Cast iron cookware dates as far back as 680, although the use of cooking in iron goes back even further. Cast iron is a type of iron that was originally molded using handmade sand molds. Modern methods have streamlined the process, but the cookware is still the same high-quality.
Cast iron holds many qualities that make it the perfect cookware for any situation, whether it is a fancy kitchen with modern appliances, a log cabin with a wood stove, or an open campfire.
Benefits of Cast Iron Cookware
The first logical benefit of cast iron pans is how long they last. It is quite likely that you have seen ones floating around yard sales or even remember your grandmother or great-grandmother cooking with a cast-iron skillet. This heavy material is made to last a lifetime and has traditionally been passed down from one generation to the next. Its popularity is due to the many benefits you get from Cast Iron.
1. Cast iron is versatile. You can use your pan for searing, frying, baking, and more. It works well on top of the stove, in an oven, over a wood stove, and over a campfire. Your one piece of cookware can pretty much do it all.
2. Cast iron is efficient. The pan heats up quickly and requires less heat to get it to the correct cooking temperature. It will also heat evenly if placed correctly on the heating source.
3. Cast iron is easy to care for in time. The initial seasoning takes a bit of time, but you will find that you often need to do nothing more than wipe the surface clean with a paper towel and apply a thin coat of cooking oil.
4. Cast iron holds heat. This allows you to be able to enjoy what you have cooked over a period of time. This comes in handy for keeping leftover food at a reasonable temperature throughout the meal.
5. Cast iron gets better with age. The more you use your cast iron skillet, the better it becomes. The regular seasoning seeps into the porous material over time. This creates a non-stick barrier that is better than any manufactured coating in existence.
6. A well-seasoned skillet limits the amount of oil or other fat you need for cooking which can be healthier in the long run.
7. Cast iron is durable – if well cared for it will last you a lifetime, even be handed down to future generations.
Seasoning Cast Iron
Seasoning your cast iron skillet is easy, but is very important.
First, sprinkle a layer of salt on your skillet and then you must fill top that with vegetable oil. The oil should be deep enough to come halfway up the sides of the pan.
Turn your heat up high as you want to get the pan as hot as possible so this mixture starts to seep into the porous material. Watch the skillet carefully so the oil doesn’t catch fire.
Once you start seeing smoke come from the oil, turn off the heat and pour the salt and oil mixture into a container. Once this is cool, you can put it in the trash.
Now, crumple up some paper towels. You will need several before you finish. Starting in the center of the skillet, start rubbing vigorously in a circular motion. Continue moving outward slowly. Take your time on this step to make sure the entire inside of your skillet is covered.
Now, your new cookware is ready to be put to use.
Every time you wash the skillet, make sure you reapply a thin layer of vegetable oil to help keep the pan seasoned.
Cleaning Cast Iron
Cleaning your cast iron skillet is easy. Many longtime users advocate simply using crumpled paper or a paper towel to wipe off any excess food. You definitely don’t want to put the piece in a dishwasher or use any harsh chemicals as this will damage the seasoned coating and allow rust to begin.
Using mild dish soap and warm water is fine for your cast iron cookware. You don’t want to completely immerse it in the water but instead use a rag or soft-bristled brush to get off any particles that are stuck. The best time to clean your cookware is when it is still warm.
Once clean, use a towel to thoroughly dry the skillet. An alternative method is to place the skillet over a burner or other heat source to allow it to dry quickly. You can then use a paper towel to apply a thin coating of vegetable oil and your skillet is ready for your next cooking adventure.
A Word About Rust
Iron has a tendency to rust over time. If your skillet happens to get some rust, use the best method you can to scrub the rust off. You can then season the pan as though it was the first time and re-season it after every use for a time to make sure the surface is sealed. Try to avoid getting water on your pan until the seasoning is complete.
What Not to Cook in Cast Iron
There are some things you need to use caution with when cooking with cast iron, although some will become more possible over time when the cookware has aged considerably and is very well seasoned. Some things you should avoid include:
- Acidic products such as tomatoes. These can wear away the seasoning when left on the iron for long periods of time.
- Cast iron tends to be very porous in the beginning so can readily absorb both flavors and smells. Cooking anything with a pungent smell or taste can affect the flavor of the next dish you cook if you haven’t taken time to clean properly.
- Delicate fish and sticky foods tend to stick to the surface, especially in the beginning. Avoiding things like thin-skinned fish, pancakes, and even eggs until your piece is well-seasoned with age.
Over time, foods to avoid become less of an issue. Once the cookware has gone through years of seasoning, the surface becomes easier to clean and retains a non-stick quality.
Why You Need Cast Iron
If you want to invest in just one piece of cookware or have only minimal space, you can’t go wrong with choosing a cast-iron skillet. This versatile cookware can be used anywhere and can take care of almost any cooking needs you may have at home or out in the wilderness. When taken care of properly, the common cast iron skillet gets better with age and will still be enjoyed in generations from now.