorchprints". I cleaned out some cabinets yesterday and found a lifetime supply of parchment sheets. Maybe I'll start there.

                                      2. re: kaleokahu

                                        kaleokahu: "Hobs like my radiant (and some tightly-wound resistive coils) will first brown evenly and then scorch evenly, even under cast iron. Under gas and induction hobs, however, the pattern of the jets/coil will ultimately translate through into scorches for all pans ..."

                                        Simply false. Ignores all of the evidence.

                                        1. re: Politeness

                                          Politeness: No, I took into account Harold McGee's graphic photo evidence. And that supplied by another induction expert I know:

                                          "The area over the inverter heats fully, but the heating of the rest of the pan relies mainly on conduction through the material of the pot... thinner profile steel pots might have a temperature gradient around the edges... the area over the burner does get hotter sooner, just as with other forms of energy transfer."

                                          Who could have ignored that?

                                          1. re: kaleokahu

                                            kaleokahu (quoting): "... the area over the burner does get hotter sooner, just as with other forms of energy transfer."

                                            If energy transfer is through means of conduction, then a 12" pan on a 6" burner will be heated in the 6" over the burner sooner than the rest of the pan will be heated. Nobody ignored that, but, apparently, somebody read extraneous meaning into it.

                                            The evenness of the heating is a separate matter. There is a correlation between the ratio of radiation to conduction in the energy transfer and evenness of heating, analogous to the difference in evenness of application of a coat of paint according to whether the paint is applied with a brush or is sprayed onto the surface.

                                            An electric coil burner transfers heat to a pan almost exclusively by conduction through points of physical contact between the coil and the pan (because air is so poor as a conductor of heat that it often is used as an insulator).

                                            A gas burner transfers energy predominantly through heat conduction at the points of contact between the tip of the flame (the flame tip is not necessarily the VISIBLE tip) and the pan, but with a small radiant component.

                                            A ribbon radiant element located under a Ceran cooktop, physically farther removed from the pan than an electric coil on the surface of the cooktop (or than the tip of a gas flame), broadcasts heat more broadly over the pan's surface, but much of the energy transfer to the pot depends upon Ceran to pan physical contact as the Ceran gets much hotter than the pan does; and those points of physical contact where high heat differentials exist are potential causes of hot spots in the pan.

                                            A halogen energy source transfers energy in the form of heat in a very similar manner to an under-surface ribbon radiant element, with perhaps a slightly higher radiant-to-conduction ratio.

                                            An induction energy source is 100 percent radiant and does not rely at all upon heat conduction except WITHIN the pan. As to the cooktop to pan component of energy transfer, however, induction, being entirely radiant, heats the pan more evenly than any contact-dependent heat source.

                                            1. re: Politeness

                                              Politeness: Here is your full quote from 11/11/09: "Our former Jenn-Air induction cooktop had two 7" induction "burners." We regularly used them with pans as large as 10". The effect is similar to that of using a larger pot on a smaller gas or coil electric burner. The area over the inverter heats fully, but the heating of the rest of the pan relies mainly on conduction through the material of the pot. Pots that conduct evenly, such as cast iron pots or pots with thick disk bottoms, will see even heat throughout eventually, but thinner profile steel pots might have a temperature gradient around the edges. The effect is less pronounced with induction than with gas or coil electric, because the magnetic field does "leak" a bit horizontally through ferrous pan material, but the area over the burner does get hotter sooner, just as with other forms of energy transfer. "

                                              You were not talking about a 12" pan on a 6" burner. You weren't even talking about a size of burner, although in a previous sentence you mentioned your 10" pan on your 7" burner. That was on the Jenn-Air that lasted 10 years, luckily 5 years longer than sellers expect, but nevertheless couldn't be fixed.