This is not a post about how to cook a goose but rather a safe way to cook when you have a “goose” in the house. Anyone who owns a parrot should know that cooking with non-stick (Teflon) pans is an absolute no-no. Exposure to these gasses is lethal to parrots and other birds. This leads to food preparation with cookware that easily sticks to food and makes cooking and cleaning more of a chore.
Two years ago, I got fed up with my stainless steel and the ceramic pans. The stainless steel required inordinate amounts of grease to prevent the food from sticking to the pan. Our ceramic pans worked flawlessly for about six months and then would discolor and stick while also scratching. Since I primarily do the dishes in the house, this was unacceptable.
I was born in the early 80s and cast iron was not en vogue compared to Teflon and other non-stick materials, so I was not accustomed to cooking with it or caring for it. Moreover, I never considered using cast iron as I assumed that it was too heavy, cumbersome, and hard to deal with and would underperform the fancy pans that I had invested in.
Boy was I wrong.
I bought my first cast iron pan two years ago and researched how to take care of it. It is a small 10-inch pan with a lid. I knew that you couldn’t wash it with soap and that it will rust if not taken care of. I bought some “cast iron soap, seasoning oil and coarse salt” from a company as a package. The pan also came with some chainmail for cleaning off stubborn stuff. It was pre-seasoned and I followed instructions online to give it an additional seasoning.
I cooked a few things on it and I was underwhelmed at first. It seemed that it performed slightly better than my other pans at cooking eggs and such, but was tough to clean. Following use, I would rinse it out with hot water, scrub off the excess food particles and then dry the pan over the stove and re-season with light oil before storing. This took some time but I enjoyed caring for the pan.
My mother-in-law who lives with us seemed to sneer at my cleaning methods. She was too polite to tell me that I was doing things wrong. Being the observant son-in-law that I am, I asked, “Why the funny looks?” I was casually informed that I was over cleaning the pan. I didn’t know that cast iron didn’t need a water cleaning and I was actually hindering it’s magic all together.
So, I reserved the water scrubbing for only the messiest of meals and used an oily rag or paper towel to wipe out the pan after use. Almost immediately the pan was transformed into the best pan I have ever owned. My affection for the pan grew tremendously. My new method of cleaning involved wiping off the pan and then storing it under the oven in the drawer. This meant that I didn’t have to wait for it to cool and that the pan was cleaned in about 30 seconds. Take that Teflon!
The only problem that I had was that the 10-inch pan could only cook small servings. Seeing that we have a large family (three adults and three kids under the same roof) I needed a bigger pan! So, I did what any other cast iron user would do, I ordered a 17-inch lodge pan.
This massive 200 lb pan is great. It takes up three burners on the stove and cooks for an entire platoon. I followed the same routines learned from my smaller pan but it was not performing as well. It was only about $40, but I was expecting greatness.
I decided to take a drastic move. I refinished the pan surface myself. Lodge pans have lots of little bumps, whereas Griswold and fancy cast iron pans are machine finished smooth. This requires less cleaning and creates a non-stick surface much faster with fewer uses.
To achieve a smooth surface, I used my 5-inch random orbit sander with 60 grit sand paper. Two hours later after about four pads of sand paper I was able to work through the grits and achieved a silky smooth surface without any bumps. I re-seasoned the pan and had created a masterpiece.
The beauty of cast iron, unlike stainless steel is that some fancy chemistry happens at high heat creating a good, safe and more importantly bird safe cooking surface that will last for generations. Cooking oils polymerize at high heat and create a thin layer of protection that protects the pan from water and also creates a surface that is a pleasure to cook with.
However, there are some downsides to cooking with cast iron. For starters, the pans are considerably heavier than similarly sized pans (requiring two hands to maneuver when loaded with food). They also require some maintenance. If you are the type of person who likes to let dishes “soak,” cast iron may not be for you. Cast iron also does not agree with highly acidic foods such as tomato sauces and such. It is possible to cook with these, but not for long slow cooks as the acid will break down the polymerized fats and can leave a metallic taste. Lastly, cast iron is not ideal for electric stoves.
For Christmas this year I asked for a 12-inch pan with a lid that doubles as a griddle. I use it for in-between sized meals. This pan was considerably more expensive than the other two pans, but does not really outperform them in any real measure.
Similar to large parrots, cast iron can last for generations, so when drafting up your will, don’t forget to give your cast iron to whoever gets the pleasure of taking on your birds.
Happy and safe cooking.
Links for the cast iron connoisseur: