(Cast) Iron Chef | Seventh Generation
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(Cast) Iron Chef

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16 comments
Author: the Inkslinger

Cast Iron Frying PanIn my house, we live to cook and eat. So when research came out showing we should give up our non-stick cookware to avoid perfluorinated chemicals, we had a hard time contemplating a life without the easy-to-clean pans. The skies seemed to darken. Tempers flared as we envisioned hours standing in front of the sink, scrubbing away. Then we discovered cast iron, and stove-top joy was ours again.

Cast iron cookware is...fantastic. It cooks startlingly evenly, goes from stove to oven without flinching, and lasts forever. (We've got hand-me-downs that are literally 100 years old). There's nothing it can't cook better than any other pan its size, and when it's treated kindly, foods slide right out -- I can fry an egg, tip the pan, and slip breakfast right onto my plate without so much as a wink from a spatula. It's become our much beloved cookware of choice, and we'd use it even if the non-stick stuff emitted lilac fumes and $100 bills.

Cast iron cookware is easy to find, but hunt carefully. You want a pan that's got a smooth-as-glass bottom. My advice is to haunt yard sales and flea markets for the vintage stuff, which is usually cheap and finely forged. My method of curing cast iron is to bring it home, and scrub the life out of it with hot water and soapy steel wool. When it's bone dry, I coat it - from top to bottom, inside and outside - with vegetable shortening or oil. Then I put it upside down over a sheet of aluminum foil in a 500° oven for an hour (I engage my exhaust fan!), to let the oil create a natural carbonized non-stick coating. (There's more to be said on seasoning; I've used the detailed instructions here and here with good results.)

Cooking is simple. Add a light coating of oil, preheat the pan, and nothing sticks. Clean up with hot water (no soap!) and a light scrub-brushing, and rub your clean pan with a thin new layer of oil. Over time, these treatments will strengthen the coating and turn your cast iron into a 100% natural non-stick wonder you have to use to believe.

Having said all of that, I should also say that seasoning, using, and maintaining cast iron is far more art than science. Everybody's got their own tricks. I'm interested in hearing from the Nation on this one. Who among us has tips on the care and feeding of this healthier way to cook? Share 'em if you've got 'em, and let's all sing the praises of cast iron.

photo: Ross Catrow

16
Comments

rvitajean picture
rvitajean
02/04/12
I love my cast iron pans and have used them for 59 yers. I have a couple of skillets, corn bread stick pans and a griddle that was my grandmother's. I have no idea how old the griddle is. I have cleaned mine out every once in awhile with steel wool, seasoned them again and they are as good as new. I also put them on heat after I have used them to dry them out. Once a resturant owner was at my house and I was using my skillet and he said " You know good cooks when you see them using iron skillets.
judicasey picture
judicasey
11/22/11
jlarmour - Lodge Logic - still made in the USA, and often available at grocery stores even!
jlarmour picture
jlarmour
04/19/10
For someone who hasn't inherited any cast iron cookware, are there any recommendations for purchasing cast iron cookware? Any specific brands you would suggest?
Nancilee picture
Nancilee
04/11/10
I have used cast iron for about 20 years...there's nothing better than cornbread with a crunchy bottom crust! And my 7 inch skillet is slick enough that omelets slide right out. One thing to remember though, is to pre-heat your pan before adding oil. I learned this after many years of using iron pans, and have had few cleaning issues since then. When I need to use my pan, I place it on a cold burner and turn the heat on. After 5-10 minutes, I add the oil...I use butter or ghee, home rendered lard, or virgin coconut oil, but I'm sure veg oil would work, too. Here's what I teach my kids: cold pan + cold oil + heat = a pan that is hard to clean pre-heated pan + cold oil = a pan that cleans itself Guess how quickly they learn that?! :)
tscrosby@gmail.com picture
tscrosby@gmail.com
04/10/10
I once stripped a year's worth of TLC seasoning from a beloved cast iron pan by cooking a tomato sauce in it. boo. I also prevented my 1 year old from needing iron supplements and anemia by cooking most of her food in cast iron. Yeah cast iron!
ellieblue picture
ellieblue
04/10/10
I wash mine just like any other pan with no bad results.
regiscs picture
regiscs
04/09/10
Question: If we fry meat/eggs in the cast iron pan, shouldn't the pan be cleaned afterwards with some kind of dish soap? Concern: raw meat/raw egg contaminants, etc. . . . Or do these disappear when pan is heated? Thanks, anyone!
dbscandy picture
dbscandy
04/09/10
I have my grandmother's large cast iron frying pan. She died in 1985 and was 95, so this pan is old!!! The inside is slick as a baby's butt, but I never put it in the sink of water/dish detergent. I use a small plastic scrubber to get any little speck that sticks, wipe it out and put it back on its' hook. It's an humble piece of cookware and, importantly, is still made in the USA!!!!!
theforsters picture
theforsters
04/09/10
One word of warning. I love cast iron, But don't cook acidic foods in them (ie tomato sauce and meatballs) or you will get more iron than one can enjoy. Very metallic taste!! And you kill the seasoning.
twestover picture
twestover
04/09/10
My favourite way to clean my cast iron pan if I do end up with something stuck to it: throw a little salt in the pan, and wipe with a rag. The gritty salt will get almost anything off the pan, without wrecking the oil coating!
kiara_j picture
kiara_j
04/09/10
I also used my cast iron on a glass stove top without damage. Just as an aside, though, you cannot use a boiling water canner on a glass cook top or it will ruin it. I've used both the rinse with water each time and dry on the stove and oil, and the oven method. Now, unless there is a huge mess, I can usually just scrape any remaining food/crumbs out and wipe out with a dry towel. I love my cast iron!
honeybeeholistic picture
honeybeeholistic
04/09/10
Cactus Mango: My MIL has a glass stovetop and cast iron cookware has no negative effect on it. In fact, she has at least 6 pans, including a Dutch oven. Once upon a time, USAmericans' iron supplementation was primarily through cast-iron cookware, but we stop using them. They last forever if you take care of them. My mother still uses HER mother's cast iron pan, and my mother is 61.
joanie picture
joanie
04/08/10
I have been using cast iron for 35 years and have always seasoned mine after washing, by putting it on the burner to dry and then coating with oil. It really isn't necessary to season in the oven.I also used a wood cook stove for 11 years and the only cookware that would withstand that was cast iron! Once you get the feel for it you will never go back to that non-stick junk!!
cactusmango picture
cactusmango
04/08/10
we don't have a gas stove top. so, i was wondering, does anyone use cast iron on an electric glass stove top? is this going to damage the glass stove top? and does it take longer to heat cast iron pans on an electric stove top?
lazlobean picture
lazlobean
04/08/10
I inherited a set of cast iron pans, so I didn't have to go through the seasoning process. I love them! They're the original non-stick cookware. Once they've been really seasoned, you really don't even need the oil to cook. One thing that wasn't mentioned is that cast iron cookware puts iron into your food - which add a real benefit!