Reader question: I have an old Wagner Ware Magnalite dutch oven (only available on eBay, so pretty old!)that I believe is cast aluminum. I’ve been using it for years – at least 40! Do you think it will work for your recipes as it’s not cast “iron”? The new enameled cast iron Dutch ovens are rather expensive, so I’d rather use what I already have if you think it’s appropriate(?) Can’t wait to try your method of cooking as I think it really suits my healthy eating style. ~ Jane F.
Hi Jane! Trust me: I know how easy it is to develop sentimental attachments to cookware. I had an old aluminum Dutch oven of my grandmother’s that I cherished for the connection it had to her, but I wouldn’t cook with it. I’m so sorry to deliver this news, but aluminum is bio-accumulative, and aluminum cookware can leach the heavy metal into your food. Aluminum toxicity may cause effects ranging from flatulence and heartburn to skin problems, liver disease, mental retardation, and Parkinson’s.
The original Magnalite, a mid-twentieth century, short-lived cookware company, used an aluminum alloy in its cookware, meaning the metal of your pot contains aluminum mixed with other metals. Newer versions of Magnalite pots and pans are currently manufactured cheaply in China. Like all aluminum cookware, it should not be considered safe to use for cooking. I think a classic Magnalite Dutch oven makes a beautiful planter for flowers.
Aluminum has been used in cookware because it is cheap, lightweight and heats quickly, though not evenly. It is also easy to shape (or dent) because it is a soft metal, which is why it is often mixed with other metals into an alloy. Aluminum cookware is not considered to be very high quality and in many parts of the world is only used by those who cannot afford better.
Cast iron, on the other hand, has unique heat conduction properties that make it a favorite of chefs. A cast iron pot will absorb, distribute, and retain heat unlike any other cookware material, which is why it is the only kind of cookware material that works for flash-cooking Glorious One-Pot Meals.
While enamel coating on cast iron is great for rust resistance, ease of cleaning and storage, and even decreases the weight of a cast iron Dutch oven, it is not a required ingredient for Glorious One-Pot Meal success. A seasoned cast iron Dutch oven will work just as well as an enamel-coated one and usually costs less.
Be aware that cooking in a seasoned cast iron pot may leach iron into your food. Iron is an essential ingredient in human blood and, unlike aluminum, is an element the human body can use and process. However, to avoid any leaching into your food, enamel-coated cast iron is considered one of the safest, most non-reactive types of cookware to use.
There are now many brands that offer enamel-coated cast iron Dutch ovens at a range of prices. Remember, too, the Glorious One-Pot Meals guidelines of 1-quart of pot for each person you want to feed. In other words, if you normally feed two people, you will want a 2-quart Dutch oven. For a family of four, a 3-1/2 – 4-quart Dutch oven will work perfectly for doubling the recipes.