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 ones should you 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.
If you’ve heard stories about it rusting, be aware that it won’t rust as long as you keep seasoning it properly. And even if it does rust, it can always be fixed.
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.
How to Season It
So how do you season it? The good news is, you probably can’t even find modern cast iron skillets, pans or Dutch ovens that aren’t pre-seasoned from the manufacturer these days.
But that’s just the initial seasoning. It does save you some work, but you will still need to season it before every use.
Seasoning is really just a simple step in the cleaning process every time you use your pan. Just think of it that way, and once you get used to it, it’s easy.
It’s all about applying oil to the inner surface. That’s it, really. And a lot of oil gets added naturally when you cook foods that have natural fats.
But that’s not always enough, so here are the steps to follow every time you clean your pan.
Step 1: Wash
Experts say you can use a little bit of soap. Traditionalists say this will rip a hole in the space-time continuum and destroy the universe. They recommend using a little salt if your seasoned cast iron has something sticking to it.
If you do use it, choose a mild soap. Rinse and dry your cookware thoroughly as soon as you’re done. Don’t ever let soap or water sit on the surface of your skillet.
As with any cookware, cleaning is easier to do while the pan is still hot. But since iron retains heat for so long, you can wait until after dinner.
Step 2: Dry it
Dry your cookware thoroughly with a towel. You don’t want even a hint of water on it when you’re done, because it would get trapped under the oil in the next step and could start rust.
Just to be safe, you can let it sit and air dry for a few minutes while you’re dealing with the rest of the dishes.
Step 3: Oil it
Rub a very small amount of oil all over the pan – the bottom and up the sides. You can use any oil or fat you cook with, from vegetable oil to bacon grease.
Now rub off the excess oil with a paper towel. And that’s it. You’re done with seasoning.
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. This is easy to avoid.
- 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.