What to Use
Cast Iron and Enameled Cast Iron: No surprise to anyone who's still cooking with his or her grandmother's cast-iron skillet, this is one of the best materials to have in your kitchen, both from a health standpoint and a durability standpoint. Dr. Feister cites historical evidence from Africa, where anemia (an iron deficiency) disappeared after people suffering from it started cooking with cast iron. And, he adds, cast iron makes food taste better. "If you really pay attention, you'll notice on cast iron that there's these little bits of food that tend to stick a little. They tend to caramelize a little," he says. "Those things make the food taste good. If it's truly nonstick, you're messing with some of the stuff that gives food flavor."
But not all cast iron is created equal. "The most important thing about cast iron is to know where it's made," Dr. Feister says. Cast iron that isn't made in the U.S. may have been made with recycled metal, which sounds good in theory but isn't really safe. "If somebody has taken a bunch of recycled metal and melted it down into your cookware, what's to say there's not lead, cadmium, or mercury in it?" he says.
Unfortunately, nowadays you have to make a compromise with your cast iron. The only American-made brand is Lodge Manufacturing, which recently discontinued its unseasoned cast-iron cookware line and now sells only cookware preseasoned with a soy-based vegetable oil that was likely made from genetically modified soy. Most of the unseasoned cast iron on the market is made in China or Taiwan and could contain the recycled metal. Still, Dr. Feister sticks with Lodge, based on the company's high quality, durability, and good track record for safety.
Enameled cast iron is basically a glass coating over iron. It's naturally nonstick, Dr. Feister says, and it's great for roasting meat and for making tomato sauces, which will react with regular cast iron and eat away at the pans' seasoning. Both Le Creuset and Staub, the two leading manufacturers of enameled cast iron, have lifetime warranties on their products, making them worthwhile investments. Because these products are so expensive, he recommends watching for sales, particularly this time of year. He's found them for as much as 70 percent off in January.