Cast iron cookware has been a staple in homes for many generations. It has stood the test of time as an invaluable too in the kitchen. In recent years however, with the advance of new technology and new cookware options, many cooks of the newer generation have never used cast iron cookware, or even given it a second thought. I’d like to revisit that.
For a New Generation of Cooks
Cast iron cookware is practically indestructible, given some simple and proper care. It was the original non-stick cookware and many old time cooks wouldn’t give up their iron skillets for any amount of money. Many claim that food simply tastes better when cooked in them, versus other types of cookware. The cookware tends to get better and better with age and use.
Originally it was made by melting iron down into a molten state, and pouring into sand, molded to the shape of the pan. After cooling, the sand was then rubbed off. Thus the name, cast iron….cast in sand. It’s also why the new cast iron cookware has a rough texture, compared to one that’s been used frequently. With age and use, it because a very smooth texture.
Cast iron also has a nutritional value in that it does provide some iron to food, something that a lot of people need extra of in their diets. It also does not give off fumes that can be poisonous to pet birds that some newer technology pans can do.
It can also be moved from stovetop to oven, or vice versa. Of course, you’ll need to invest in some good quality potholders, but well worth it. It also has a charm of its own, when directly set on a table and used to serve out of (again pot holders are needed to protect the table), plus it keeps the food hot for those wanting seconds.
Cast iron cookware is also very affordable, and comes in several different classic styles. Everything from skillet, to fry pans, Dutch ovens, cowboy ovens, muffin tins, cornbread tins and bread loafs are a few examples of forms they can be bought in.
Think outside the box too, in terms of cooking. Biscuits for instance, are delicious when baked in a skillet, same with cornbread. Stews can be made inside the deeper dish skillets.
The difference between a Dutch oven and a cowboy oven are a few minor features. The Dutch oven is intended to be used on the stovetop, or in the oven, but can also be used outside on a fire pit. A cowboy oven is a cast iron pot with short legs, and a flat, lid. It’s made to be put directly in the fire, and with the flat lid, hot coals can be placed on top. This is perfect for camping, and cooking some great meals around an open fire.
Buying Cast Iron Cookware
You can buy it either new or used. First determine which form suits you best (or several forms to start with), perhaps a skillet, and a Dutch oven, whatever you’d like. If you buy it used, plan to do a little work, as you probably don’t want to eat off of someone else’s cooking and spices, so you’ll want to get those off first.
When you purchase your cookware, examine it closely. Make sure there are no cracks, or lumps or irregularities in the metal, which just doesn’t look right. New cast iron tends to have a gray color and the more it gets used, will turn to the black patina we’re all familiar with. It also should have a rough, although consistent texture. Older cast iron will most likely be black in color and a smoother texture.
Because cast iron is heavy, it’s a good idea to get them with a handle on the other side to assist in carrying them with food. It’s also not recommended to get the cowboy or Dutch ovens with the little wooden handles, as they typically don’t stand up as well as the handles without it. Plus, it you plan to use it directly over fire, that wood handle also would cause other issues.
Care for Your Cast Iron Cookware
For normal day to day care of your cookware, after cooking, and the pan is cooled, use hot water and a stiff nylon or natural bristle brush to scrub your pan clean. Then dry thoroughly with a towel. If you live in a high humidity area, you might want to set it on a low burner for a little while to ensure it gets completely dried before putting it away.
Don’t use metal wire brushes or scour pads on these. Don’t use soap, don’t use in the dishwasher, and don’t allow to drip dry. Never put cold water in a hot pan. These are the few things that can cause damage and rusting of your cookware. If the thought of not using soap on a regular basis gets to you, you can also do a quick rinse with boiling water after scrubbing with a nylon stiff brush.
If you have stuck on food that even this won’t cut loose, you can warm your pan in a low temp oven to slightly head it (this will help open up the pores of the iron), then using very hot or even boiling water and a couple drops of dishwashing soap, scrub again with the stiff nylon brush. Be sure to use high quality gloves to protect your hands. You will need to re-season the pan immediately afterwards.
How to Season or Cure Your Cast Iron Pots and Pans
Seasoning, otherwise known, as curing is an important part of upkeep for cast iron. It helps preserve it, protects from rust, makes the cookware better with time, and makes it more non-stick in its properties. It generally should be done once a month or so.
You can purchase cast iron already pre-seasoned if you so desire, but you’ll still need to season it periodically. Anytime you’ve done a very heavy-duty washing, you’ll need to re-season it again, of if you felt that food was sticking.
It’s a simple process really. On the clean, dry pan put vegetable oil (or even solid Crisco), and rub with a paper towel to cover the entire surface. Inside, outside, handles, everything. Turn it upside down, and place on a cookie sheet covered with aluminum foil and bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour. After the hour, turn off the oven and allow to cool for several more hours. Now it’s good to go. A newer pan will need to be re-seasoned more often than an old one.
If you have a new pan avoid cooking acidic foods (like citrus and tomatoes) in it for the first 6 or 7 times, in order to allow a good level of seasoning to really penetrate and build up on the iron.
If you find you’ve got a rusted cast iron skillet or pan, or acquired one, most of them can be salvaged with some TLC. Take fine grain sandpaper or steel wool and scrub the rusted areas to get the rust off. Do the method above for deeply set in food cleaning, then season. If food ever has a metallic taste to it, it’s time to re-season it. These cast iron pots and pans get better and better with age and use!
You might also enjoy my posts – How To Clean Burnt Food From Pots And Pans, How to Host a Fantastically Low Stress Dinner Party or Super Addictive Cilantro and Lime Cauliflower Recipe.
If you’ve never given traditional cast iron cookware a try, now might be the time. You might just find your next ‘can’t live without it’ in your kitchen equipment!
By Valerie Garner
Check out this cookbook I love