These two objects have a few similarities:
- They’re both older than the hills
- They’re both complete pains in the ass to use
- They both deliver amazing results
The advantage to cast iron is that it distributes heat evenly. And because it’s just iron (no Teflon coatings or plastic parts) you can throw it in the oven. You want to make a deep dish pizza? Do it! Cast iron doesn’t care.
What’s even more amazing about the skillet is that, unlike the record, it actually gets better with use. When you cook with cast iron, you use a metal spatula. Every time that metal spatula moves over the surface of the skillet, little bits of iron are ground off. As a result, the surface of the skillet gets smoother and smoother, and you get more iron in your diet. Oils from whatever you’re cooking pool in the microscopic iron pores and burn. They form a super hard, super smooth layer. So as you grind down the peaks, the valleys fill themselves in.
With non-stick cookware you have to use plastic utensils. Go look at your plastic spatula. Unless you’re Martha Stewart, I guarantee there are little bits of plastic melting and flaking off. You want to eat plastic? Yea me neither.
When you’re done cooking with a cast iron skillet, you just wipe it out with a paper towel. No need to wash. The leftover oils will become another seasoning lawyer and improve the cookware. If you take good care of it, the seasoning you will develop will surpass non-stick surfaces.
Most of all though, cooking with cast iron feels like cooking should. Just like turning the page of a paper book, or feeling the click as the shutter opens on a film camera. The skillet is heavy, it gets hot. The metal utensils make a satisfying scraping sound as they move over the iron. Modern conveniences often remove the tactility we associate with certain devices. That tactile feeling can be just as meaningful as what we do with the device. When you read a book on paper you feel the pages, you smell the paper. Maybe it’s musty, maybe it smells new. You can see where you are just by looking at how many pages are left. The experience of reading the book can be just as memorable as the words on the pages. How can a Kindle even come close to emulating that?
Similarly, you can crack an egg into a dry Teflon-coated skillet and cook it without it sticking. If you’re looking for the quickest, easiest fried egg there it is. But if you enjoy the process as much as the result, enjoy being challenged and (eventually) rewarded, maybe the latest and greatest isn’t the path to take.