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Goodbye, Teflon. Hello, Le Creuset.

Making pancakes with Le Creuset enameled cast iron skillet (left)
and Lodge Logic preseasoned cast iron griddle (right).

Raise your hand if you own cookware with a Teflon nonstick coating.
You're not alone.  Nonstick cookware accounts for about 60 percent of all cookware sales.

But there are reasons to do without it.  Particularly if you are trying to not eat plastic.  Even the new-fangled "green" pans have their issues.  It took me many years, but I now no longer use any cookware or bakeware with nonstick coatings.  The final step in this long, long journey I took just a few months ago when I said goodbye to my Teflon skillet.  My 10" Cuisinart nonstick skillet, which I used every other day to make scrambled eggs.

Cuisinart Contour Stainless 12 Inch Skillet with Helper HandleReplacement #1: Stainless Steel

Eggs are the ultimate test of a pan.  I've seen Barefoot Contessa make scrambled eggs in an All-Clad skillet, but I definitely can't make them in my stainless steel skillet without a huge mess.  I know, because I tried that once.  Let me say right here that inexpensive stainless steel does work just fine for cooking many foods (like ground meat) that you probably have been told to cook in a "nonstick skillet."  But more on that in another post. 

Lodge Logic L5SK3 Pre-Seasoned Cast-Iron 8-Inch Skillet Replacement #2: Lodge Logic Pre-seasoned Cast Iron

After my stainless steel egg failure, I kept on using my Teflon pan to cook eggs for quite a while.  Eventually I decided to try Lodge Logic pre-seasoned cast iron.  Cook's Illustrated loves pre-seasoned cast iron.  It's always one of their top recommendations for a nonstick pan.  I put off trying pre-seasoned cast iron for a long time because it seemed like a pain to use.  But it's cheap, so I finally dove in and bought 3 different pieces for about $15 each: a 10" skillet, a 12" skillet, and a griddle.  Guess what?  Pre-seasoned cast iron is a pain to use.  At least for me it was. It works fine for some things, but it didn't work that well for eggs, and cooking eggs was its primary purpose. 

My pre-seasoned cast iron pan after making scrambled eggs 
(best case scenario).  More often I had a much eggier mess.  
I almost always had black spots on my eggs.

Here is why the pre-seasoned cast iron didn't work for me:
  • Usually, eggs stuck.
  • Almost every time the eggs came out with black spots on them.  Lodge Logic told me this was the seasoning and that it was safe to eat.  I did not find that reassuring.
  • I had to clean it immediately or the food was even harder to get off and even more of the seasoning came off.  I am not in the habit of cleaning my dishes immediately after using them because I usually have 2 screaming children hanging off of me after I've been cooking for more than 2 minutes.
  • I couldn't let it soak in water.
  • I wasn't supposed to use soap or more of the seasoning came off.
  • I worried about making anything with a sauce (especially acidic tomato sauce), for fear that it would pull off some of the seasoning.
  • Most instructions state that after cleaning, you should pour a little oil in the pan and then wipe off the excess with a paper towel.  As I try not to use paper towels at all, this annoyed me.  I tried using a cloth rag, and it ruined the rag.  Oil is wicked to get out of fabric.
  • Re-seasoning the cast iron involved heating my house with my oven on super high for hours and hours (especially annoying in the summer when you have no A/C) and my entire house smelling like burning oil.  I also had to use 1,000 paper towels during the process.
  • Adding to the drama is that you find contradictory advice about how to use, clean and season cast iron all over the Internet.  I kept thinking if I could just find the holy grail of cast iron instructions, I would have a slick nonstick cast iron skillet.  But that never happened for me.

It was really the black spots all over my eggs that did the pre-seasoned cast iron in.  I was feeding those eggs to my baby, for crying out loud.  Today, the 10" and 12" skillets are in the garage, awaiting re-seasoning since the old seasoning was coming off (onto my food) and I don't feel like re-seasoning them any time soon.  Honestly, I was pretty fed up with the pans when I stuck them in the garage.  I still use the pre-seasoned cast iron griddle regularly:  it works great for quesadillas, burritos, tacos and pancakes (see photo below).

Le Creuset Enameled Cast-Iron 11-3/4-Inch Skillet with Iron Handle, RedReplacement #3: Le Creuset Enameled Cast-Iron, Black Surface

After my pre-seasoned cast iron debacle, I decided to get serious.  I remembered that when I had first wanted to ditch my Teflon I had read an article in the New York Times called "In Search of a Pan That Lets Cooks Forget About Teflon."  I had read this article with great interest, but the top pick was so expensive, I pretty much wrote it off immediately.  Now, having experimented with the cheap option (pre-seasoned cast iron) and failed, I was ready to reconsider.  It took me a few months, but I finally used all my (and my husband's) Christmas money to buy the pan that would let me forget about Teflon:  Le Creuset's black-surface enameled cast iron 11 3/4 inch skillet.  It cost me over $100.

And I love it!  It came carefully packaged and with a lifetime warranty.  It's made in France.  It really is a lovely piece of workmanship.   The beauty of enameled cast iron is that it gives you all the benefits of cast iron (great heat retention, perfectly seared fish and meat) without the high maintenance.  I can soak it.  I can use soap to clean it.  Heck, it's supposedly dishwasher safe, although, personally, I would never put a $100+ pan through the dishwasher.  You have to take a little care to not ruin the enamel (no metal utensils, don't stack something else directly on top of it), but that's it.  It also weighs a ton, but, you know, that's how it goes with cast iron.  I could have bought a different (cheaper) brand of enameled cast iron, but at this point, I wasn't messing around.  (My husband likes to point out that with all the pre-seasoned cast iron I bought I could have paid for half of the pan I really wanted.)

This is how my Le Creuset usually looks after 
scrambled eggs.  And no seasoning/ black spots on my food.

I use my Le Creuset pan to make:
  • Scrambled eggs!
  • Fried eggs
  • Pancakes
  • French toast
  • Stir fry with fried tofu
  • Fried rice with fried tofu
  • Black bean burgers
  • Hamburgers and turkey burgers
  • Delicate fish
  • Homemade naan

This was one of those times where I actually invested in the durable high-quality item instead of purchasing (and soon enough replacing) the cheap crap, and I am so glad I did!  Since my Teflon pans tended to only last a year or two and cost $10-20 a pop, I will actually break even sometime in the next 10 years.  I hope to pass my beautiful Le Creuset pan on to my children someday.

A few tips for using enameled cast iron:
  • Allow a long, gradual preheat
  • Don't be afraid to use fat
  • If a lot of food sticks, you probably didn't preheat long enough.  Pour in a little water while the pan is still hot and leave it soaking on the stove top.  In 10 minutes, it will be a breeze to clean.

 I often use my Lodge Logic griddle (right) in combination 
with my Le Creuset skillet (left) to make pancakes.

Thinking of Ditching Your Teflon?

Try pre-seasoned cast iron first.  It's so cheap!  And you are probably smarter than I am, and it will all work out fine for you.  I find pre-seasoned cast iron works well as long as the food doesn't stick and you barely have to clean it so that the seasoning stays in tact.  If you decide to season your pan yourself, I would follow these instructions by Sheryl Canter.  After all my web-surfing, that seems like the surest bet to me.  The latest issue of Cook's Illustrated magazine even recommended Sheryl's method!

If that doesn't work, or if you want to skip the trial-and-error, buy the Le Creuset.  You'll thank me for it.

Interested in what else I use?

You can read about ALL my plastic-free bakeware and cookware in this post.]

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