Cast-Iron Cooking (and Why It's Worth It)

Cast-Iron Cooking (and Why It's Worth It)

Cast iron skillets are no-nonsense pieces, yes.  Should they be intimidating? No.  Cast iron cookware has been used for hundreds of years.  In the 1960’s and 70’s, cast iron pieces fell out in favor next to Teflon non-stick cookware. Think of a cast iron skillet as project piece: if loyal and patient with a piece of cast iron, it will return the favor - in flavor.

Their durability, versatility, high heat tolerance, and pure flavor developing magic make them golden instruments for all things kitchen-business.  Teflons can’t compete with cast iron’s durability or heat retention, and they can also leech unwanted chemicals into food.  Cast irons are not average pans, and should not be treated as such: they take a little time to season, and a bit of an effort to clean.  Experience that unmistakable sear and savory grilled taste - get hooked. Cast irons handle super high temperatures and retain that heat brilliantly.  They procure intense, even heat, which makes them perfect for searing (think steaks) and mastering crispy skin (think fried chicken). In so many cases it’s important for meat, especially steaks, to immediately hit a blazing surface.  High temps seal off steaks to retain their moisture while securing an evenly cooked inside.  Once pre-heated properly, the iron has the ability to distribute uniform heat, which is really important in any cooking process - whether you’re whipping up cornbread for a barbecue or searing a date-night Filet.  Use a large burner for warming the skillet and give it ample time to distribute the heat. 

Just like other cookware, use the skillet on the stovetop for searing, deep-frying, and sautéing.  And, yes, stick it in the oven for braising and baking.  Or, place it right on top of the grill - a grill is basically just a really big burner.  The skillet is certainly a meat master, but don’t forget about its deftness for pizza (think deepdish), cornbread (the only vessel in which cornbread is really ever comfortable), perfect eggs, and pies (yup, hey blueberry season). Cooking in a cast iron actually imparts some iron into the food being cooked.  The longer the food is in contact with the pan, the more it’ll absorb.  So impressive.

The thing about the spatula:  It must be metal. Many folks say to use the safe wooden spoons so you won’t damage the surface - this isn’t something to worry about.  The metal spatula will lightly scrape the skillet while the heat simultaneously refines the iron - this allows the seasoning to hold even better to the pan.  No need to beat up the pan, but some light scraping is a good practice to keep up while standing over the stove.

Get One:

Heavy and minimalist in design, 10-12 inch skillets will do just fine.  First, see if finagling a pan from an older relative is possible, or check out a yard sale.  Old school skillets will have little character and possibly a seasoning that’s already developed.  However, buying a brand new skillet is special - it’s sort of like cultivating a friendship and will be a creative work in progress.

Seasoning Reasoning:

People are terrified of the concept of “seasoning.”  First, calm down: bonding with a new skillet is part of the magic, and it’s a fairly easy process. Cast irons do not come in non-stick – modifying a skillet at home is dutifully called “seasoning.” This is the method of working a skillet’s resilience up to a gorgeous, non-stick pan.

Seasoning is simple.  Heat just a thin coat of any cooking oil (flaxseed is best because of its low smoke point) in the pan the first time using it.  Each time the skillet is heated with oil it reinforces the development process of the non-stick coating. Do this at least twice before using the pan for food for the first time, and that's it! Seasoning the cookware every three or four times you cook with it helps it last.

The Plan:

  • Heat your oven to 350 degrees.
  • Coat skillet with oil: make sure all surfaces are covered.  Use paper towels for crevices and sides.
  • Heat pan in oven for an hour.
  • Dry with new paper towels after cooled.

*Remember not to grab the skillet handle with bare hands – use an oven mit, please.

After Cooking, Clean Up:

Cast irons are not ones to leave with the rest of the “morning dishes.”  They should be cleaned immediately after use while they’re still warm.  If food particles need to be removed, can use coarse salt and a non-metal brush to lightly polish away the unwanted leftovers. 

Harsher cleaning methods run the risk of scrubbing off that hard-earned seasoning, so don’t use soap or steel wool.  Towel-dry your babe over very low heat on the stovetop.  The process may sounds a bit tedious, but in time the cleaning will become second nature.

Check out our Cast-Iron Skillet Cornbread recipe to get rolling.

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