How do you keep it hot in the kitchen?
January 5, 2006 3:56 PM   Subscribe

CookwareFilter: What's your favorite way to fry?...

I have always used teflon-coated pans for stovetop cooking for its non-sticky-ness. But recently we had to throw a pan away because the teflon was flaking off (definitely not something I want to be eating). Instead of going out to buy more, and because I ran across this thread on cast iron, I am wondering, MeFi Chefs extraordinaire...
What is the best stovetop cookware material?

We cook with gas.
Generally we stir-fry things like eggs, tofu and lots of garlic & veggies.
We usually keep our actual cooking time under 15 minutes, so if the cookware suggested takes longer or shorter, please mention the benefits or tradeoffs for the spent or saved time.
And though we need to keep this affordable, ie. would not be able to pay $100 for a pan, I would love to hear about any cookware that really conducts your fire!
posted by iurodivii to Food & Drink (21 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
If you're doing a lot of stir-fry, grab a wok at a Chinese grocery store for cheap. A Lodge cast-iron skillet is like $15 at a hardware store. Those two things should be a good base, although don't knock the value of a $100 All-Clad saute pan until you try it. :) Same for knives.. if you get the crappy substitutes you just won't like doing it as much.
posted by kcm at 4:01 PM on January 5, 2006

If you're using gas, I would definitely go for a carbon-steel wok. They're more difficult to season than cast iron but it's totally worth it for stir-frying.
posted by j.edwards at 4:04 PM on January 5, 2006

Cast iron is good, once it is seasoned.

You must be fastidious about seasoning, careful about cleaning and about keeping it dry after cleaning.

To season, wipe the cast iron down with high smoke point oils (safflower is a good, healthy oil) or your food will taste smoky.

Put the cast iron in the oven and bake for 15 minutes. Repeat a few times.

Cook greasy foods, like bacon. You want as much grease to work its way into the pan as possible.

Wipe the pan down and rinse. Dry with paper towel, wipe pan down with more oil and store.

Do not leave the pan wet or it will rust and crack.

Use oils liberally.
posted by Rothko at 4:04 PM on January 5, 2006 [2 favorites]

Cast iron. If you can find a Griswold, buy it. If not, a Wagner will do just fine. My wife is a chef and friends always ask her this question, thinking she must have some sweet All-Clad or Calphalon or something. They are usually surprised when she tells them to get a cast iron pan. She dropped her favorite 10" Griswold on the concrete floor of the catering company she was working for. Cast iron is pretty brittle, and the handle broke off. She went across the street to the auto repair shop and they welded it back on, no charge. Try that with All-Clad.
posted by fixedgear at 4:07 PM on January 5, 2006

Le Creuset pans, seasoned as directed by Rothko.
posted by coach_mcguirk at 4:49 PM on January 5, 2006

I use cast iron or all-clad (high quality stainless steel) depending on the task.

When cooking with stainless steel, the thing that has made the biggest difference for getting a non-stick surface has been a recent switch to spray oil, rather than regular oil or butter. I use Spectrum, but Pam is the most famous brand. I don't know why it works the way it does, but it creates a much better non-stick surface than anything else I've ever used. I find myself flipping fried eggs, clean ups are easier. It's great.
posted by alms at 5:22 PM on January 5, 2006

Modern aluminum non-stick cookware is anodized and does not flake or chip. It's harder than steel - far harder than cast iron. First-generation non-stick pans have given a long-lasting bad rap to the term "non-stick", but it's entirely undeserved with modern Circulon, etc.

As with the previous thread, the people who recommend cast iron are recommending obsolete, hard-to-use, hard-to-clean technology. I *love* it when people tell me that cast iron is easy to care for, all you have to do is:

--scrub it clean after each use
--heat it up again to dry it
--put oil on a paper towel and wipe it down
--store the oily, hot pan in your cupboard

The procedure for modern non-stick cookware is:

--rinse it off
--put it away wet (it's aluminum, it doesn't rust)

I use a non-stick pan to stir-fry multiple times per week. It's great. No oil needed. Here's a review and discussion of modern non-stick pans.
posted by jellicle at 5:55 PM on January 5, 2006

We don't heat it up our cast iron pans to dry, oil after each use or put away a hot oily pan. Whoever told you that was yanking your chain.

Obsolete? Nah, it's state-of-the-art. How the heck is it hard to use? I drizzle a little olive oil in there, chuck in some garlic and start to saute. Hard to clean? I wipe it out with a sponge, since nothing sticks.

Read up on possible links between aluminum and Alzheimer's. Iron is good for you, prevents anemia.
posted by fixedgear at 6:12 PM on January 5, 2006

Cast Iron transfers heat slowly, but retains it for a long time.
Aluminum transfers heat quickly, but doesn't retain it.
Woks are great if you have a stove built for them, but setting it on top of a gas burner just doesn't work. That just makes is a small saute pan with huge sides.

So, I don't think one is better than the other - they just do different things.
posted by muddylemon at 6:32 PM on January 5, 2006

Just to add to that - Why the difference matters:
Imagine you have a nice thick raw steak you'd like to cook. Both and aluminum and cast iron pan will get very very hot, which will make a nice sear on the steak. However when you drop the cold steak on a hot aluminum pan - all the heat of the pan is transferred to the steak in short order, and to keep cooking the pan has some lag as it regains its heat.
Drop it on a cast iron pan, and there will be enough residual heat left to really cook the hell out of the thing.
Some food - say vegetables in a stir fry - don't have the mass to significantly affect the heat of the pan, others do.
posted by muddylemon at 6:40 PM on January 5, 2006

Depending on your geography, you may be able to locate a cast iron wok like this. This is the real deal for Asian stir fry since it can withstand and retain extreme temperatures. Even the fanciest restaurants in Asia use these cheap but sturdy woks.

You'll need to substitute a wok ring into your gas range to accomodate the round bottom.
posted by junesix at 7:14 PM on January 5, 2006

In NYC, cast iron woks are available in Chinatown. I picked one up for $10 at Pearl River (before they moved, they may not carry them anymore). The one I got has a flat bottom on the outside for maximum contact with the stovetop, but the inside bottom is round so things don't settle in the same way. It's great. A cast iron wok is also about the best pot I can think of for deep frying, because you can really spread things out, but you're not using gallons and gallons of oil.

If you're really only doing stir frying, don't waste your money on All Clad or Le Creuset or the like. I'm very fond of those pans, and they're great if you're doing high precision cooking and need close control over the heat. But for stir fries, you basically just want as much heat as possible as quickly as possible. A carbon steel wok will serve you really well for that.

Every home should have a cast iron frying pan. For most frying, it's great. You can't really make good pan sauces in cast iron, and highly acidic foods will discolor. There's no better pan in which to make cornbread or pineapple upside down cake. It's a bit of work, but not much. Once it's seasoned, nothing will stick to it firmly. I scrub with a nylon brush under hot water until the water runs clear, put it back on the stove and heat it dry for a minute or two. I pour in a little oil and spread it around with a paper towel until it starts to smoke, then turn the heat off and let it cool. Wipe out with a fresh paper towel, and then put it away. I don't consider this to be terribly onerous, but I cook a fair amount, and when I do, I often have five or six pans to clean anyway. If you live in a humid place, you might have problems with rust.

The links between aluminum and Alzheimer's are, to date, unproven. In any case, I very much dislike the way anodized aluminum cooks anyway.

Also, Le Creuset pans are enameled and should NOT be seasoned.
posted by Caviar at 9:05 PM on January 5, 2006

Lots of people fetishize cast iron and make it seem impossible to care for. If anything the opposite is true, my cast iron is the easiest care pan I have. A quick wipe and you're done. Just don't soak it in the sink or put it in the dishwasher. As I said in the other thread, the more you use it, the better it gets. A good cast iron pan reall is as non-stick as a PTFE-coated pan, and you can use metal spatulas in it.

The only problem with cast iron is that it's slow to heat and slow to cool. This means that if you take food off the fire it will keep cooking for longer than you might want. You may have to learn to cook to a little shorter than you're used to.
posted by bonehead at 9:08 PM on January 5, 2006

The links between aluminum and Alzheimer's are, to date, unproven.

The links between aluminum and Alzheimers were a confusion between cause and effect. Furthermore, in many municipalities people consume far more aluminum in their drinking water EVERY DAY than they could possibly get from cooking in aluminum pots. Municipalities used to (and some still do) add alumina to their water supply to purify it. This is a horrible thing to repeat. It merely frightens the listener, and actively harms their perception of risk. Stop it.
posted by bonehead at 9:14 PM on January 5, 2006

A second (third?) on the Le Creuset pans. Doesn't require seasoning but a very thin layer of carbon does tend to form in patches and doesn't affect the non-stickness.

Failing that, a good cast iron pan properly seasoned is excellent. Even better if it has a copper base but that's not so critical for gas.

For stirfry, you really need an iron wok.
posted by polyglot at 10:50 PM on January 5, 2006

And by Le Creuset, I mean the ones with the matte grey non-stick finish on the inside which is NOT TEFLON. Don't ever overheat a teflon pan as it breaks down into highly toxic things.
posted by polyglot at 10:53 PM on January 5, 2006

Health derail:
The links between aluminum and Alzheimers were a confusion between cause and effect
Even if there were a link between aluminium and health, modern anodized aluminium does not leak any aluminium into the food. If you're concerned about health I would be more concerned about the risks of iron-overload that comes with cast-iron skillets.

posted by davar at 2:13 AM on January 6, 2006

I love cooking discussions.
It proves to my friends and family that I am not the only Kitchen Nazi.

I love cast-iron, but not for everything.
I'll take a stainless steel pot over a non-stick pot any day. Especially one of those new anodized non-stick ones. We got one as a wedding gift because I'm too cheap to buy one for myself. Wife wanted me to have one.
I rarely use it. The food sticks more than any other pot I have ever seen. It takes three times longer to clean it than any other pot. I read the directions multiple times. The company, when called, informed me that this was normal. They said that the food sticks initially and releases when it is cooked. I think they intended for me to burn out the contents of the pan.

I couldn't live without my three stainless steel sauce pots, my assorted cast iron implements (frying pans, dutch oven, griddle) and my wok.
posted by Seamus at 9:44 AM on January 6, 2006

Well, if you want to get really crazy, there's always Cybernox. It's some kind of crystal alloy, and this is the absolute gold standard of non-stick. It has an aluminum base, it cooks exactly like a steel surface (fond, crust, browning, the works), it works better the hotter it gets, and it cleans up with next to no effort. I've accidentally left the remains of a pan sauce sitting on a low heat in one of these, and it burned to a jet black crispy coating. 30 seconds with a scrubby pad under hot water, and it was totally clean.

Cheap it ain't, but big thumbs up.
posted by Caviar at 12:52 PM on January 6, 2006

Wow Caviar, you're not kidding! Those pans are almost as expensive as copper! On the other hand, if it's really as good as all that, oven-safe even up to 600F, non-stick, REALLY develops fond, then maybe it's worth it...
posted by bonehead at 1:12 PM on January 6, 2006

They have an extremely cheesy and low-res video about it.

In ten years of owning one, I've never tried the sliding egg thing (although now I'll have to), but everything else they claim in there is accurate, with one omission - it is possible to scratch the surface cosmetically with a very rough abrasive (the green scotchbrite pads). I did this accidentally once when I misread the instructions about what kind of pad to use. It hasn't affected the cooking properties at all, but it did dull the very pretty mirror finish a bit.

Sitram is a fairly unknown company that mostly makes pans for commercial use. Everything they make is extremely high quality and comes with a lifetime warranty.
posted by Caviar at 7:47 AM on January 7, 2006

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