Iron, also called carbon steel, is a very interesting material which has three pros and one con.
Iron has a very low thermal inertia, and this allows us to correct cooking temperatures almost instantaneously; it is a naturally non-stick substance in the presence of fats; it lasts forever.
The downside of iron is oxidation (it rusts); therefore, it has to be rinsed, dried and greased after every use before the pan can be put away (the oil on the surface protects the iron from humidity). Bear in mind, however, that iron oxide is not harmful to one’s health.
In Italy, we use light iron pans (although heavier cast iron pans also exist) for fry-ups. This is because if you start frying something without realizing that the oil is still not warm enough, you just have to turn up the heat and the oil will rapidly reach the right temperature, allowing you to save your fry-up. If instead the oil gets too hot and starts smoking, you can prevent it from burning by lowering the flame.
The fundamental difference is that iron does not retain heat: it cools down and heats up very quickly. Aluminium, the material out of which non-stick frying pans are made of, has instead a very high thermal inertia: it cools down and warms up slowly. Frying in an aluminium pan is a very long process. If you start frying too soon, you won’t be able to reach the correct temperature fast enough; but most importantly, if the oil starts burning, it will continue smoking for a long time before cooling down, even if you lower the heat.
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