Both cast iron and Teflon coated pans are known for their non-stick qualities. While Teflon pans come by default with a non-stick surface and often require extremely low maintenance, cast iron pans need to be correctly seasoned before they become non-stick, and that seasoning takes time and effort to maintain.
With two pans that are so fundamentally different, it can be hard to know which one to choose if you are simply looking at non-stick as a factor. Deciding which pan to use can be a little overwhelming, but we are going to help simplify things. We’re going to take a detailed look at the benefits and drawbacks of each type of pan and lay them out here so that you can make an informed decision about which is right for you.
Comparing cast iron and Teflon
What are the main characteristics of cast iron?
Cast iron cookware has a long history of being one of the best non-stick cooking methods for just about anything you can imagine. They are traditionally seen in a skillet-style pan, with a round bottom and high sides, though there are countless different styles and shapes of cast iron cookware.
Cast iron pans generally start out as a semi-smooth surface, often with very small bumps. As the layers of seasoning build-up, the surface becomes nearly mirror-smooth and will cook and release just about anything you can throw at it.
The seasoning is created by the polymerization of the oils and fats used in cooking and baking. As long as the pan is properly cleaned, the seasoning and the pan will last indefinitely. Fail in this, and your pan will be sticky and may even rust.
Cast iron pans take a bit longer to heat up than thinner metal and alloyed cookware often found in kitchens, but its mass allows the pan to retain the heat longer, and to radiate it back to the food more evenly. This can also be a downside, as they do not cool down quickly if needed. While cast iron pans are known for even heating, some older pans may show irregularities in the metal that can lead to uneven heating. Most modern pans will not show this sort of inconsistent metallurgy.
They are known for their versatility, being able to make mains and desserts in the same pan. Sear your prime rib, on the high heat of the stovetop, then take the same pan right into the oven to finish. Cast iron can fill nearly any cooking role in the kitchen or at the campfire.
What are the main characteristics of Teflon?
Pans with Teflon coatings can vary wildly since the coating can be applied to almost any piece of cookware. Frequently they are in a skillet or saute pan style, with a round bottom, and sloping or high sides. They will have either a metal or a plastic handle, and will not be oven safe.
The idea of Teflon coated pans is to minimize maintenance and maximize ease of use. The pans are designed to be non-stick from the moment you get them home from the store. They can often be used without any sort of liquid, including oil, butter, or fat. As they are usually a very thin pan, they heat up and cool down much faster than other types of pans, like cast iron. As they age, thinner pans can develop hotspots, so they may start to show uneven cooking.
Teflon pans are known for being easy to care for. Many can simply be wiped off or quickly rinsed out after use, and the non-stick coating allows for all of the leftover debris to just slide off. With a quick cool-down time and little to no cleaning needed, these pans can often be perfect for busy people who cannot devote a lot of time toward cooking cleanup, or maintenance.
Is Teflon cookware bad for you?
This is a common, though quite complicated, question. Teflon is part of a general group of chemicals that have extremely wide and varied industrial and commercial applications. One of those applications is non-stick cookware coatings, you may recognize other applications as well such as stain-resistant coatings on fabrics, or thread-sealing tape for residential water or gas lines.
The American Cancer Society advises that compounds like these do have the potential to become a concern since they remain in the body for such long periods. While the public is exposed to these chemicals in some way or another, at varying levels of concentration, they do state that non-stick cookware is not a significant source of exposure to be worrisome.
There have been some studies in lab animals that suggest extremely high doses or levels of exposure to these chemicals can raise the risk of tumors in certain locations, such as the liver, testes, mammaries, and pancreas. In humans, there are possible links to testicular, kidney, and thyroid cancer, but not all research shows the same relationship, and more study is needed.
The Biggest differences between cast iron and Teflon pans
Cast iron pans
They are much heavier than nearly any other type of pan. If they do not have a helper handle opposite the main handle, you’ll be managing this goliath with one hand.
Applying the first-time seasoning can take several hours to do properly.
Keeping the pan clean, while maintaining the seasoning can be challenging for those unaccustomed to cast iron care.
Cast iron, when properly cared for, will last for years and can often be passed down from generation to generation.
Cast iron will take a longer time to heat up than thinner pans, not ideal if you’re always in a rush.
Older pans or cheap modern pans can heat unevenly due.
They hold heat for much longer when removed from the heat source.
They are non-stick out of the gate. No need to add the seasoning layer or prep them in any way other than a preliminary wash.
They are extremely easy to care for and only require moments to clean.
Extremely light and agile pans.
Their low mass allows a very short warm-up and cool-down time.