My Thoughts On Cooking With Cast Iron

posted by Andrea | 06/27/2018

For more than 2 years now, I’ve hated my small and large frying pans.

I have 2 stainless steal sauce pans that I like and one large stock pot I use all the time for soups, applesauce, etc. However, my non-stick frying pans were getting so scratched and nasty, I had to replace them.

I asked for a couple new pans 2 years ago for Christmas (and I got them — yay!) However, by this past Christmas (only 1 year later) they were scratched again. I thought about asking for new pans AGAIN… but decided I just needed an alternative option.

I originally wanted to switch to Green Pans — but SO many people I talked to had negative experiences with Green Pans… so I was hesitant to shell out more money! And I have tried stainless steal frying pans before, but considering I cook eggs EVERY SINGLE MORNING, I just couldn’t deal with cleaning stuck on eggs every day (the eggs always stuck no matter what I did).

I posted a few questions on Facebook over the holidays, and the overwhelming response was for me to try cast iron skillets — something I really didn’t want to do as I was intimidated by all the upkeep it seemed they would require.

SIDE NOTE: As I’ve mentioned before, I don’t buy ‘sets’ of pots and pans — just individual items as I feel I need them or as something needs to be replaced.

Well, I’m assuming you guessed by the title of today’s posts that I eventually took the advice of the majority and purchased 2 cast iron skillets just after the New Year.

For the past 6 months, I’ve been cooking daily (sometimes 3 meals a day) with my cast iron skillets — and after a brief “learning curve” where I wanted to throw them out the window, I can now say I really enjoy cooking with cast iron.

I also love the fact that they don’t get scratched, that they can go in and out of the oven, that they are super quick and easy to wipe up, and that they cook very evenly. Plus, they are really affordable!

Of course, there are several negatives associated with using cast iron as well — they are HEAVY, they can’t go in the dishwasher, they are slightly more high maintenance than other pans (at least in terms of cleaning and drying them), and they could potentially scratch a glass-top cooking surface (we have a gas cooktop with cast iron grates).

However, for me, the pros seem to outweigh the cons right now — so I’m sticking with cast iron for the foreseeable future!

If you’ve ever wanted to try cooking with cast iron but felt intimidated or unsure, I hope today’s post will help to simplify and bring some clarity.

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How to Season a Cast Iron Skillet:

Even if your cast iron pan says it is “pre-seasoned” I’m almost positive you’ll want to season it a few times on your own before using it. You’ll most likely want to wash it with soap and water when you get it home, and once you wash cast iron with soap, it will wash any oil away, which means it will need to be seasoned again.

But don’t worry, even though everything I read makes this process sound SO intimidating, it’s really not! Let me give you the super simplified version!

  1. Scrub the skillet well in hot soapy water (one of the only times you’ll use soap on your cast iron).
  2. Dry thoroughly (I use a separate towel for this so my white kitchen towels don’t get dingy).
  3. Rub a thin layer of vegetable oil over the entire skillet with a clean paper towel.
  4. Place skillet upside down on a middle oven rack at 375°.
  5. Bake 1 hour.
  6. Turn oven off and let skillet cool to room tempurature in the oven.
  7. Repeat steps 3-6 a couple of times until a good coating of oil has formed on your skillet. (I usually do it 3 times over the course of 3 days — just whenever I have my oven on)
  8. Use skillet to make your favorite foods.

Cooking With Cast Iron:

I’m definitely not an expert on cooking with cast iron, but I will give a couple of super simple tips for anyone wanting to try cast iron.

Tip #1: Make sure it’s will seasoned (see above).

Even if your pan says it’s pre-seasoned, you’ll still want to season it a couple more times to really build up a coating of oil on your cooking surface. This will help it cook more evenly and prevent food from sticking.

Tip #2: Preheat your pan well.

I was never great at preheating my pans, but with cast iron, everything will stick more if you don’t preheat it well before you are ready to cook the food. I often turn my pan on 5 minutes before I’m ready to cook anything so the whole pan is very hot.

Tip #3: Use medium-low heat. 

Our stovetop is VERY powerful (it has extra powerful front burners that can boil water crazy fast) so I usually keep our stove on low or medium low when I’m cooking with cast iron.

Once the cast iron is preheated, it will retain it’s heat and cook very evenly, so you don’t need crazy hot temperatures.

Tip #4: Give yourself time to learn (and make mistakes)!

As with any new technique or tool, you’ll need time to learn. I’ve been cooking 2-3 meals a day with our cast iron skillets for the past 6 months and I’m still learning SO many new tips, tricks, and ways to make it easier.

If you really want to give it a good try, force yourself to try cast iron for at least 6 weeks (and put your other skillets away for that time).

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How to Clean a Cast Iron Skillet:

Again, this topic is one I’ve read a lot about, and almost everything I read makes it sound so intimidating… but it’s really not all the bad. I promise!

In my experience, the main thing with cast iron is to keep it dry, otherwise it will eventually get rusty.

Of course, it if does gets rusty, you can just scrape the rust off, wash it with soapy water, and start the seasoning process all over again — so you really won’t ruin your pan, just create a little more work for yourself.

Here’s how I clean my pan (assuming it’s already well-seasoned using the instructions above).

  1. Remove all food from pan.
  2. Wait until the pan is cool enough to handle, then scrub it with a hard bristle brush or chainmail scrubber (see below for the tools I use) with very hot water. Do NOT use soap.
  3. Dry immediately and thoroughly.
  4. Rub small amount of vegetable oil over the cooking surface (sometimes I just spray it with cooking spray) and put the pan away.

If you are worried about germs or bacteria, just put the cleaned, dried, and oiled skillet back on the stove on low heat and let it get really hot for 10 minutes or so, then turn the heat off and let your skillet cool.

And if there are stuck on stains or food odors, just scrub the pan with coarse sea salt and baking soda — it will easily rinse away.

The tricky part is that cast iron cleans up much better if you clean the pans right away, just after they are cool enough to touch (not 5 hours later or the next morning) so it’s something I need to remember to do relatively soon after each meal.

Also, cast iron definitely can NOT be washed in the dishwasher, which is a BIG bummer for me. However, I like that they can’t be ruined or scratched, so I’m willing to sacrifice a few conveniences for that.

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The 2 Pans I Currently Use:

It would be VERY easy to get carried away buying all sorts of fantastic cast iron pans — and to be perfectly honest, there’s a good chance I’ll buy one more larger pan as I regularly wish I had 2 big pans and a small pan. But for now, the 2 skillets I have serve me well.

I have the 12.5″ Utopia skillet and an 8″ Lodge skillet — mainly because they were both “deals of the day” back when I purchased them at extremely reasonable prices!

So far, I am very happy with both of them and would definitely recommend either pan.

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A Few of My Favorite Cast Iron Accessories:

I really love the silicon hot handle that came with my pans. You can buy one on its own here — it should fit any size cast iron skillet.

I also like this cast iron chainmail scrubber — it seriously gets everything off!

And finally, I use this hard bristle vegetable cleaning brush when the pan isn’t that dirty and I just need to get some crumbs out. I ONLY use it for my cast iron (not vegetables!)

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So that’s it — a few of my thoughts after 6 months of daily cooking with cast iron. 

I’d love to know your thoughts too…

Do you love cast iron? Hate it? Never tried it?

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51 comments

  1. JoAnne

    07/03/2018

    I used Lodge cast iron skillets for years, and thought they were the best, until I discovered Griswold. These may not be an option for many people because they haven’t been made since the 1950s, but they are AWESOME. I live in Northern WI and am still able to frequently find them in great condition at flea markets, estate sales, or antique shops for around $25 – $40 each. These skillets were more finely milled back then than they are nowadays, so they have the truly glass-like nonstick surface. Also, they are significantly lighter than today’s Lodges! I can’t pick up a 10” Lodge with one hand, but my Griswold is no problem. I cook with and clean them the same way I did with Lodge. I have a few pans that are almost 100 years old and with care I’m sure they’ll last another 100. Maybe something to keep an eye out for if you love your cast iron but don’t love how heavy it is!

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    Andrea Reply:

    good to know — I’ll keep an eye out for these! Thanks JoAnne!

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  2. Melanie Bush

    07/01/2018

    I have found several cast iron pans at goodwill type stores. I got a Lodge wok for $3! Scrub a rusty pan with steel wool and it will be restored.
    I am practically exclusive with cooking with cast iron. I have quite a collection. The 10 inch is my go-to wedding gift.
    Cast iron is so great for making a delicious crispy edge on anything from skookies to breakfast casseroles.
    Cast iron is the best for carmelizing onions.
    My most used:
    4 inch – daily for individual fried eggs. Perfect size for sandwiches.
    10 & 12 inch – one or both daily at dinner
    17 inch – for cooking up a bunch of ground beef to freeze in 2-cup portions. And large casseroles.
    Square Grill pan for hot dogs and steak
    7 qt – enameled cast iron by lodge. LOVE this pan. Smaller families may only need a 4 or 5 qt.
    Fun pans: pizza pan, wedge pan for corn bread, aebleskiver pan

    3 or 5 qt skillet and fryer combo is on my buy next list. The lid doubles as a skillet. So smart!

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    Andrea Reply:

    wow — that’s an impressive line-up of cast iron pans!

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  3. Julia

    06/30/2018

    We love our cast iron pans and actually think they are easier to clean. We just put them in the sink while still hot, scrub them, dry them with a dark towel and put them away. And our enameled cast iron Dutch ovens can go in the dishwasher, so they’re even easier! Wouldn’t trade them for anything!

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  4. Erin Heckber

    06/28/2018

    1- I read your blog always on my phone and I LOVE that it is mobile friendly and I don’t have to zoom in from your website.

    2- I LOVE my cast iron. I got as a wedding gift 5 years ago and didn’t touch it for 3. Took it camping with us and when we got home it got a permanent place in our kitchen. The only thing we don’t make in it is ‘dippy’ eggs, but it is either sitting on our stove or in our oven (just need to remember to take it out before turning the oven on for something else!). I am glad to hear you like cast iron!

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    Andrea Reply:

    Thanks — the new mobile version is pretty great! Glad you like it!
    And yes, I store my cast iron in my oven (or in the drawer below) all the time!

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  5. JoEllen

    06/28/2018

    Also, you increase your iron intake by the food that is cooked in the pan. Years ago, I was having major surgery and had to store my own blood. It was recommended to eat food that was cooked in cast iron to build up iron levels in the blood. Makes more sense than cooking food in teflon and absorbing that! I usually only cook in cast iron and LOVE it. I have a few stainless steel pots that I use for things that need to be boiled, but my everyday go-to is cast iron.

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    Andrea Reply:

    yes, I definitely noticed this. For the first time in a long time, I wasn’t boarder-line anemic when I got my blood drawn last month!

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  6. BB

    06/28/2018

    I have several cast iron items, and I like your idea of reserving a towel or two for JUST drying the cast iron. Hubby got industrious and tried using my cast iron one morning, then washed it WITH soap, then used my good tea towel to dry it. Even now, after almost a year, I CANNOT get that stain out of my tea towel. I told hubby that the cast iron if OFF LIMITS to him until he can accept that it cannot be washed with soap, nor dried with my ‘better’ tea towels. I did see some blue paper towels at Costco meant for automotive shop use, so I bought a package of those, and they do work much better than regular paper towels – they are much sturdier. I also will save the blue paper towel if it is in good condition to use again for drying the cast iron if it is in good condition. I store it in the end of the tube for the blue paper towels (which I just keep in a cabinet with a couple of regular paper towels rolls for changing the regular paper towels dispenser out faster). When I run out of the blue paper towels, I will assign a couple of older towels for cast iron and still keep them in the cabinet with the regular extra paper towel rolls. Oh, and BTW, we have a glass countertop stove, and they work fine on it as long as you are not dragging your pan around on the glass top a lot. You learn to keep the pan still and use your cooking tool to do whatever movement is required of the food being cooked. ;-D

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    Andrea Reply:

    yeah, they can stain — so i have a dark colored towel just for my cast iron!

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  7. Cherry B.

    06/28/2018

    I just wanted to make a comment about the cleaning part. Thanks to my smart and practical engineer husband ‘s advice, I know take my steaming hot pan and rinse and scrub it (without soap) while it is hot. Nothing bad will happen to the pan, only fifteen seconds of cleaning, and I never have to re-season it. That change is what made cast iron do-able for me.
    Thought I’d share for all of the other time-pressed people out there.

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    Andrea Reply:

    Good to know — thanks for sharing!

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  8. Georgia

    06/27/2018

    I have used cast iron all my married life, 51 years. My mom used it and so did my grandmother so therefore it was just natural for me to follow that pattern. Hubby was not familiar with it but once he got the hang of how to clean without soap he also loves these pans. We have three different size fry pans and I rarely use the small one. We also have a dutch oven with the cover and I use that all the time. I even use it for deep frying as that just adds to the seasoning of the pan.

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  9. Heather Ratliff

    06/27/2018

    I love the idea of cast iron, but I have a glass stovetop and I’m so afraid to use cast iron on it. Also, the cast iron pans I have have a little ridge on the bottom which would mean that the entire pan isn’t sitting on the heat. But, I probably should give it another try. That would mean I’d have to finish stripping and reseasoning those pans I started last summer. 🙂

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    Andrea Reply:

    haha – just choose one pan to season and give it a try. I do think they are OK for glass top stoves, but I’m not 100% positive.

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    JoEllen Campbell Reply:

    The cast iron pans have been improved over the past years, and a lot of them say “glass cooktop safe” now on the label. I use them on mine and it has not scratched my cooktop at all. I wouldn’t recommend dragging them over the cooktop though – make sure to lift the pan if you want to change the position of the pan. A little “scoot” is fine, but wouldn’t drag the pan across, but then again, I wouldn’t do that with any pan.

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    Tracey Reply:

    I’ve had a Lodge (smooth bottom) cast iron Dutch oven for years, and have used it on a glass cooktop for the past eight. I always set it down gently and I don’t slide it around at all, and the glass top has been totally fine.

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  10. Lauren Bolton

    06/27/2018

    Hi Andrea, thank you so much writing this post. I bought my cast iron skillet over 6 years ago and finally got enough courage to use it a few months ago. I seasoned it as the instructions suggested, but now I know from your post that I didn’t season it as many times as I should have, as my eggs stuck like crazy. Probably not the best food to start with! I’ll try it again by following your instructions. Thanks again!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    yeah, I think the seasoning part is the most intimidating, most “unsure”, and yet, the most important. I’d say try seasoning it 2-3 more times and then try using it. Also, make sure you preheat it well before cooking — as long as I preheat it, nothing sticks!

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  11. Olga

    06/27/2018

    As many other reviewers commented, crazy amount of screen size ads almost prompted me to delete the shortcut icon of your site from my home screen 🙁 soooo annoying! Most of them are online store websites i know, but previously I had an experience with virus from accidentally clicking on ad picture, which switched place with the blog picture. Since then i erased all blogs from my phone’s home screen as soon as they get contaminated with ads. I really hope this is just a temporary issue, not an ad dealer taking over control of your site.
    I understand that your income comes from running this site and promoting various products, but please, PLEASE, don’t let ad companies take over on your blog!
    I liked how it was before–ads on the right side of the screen, not seeded throughout your post and pictures.

    Regarding the cast iron –i have two from Costco and i love mostly everything about them! Mostly, not actually everything, because they are ridiculously heavy and cleaning/seasoning part takes extra time and effort. But same as you, i noticed difference in blood results and overall feeling better.

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    Andrea Reply:

    Yes, I just switched ad companies this week and we’re definitely still tweaking things!

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  12. Debbie

    06/27/2018

    My mom has a cast iron and I’ve used it once or twice when I’m at her house. Stir frying or dishes with sauces are easy enough to cook. I washed it with soap and water afterwards. I’ve heard you’re not supposed to but I just couldn’t stand it and wasn’t used to not washing pans. I don’t have very much strength in my wrist so lifting her pan took 2 hands for me. I don’t have cast iron in my home and since we have a glass cook top I guess it wouldn’t be good for us.

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    myrna eisenlauer Reply:

    I use my cast iron pan on my glass top stove – nearly every day.

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    Susan Smeltzer Reply:

    Me too! works great.
    My son talked me out of my well seasoned used for years skillet. I had to start over breaking in a new one and there are ones with flat bottoms.

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  13. tammy burns

    06/27/2018

    My cast iron pan was passed down to me from my great-grandfather. It has cooked many meals from fresh caught fish down by the river to pizza at home. 60 years old and still growing strong!

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    Andrea Reply:

    ow — that’s awesome!

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  14. Chris from Normal

    06/27/2018

    I also bought the enamel coated cast iron dutch oven by Lodge many years ago at our local Farm & Fleet (where I purchased all of my cast iron) and it is my most used item. I love it for soups, stews, chili, etc. It is similar to Le Creuset but much cheaper.

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    Andrea Reply:

    I might have to look into these pans — I love the look of the Le Creuset, but not the price!

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    Tracey Reply:

    There’s an enameled Martha Stewart version that a mom uses on Instagram and she loves it! I think it was $89 on sale. I do wonder whether you’d still get the iron-leaching benefit when the inside is enameled as well.

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    Andrea Reply:

    the enamel pans are SO pretty too! I really want to get a dutch oven — but they are pretty pricy! I’ll just stick with cast iron for now 🙂

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  15. Chris from Normal

    06/27/2018

    I love my cast iron cookware and have several pieces but they can be heavy. I switched to cast iron for the same reason as you did. I clean mine with salt and season with twice strained bacon fat. I’ve never had much luck with any other oils but the fat works well and you only use about a 1/2 to 1 tsp. depending on the size of your pan. Thanks for the tips Andrea!

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    Andrea Reply:

    yes, I just wish they weren’t so heavy! My small pan is glorious, but the 12″ takes 2 hands for me!

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  16. Lana

    06/27/2018

    I LOVE my cast iron. It is my go-to pan.

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  17. Julie

    06/27/2018

    I love my cast iron pans. Yes, they are a bit heavy, but I have gone through so many other pans in my 35 years I have been out of the house on my own and cast iron are the only ones still with me. Those are the only pan
    s that have made it though my kids learning to cook. I don’t find them difficult to clean in fact I would rather clean a cast iron pan than a stainless steel pan. It’s just easier to me.

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  18. Ann

    06/27/2018

    I absolutely love my cast iron and my favorite way to season it is this recipe from Martha Stewart:
    https://www.marthastewart.com/1034356/skillet-chocolate-chip-cookie
    It basically seasons it with the butter with an added bonus of getting dessert when you are done.

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    Andrea Reply:

    this is awesome — thanks for sharing!

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  19. Mary in Maryland

    06/27/2018

    So what’s with the six ads for totally random stuff?

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    Andrea Reply:

    sorry — I honestly have no idea what’s going on, but I did figure out how to fix it today, so I’ll work on that tonight!! crazy ad companies 🙂

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  20. Lisa K.

    06/27/2018

    The fact that cast iron is so heavy is enough reason for me not to try them, and the maintenance comes in as a strong second on the con list. I use ceramic-coated pans (different version of Green Pans) that I purchase at T.J. Maxx or Homegoods. I buy them individually and not in sets.
    They release food residue and clean like a dream. Will they last forever? No, but the price is so reasonable that I’m willing to replace them when necessary.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    that’s my least favorite part — honestly, whey do they have to be SO heavy!

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  21. Bonnie'sMama

    06/27/2018

    Hate, hate, hate cast iron!!! I gave mine away. We tried a Green Pan, which worked beautifully for a very short time. I got rid of that one, and my husband bought me a Le Creuset non-stick pan. Ummmm, that’s a sweet pan. It’s better to keep it out of the dishwasher, but it washes so easily by hand. Love that thing. It cooks all the food just fine.

    I don’t have time, energy, or patience for babying cast iron, not to mention I really hate the stench of cooking with it. I’ll just get my iron other ways.

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    Andrea Reply:

    I actually gave 3 cast iron pans away years ago too — I hated them.
    They still are more work than I would prefer, but for me (at least right now) they seem to be the ‘best’ alternative!
    Oh, and I did want to mention that for the FIRST TIME EVER, I wasn’t boarder-line anemic when I got my blood drawn last month for my yearly physical — so the iron thing is real!

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  22. Jen

    06/27/2018

    I have one but I am intimidated, too! Maybe I’ll give it a try now. Everyone I know who uses cast iron LOVES it!

    P.S. Noticing a TON (like 7 big ads with photos) more ads right in the middle of your post. Is that something new or is that my browser?

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    Michelle Reply:

    Me too and I was wondering the same thing.

    I understand needing to have them in order to make some money but in the middle of the post is quite annoying.

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    Andrea Reply:

    yeah, the ads are ridiculous right now — I figured out how to change the settings and will be working on that tonight. Sorry 🙁

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  23. JJ

    06/27/2018

    I wish I had gotten one after this post–haha! I had a horrible time with mine. So I had purchased a 12″ skillet from Pampered Chef years ago. Even though my consultant and state I live in changed, there were no issues when I called headquarters and needed a new one(because of damage that was honestly my fault…I was honest about it, and they still sent a new one once I returned my old one). They are life-time guaranteed. I use it 2-3 times a day!!!

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    Andrea Reply:

    that’s awesome! Great customer service for sure!

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  24. Luba @ Healthy with Luba

    06/27/2018

    Andrea,

    My cousin uses cast iron and loves it. Right now I have stainless steel but would definitely make the switch. Cast iron is excellent for cooking because it naturally adds iron to the food, and most of us women do not get enough of it. Plus, it’s nontoxic, unlike other cookware.

    Thanks for sharing your experience!

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    Andrea Reply:

    yes on the added iron! For the first time ever, I was NOT boarder-line anemic when I got my blood drawn at my yearly physical a couple weeks ago!

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  25. Annette Silveira

    06/27/2018

    I love my cast iron skillets. I use at least one of them once or twice a day. They aren’t hard to clean if they’ve been seasoned and continue to be taken care of. Anyone, who like you, is frustrated with their current skillets should go for it.

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