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 a cast iron skillet outweigh the downsides. 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.
They’re also easy to clean and care for, even though the routine may sound unfamiliar and intimidating at first. Once you get used to it, it’s easy.
So which ones should you buy? Are they all the same? Do you need several, or just one?
Let’s jump right in and show you some very good options, just in case you’ve already decided to buy. There are so many to choose from, but you can’t go wrong with any of these. They’re pre-seasoned, so you don’t have to worry about that.
This lidded piece from Food52 is beautifully and functionally designed. The short, wide assist handles are easier to get hold of with oven mitts than a traditional long handle.
The included lid is heavy to lock in heat and steam for even cooking. The green enamel makes it gorgeous.
This Victoria skillet from Amazon is seasoned with flaxseed oil and ready to go as soon as you get it. It’s a 12 inch diameter, which is big enough for most foods without being too big to fit on your stove burners.
Lodge has long been considered one of the best brands of American made cast iron cookware. Most Lodge iron is made in Tennessee.
This very affordable Lodge pre-seasoned cast iron skillet from Amazon is 10.25″, which may be a little more comfortable for some stovetops. It’s also a little lighter and easier to handle than a 12″.
Benefits of Cooking with Cast Iron
As we mentioned above, there are a lot of reasons to put up with what you might see as the downsides of cooking with cast iron.
Affordable & Durable
Iron cookware is often more affordable than stainless steel. And it literally lasts for generations. Even if you think at some point that it’s been ruined, it’s always fixable.
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
These skillets hold onto their heat for a surprisingly long time. That makes it much easier to sear meat than with most types of cookware.
They also do 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 pans. That means you can take them on your next camping trip.
If you keep cooking with it and seasoning it, it 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 cast iron sound like it needs all sorts of extra care . But it’s really just as easy to care for as stainless steel and non-stick.
Many people believe everything tastes better cooked in iron pans, and we agree. If you find you also agree, you’ll be so glad you started cooking this way.
Doesn’t it also add iron to your food?
You may have heard that cooking with cast iron 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 actually transfers. 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 iron pans, don’t think of it as a guarantee you’re getting all the iron you need. You still need to eat iron rich foods.
How to Season Cast Iron
So how do you season it? The good news is, you probably can’t even find skillets 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. 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.
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 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.
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 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.