Have you ever wondered why more and more people are using a cast iron skillet? They’re heavy. They have to be seasoned before every use, whatever that means. It sounds like a lot of work, right?
But the benefits of cast iron cookware are huge. For one, it’s tough enough to last for decades of cooking. For another, iron keeps its heat for a long time, making these skillets great for searing meat.
And these pans become naturally non-stick as long as you use a little oil or fat for your cooking. They’re also simple to care for. Cleaning and seasoning these pans is quick and easy.
So which is the best cast iron skillet to buy? Are they all the same? Do you need several, or just one?
Benefits of Cooking with Cast Iron
As we mentioned above, there are a lot of reasons to cook with cast iron pans.
Affordable & Durable
This cookware is often more affordable than stainless steel pans. And it literally lasts for generations. Even if you think at some point that it’s been ruined, it’s always fixable.
It can also take higher temperatures than your kitchen can throw at it. Temperatures above 450 degrees can start to burn off the layer of seasoning, but the iron itself will survive up to 2000 degrees.
Searing & Browning
One of the great benefits of cast iron is that it holds onto its heat for a surprisingly long time. After you’re done cooking, it can keep food warm for a while.
That makes it much easier to sear meat than with most types of stainless steel cookware. Trusty cast iron also does a wonderful job browning vegetables or crisping and browning the edges of cornbread. This gives these dishes some extra flavor and texture that makes them so special.
Take it Outside
You can cook over an open flame with these durable pieces of cookware. That means you can take it on your next camping trip.
If you keep cooking with it and seasoning it, your cookware will develop a natural, easy-release finish. As long as you use a little cooking oil or fat and pre-heat it, it will be as good as any non-stick pan you’ve ever had, but without chemical treatments or safety concerns.
All this talk of seasoning may make it sound like it needs all sorts of extra care . But it’s really just as easy to care for as other types of cookware.
Many people believe everything tastes better cooked in cast iron pans, skillets and Dutch ovens, and we agree. If you find you also agree, you’ll be so glad you started cooking this way.
Pan-seared steak, fish and chicken taste amazing when cooked this way, too. Juices lock in so easily, keeping the meat moist and tender.
Doesn’t it also add iron to your food?
You may have heard that seasoned cast iron cookware will put more iron into your food. This is technically true, but it may not work quite the way you imagine.
First of all, it’s hard to say exactly how much iron content actually transfers to your food. And the older and more seasoned your pan becomes, the less iron is likely to transfer.
So while getting iron in your food is definitely a benefit of using this cookware, don’t think of it as all you need to get the right iron intake. You still need to eat iron rich foods, especially if you’re cooking for people with iron deficiencies.
Isn’t Seasoning Difficult?
So what does it mean when people say you have to season cast iron? It sounds like a hard process, right? It’s really not.
First of all, you probably can’t even find modern cast iron skillets, pans or Dutch ovens that aren’t pre-seasoned from the manufacturer these days. That’s the initial seasoning done and dusted.
You do need to keep the pan seasoned, but that is really just about knowing how to clean if after cooking. We’ve got all you need to know on how to clean and season cast iron skillets. Once you get used to it, you’ll think nothing of it.
Cooking with Seasoned Cast Iron
On the stove top, you should never put food into your iron cookware before it has heated. This should take about 5 minutes.
You can test whether it’s hot enough very easily.
- Drop a couple of water drops into your pan
- If it pops and sizzles, it’s hot enough to add food.
- If the water evaporates immediately, it’s actually too hot.
In the Oven
It can take high heat, so you can use it in the oven as well as the stovetop. It’s great for baking cornbread, brownies and other deliciousness.
It will brown the edges of these items nicely, adding flavor and a bit of texture.
You may have heard that acidic foods – like tomatoes, vinegar and lemon or lime juice – can ruin the seasoning. There are indeed certain foods you shouldn’t cook in cast iron. But you can get away with cooking these things occasionally, if you want. Taking these basic steps will help:
- If you have a brand new pan, cook a few non-acidic foods in it before cooking anything acidic to make sure it’s well-seasoned, just to be safe.
- When you cook something acidic, don’t leave it sitting in your cookware overnight.
- Note that some acidic foods may take on a brownish color from the added iron, but if you like food browned, this will probably taste good to you.
Did you already buy or inherit some vintage cast iron pans that didn’t come with those nice silicone handle covers? That’s no problem.
You can buy generic covers that will work with most brands. This handle cover set from Amazon has a cover for two different handle sizes, plus another one for helper handles.
You probably know how useful a bacon press can be for making sure the meat cooks evenly and doesn’t curl.
But presses are also great for making grilled cheese sandwiches, quesadillas, hamburgers and more. You can also use it as a steak press.
You will probably need a lid. Mine, pictured above, is a Lodge 12-inch lid. And this universal lid fits any round pan from 7-12 inches. Both lids are clear so you can see through them to check on how your food is cooking.