Cooking Tips · Techniques

Cast Iron Cookery

I love my cast iron cookware. I have both enameled and unenameled items. Many people shy away from regular, unenameled cookware because they think the care of it is a hassle. In this Cooking Tip, let’s look at what is true and what is not about unenameled cast iron.

Why consider unenameled cast iron? It is extremely durable and will last for years as well as it is affordable. You will never get a better sear on a piece of meat than you will in a hot cast iron pan. It is also great for making a great crust on a dish such as hash or cornbread. It is oven-safe and so, you can go from the cooktop to oven and back again with ease – just beware the handle will get very hot and you must use an oven mitt or pot holder. It can also tolerate very high heat levels, even more than stainless steel.

Many people say a well-seasoned cast iron skillet is as nonstick as a regular nonstick skillet. Whereas it will get very nonstick the more you use it and the more seasoning it acquires, it will never be as nonstick as a modern coated nonstick skillet.

Most new cast iron pans are sold pre-seasoned. Ones you buy at a flea market or an estate sale may or may not be seasoned. Even with a new pre-seasoned pan, you may want to put it through a round or two of seasoning. The nonstick properties will only improve with more seasoning. Of course, just using your cast iron pan on a regular basis improves the seasoning.

Many posts claim one of the advantages is that a cast iron pan will heat evenly, meaning there will be no hot spots. Therefore, your food will cook evenly. In reality, a cast iron pan will develop definite hot spots. Also, cast iron is a relatively poor heat conductor. This means that it is hard to get an even heat distribution across the surface of the pan. The best way to evenly heat a cast iron pan is in the oven. For a more in-depth discussion of this along with great pictures, see this article by Dave Arnold.

Those new to cast iron cookery need to realize that a cast iron pan will take longer to heat up than non-cast iron pans. It will also hold on to that heat much longer. Therefore, just because you take it off the heat does not mean the cooking will stop. You must remove the food item from the pan to really stop the cooking process quickly.

Your cast iron pan may be the most durable pan in your kitchen. It is actually sort of difficult to hurt a cast iron pan. And, the more you use it and the more the seasoning builds up, the more durable it becomes. You may have read to never use soap on your cast iron pan. Most experts disagree with this and say that today’s gentle soaps will not harm your pan. Once the seasoning has built up, you may also use gentle scrubbing along with the soap. It is not recommended, though, that you allow your cast iron pan to soak in water. Make it the last thing you clean. Thoroughly dry it and heat on the stovetop until hot. Follow this by rubbing the pan very lightly all over with an unsaturated cooking fat, like canola, vegetable, or corn oil. Buff it well to remove any visible oil. Repeat this process after every use and cleaning. One caveat, do not put it in the dishwasher.

Another care tip you may have read is that you should never use metal implements. According to the same article by Dave Arnold, it is good to use metal implements as “gentle scraping of metal along the bottom of the pan while cooking helps to even out the surface of the seasoning and make it more durable, not less.”

There are many brands of cast iron cookware on the market. One of the most highly recommended is the Lodge cast iron skillet. I have one and use it on my small gas cooktop. My major cooktop is an induction and I do not like to use it on that due to imprinting of the logo from the bottom of the skillet. Because of that problem, I bought a second skillet without that type of logo, an Analon Vesta. It was more expensive than the Lodge but it was worth it as I can use it on my induction cooktop without worry and – it came in a pretty cobalt blue to match my kitchen!

If you have cast iron pans, I hope this article encourages you to use them more than you currently do. If you don’t have one, I hope you consider adding one to your pots/pans inventory. I do not think you will regret it!