When treated properly, cast iron cookware can be some of the most durable and versatile pans on the market. It’s not uncommon to hear of some pans being passed down through multiple generations, a testament to their unparalleled durability. Yet cast iron cookware has some unique features that many cooks may not know about.
This short article will give you the dos and don’ts of using and caring for your cast iron cookware.
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How Much Cast Iron Cookware Does One Person Need?
At the moment, as a single guy, I personally have four different cast iron pieces that get daily use. I just can’t imagine going back to the non-stick frying pan I used a few years back. Not having the popular non-stick coating (like Teflon) is part of what gives these pans such a long life. You don’t need to worry about the coating eventually wearing off, becoming scratched, or transferring chemicals to your food.
This "chemical transfer" fear has been in the news quite often in the past decade. Conflicting studies claim that non-stick coating is safe, or that it leaks chemical into food and possibly contributes to cancer. While most experts say it's safe for regular cooking, the non-stick coating does not hold up well in high heat. Once the temperatures reach specifically around 500 degrees Fahrenheit, compounds may leak.
Now I wouldn't try heating a non-stick pan to that temperature anyway. Yet with my cast irons, I do. It's convenient to transfer dishes from stovetop to oven, or vice versa.
Regardless of the non-stick-safety debate, it's rare for me to choose a coated pan over cast iron. My skillet, for example, holds pancakes and eggs on Sunday morning. Then I use it to sear and cook chicken for dinner. I may even bake cornbread in it in the oven.
Use cast iron cookware over a fire, a barbecue, in an oven, on a stovetop. Use this type of cookware on basically any cooking platform you can imagine, short of a microwave.
Two Types of Cast Iron Cookware
Did you know there are two types of cast iron cookware? Neither did I. Learn to distinguish between them so you care for them properly.
Enamelled Cast Iron Cookware
The popular Le Creuset and Staub brands include pots and skillets in beautiful primary colors like red, yellow, orange and green. Yes, they're trendy and a favorite of well-heeled urban foodie types. This cast iron cookware, however, has an enameled exterior and a coated interior that's different from traditional iron skillets.
Traditional Cast Iron Cookware
The Lodge Cast Iron company offers traditional cast iron cookware. Lodge also sells enameled products but their seasoned cast iron line of cookware is just plain fantastic. They're more affordable than their enameled counterparts and superior because they're more versatile and durable.
How to Care for Your Cast Iron Cookware
We’ll start with how to care for enameled style cast iron, as it is quite a bit easier.
First, avoid using metal utensils in cast iron pans. And never transfer a hot cast iron pan directly into cold water. This causes cracking, one of the few ways to ruin a cast iron pan that may not be fixed.
Because the inside of enameled pieces has a coating, it's okay to clean these with soap and water. You can even use a sponge or brush to clean the tougher spots. But avoid using steel wool, or any kind of hardened abrasive cleaner that could scratch or remove the coating.
While some enameled manufacturers claim their products are dishwasher safe, I never take the chance with one. They're expensive. They're heavy. And they're usually big. So I’d rather just wash it by hand. You also don’t want to risk of having water sit on or in your pan for too long. This leads to rust.
Thoroughly dry your cast iron cookware before putting it away. If you try your best to follow these guidelines, your enameled pieces should give you many years of consistent work.
How to Season Your Traditional Cast Iron Skillet or Pans
If you’ve heard of “seasoning” a cast-iron pan before, it’s meant for the non-enameled cast iron pans, like the ones Lodge sells, and many other traditional kinds. These, in the technical sense of the word, are the true cast iron pans.
Whether it’s a skillet, Dutch oven, or grill, these are basically the same as what people used a hundred years ago. The only minor difference is that the more recently manufactured pans have a rougher finish, making them a little bit less naturally non-stick than their polished finish predecessors. Not to worry though, with proper care and good seasoning, you can get a more modern pan to be almost as non-stick as the antiques.
Pre-Seasoned Cast Iron Cookware
Now, if you’re purchasing a brand new Lodge or a similar non-enameled brand, quite a few will be labeled as “pre-seasoned”. While it’s true that these are technically already seasoned for you, it’s always smart to re-season it yourself. This ensures a solid seasoning on your cookware and lets you begin building up the revered seasoning to an ideal non-stick level.
There are many different ways to preseason your cast iron. Seasoning your pan really just consists of heating up your pan to a very high temperature and coating it with oil or shortening, and all the different ways people come up with are just variations on this.
Before any seasoning, always make sure your pan is clean and very dry to ensure the oil can get into the iron. I personally like to use a paper towel to generously coat the inside of the pan with vegetable or canola oil, and put it in the oven at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for about an hour.
You can repeat this as often as you’d like, the more you do it, the better your seasoning gets. It isn’t necessary to season your cookware after every use as some people suggest since the more you cook, the more your seasoning builds up naturally anyway.
Cleaning Your Non-Enamelled Cookware
As far as cleaning non-enamel cookware goes, it’s not as scary as a lot of folks make it seem. Once you’ve seasoned your cookware thoroughly, it becomes increasingly difficult to ruin that seasoning if you’re following a few simple rules.
To start, don’t use metal utensils harshly on your pan. If you must use one, just be mindful not to be gouging and scraping at the bottom of the pan.
Also, don’t use abrasive cleaners on the cookware. However, contrary to popular belief, you may use mildly soapy water to clean these types of cast iron.
As long as you minimize the amount of time it’s wet, and don't leave your pan soaking in water, it’s totally fine to use a mild amount of soap and a light cloth or soft sponge. The belief behind the idea of not using soap is that it erodes the seasoning on your pan. While that may sound plausible, it would take a lot more than that to separate the seasoning from the pan, since by that point the two are bonded together on a micro-level. Either way, just avoid letting the pan get wet for too long to avoid rust, and you’ll be fine.
Last but not least, there is another belief that cooking highly acidic foods in your cast iron can ruin the seasoning as well. This is actually somewhat true. Simmering acidic based ingredients like fruit sauces, wine, and tomato sauce can take a toll on the actual iron in your pan, but cooking them in your pan for a short length of time, or every now and then, shouldn’t be of much concern.
Remember, when it comes to cast iron cookware, if all else fails, read this article again!
This post is part of the Homestead Blog Hop #209.