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Cast Iron Cookware -- A Beginner's Guide

By Edited Jan 5, 2016 2 6

Cooking made easy with this kitchen essential

As far as cooking equipment and supplies go, cast iron cookware remains a kitchen staple for good reason.  Many people across generations have enjoyed the excellent cooking properties of cast iron.  You will find many cookware options, whether you are looking for a Dutch oven to take on a camping trip or a griddle to use at home.  In this article, I would like to share some of the benefits of cooking with cast iron cookware as well as its use and care.  Lastly, I will share where you can buy this versatile kitchen equipment for your own kitchen.

Benefits

There are numerous benefits for using cast iron cookware to prepare your dishes.

Durability and reliability.  You can use your cast iron cookware both indoors and outdoors. Its non-stick properties make it ideal for cooking eggs such as scrambled eggs.  Also use your cast iron cookware on both the stove top as well as in the oven for baking (cornbread anyone?).  Surfaces are easy to re-season and revive should the non-stick coating go bad.

Good heat conductor.  Cast iron cookware maintains high searing heat and can diffuse heat, which is perfect for braising foods or cooking stews.

Possible health benefits. During the cooking process, cast iron cookware leaches small amounts of iron into the food. This is a desirable effect, especially for people with iron deficiencies, such as anemia.  Also, if you are concerned about the presence of chemicals in the coatings of non-stick pots and pans, you might consider cast iron cookware as a healthful alternative. 

Lodge Logic Skillet(88107)

Cost-effective (relative to other non-stick pots and pans). Priced anywhere from about $10 for a 6 ½ inch skillet to $40 for a large griddle, cast iron cookware is very cost-effective considering its durability and versatility in the kitchen.

Use and Care

With proper care your cast iron cookware will last a lifetime.  Brands like Lodge Cast Iron cookware come pre-seasoned.  This means that the dark coating or “seasoning” that gives cast iron cookware its non-stick surface is already on the pan.

Cooking

Preheat. An important tip when using your cast iron cookware is coat the pan with vegetable oil and slowly preheat the pan.  Allow the pan to get hot before placing food in it.  Health-minded people who are concerned about saturated fat can use of other cooking oils, instead of vegetable oil, when cooking and seasoning the pan.  For example, you can substitute macadamia nut oil because it is primarily composed of omega-3 fatty acids and has a high heat tolerance (smoke point). 

Encourage Non-Stick Properties. For best non-stick results, steer clear of putting food that is very cold into cast iron cookware that is hot.  

Cover Handles.  Handles of cast iron cookware become very hot in the oven or on the stove top, so use a pot holder or specially designed handle mitt on handles to prevent burns.

Cleaning 

Cast iron cookware is very durable but is prone to rust if not kept dry.  Here are some tips and a video below about the cleaning process:

  • After cooking, wash the pan with hot water and a stiff nylon brush.
  • If there are particles of food stuck on the pan, boil a little water in the pan (chefs call it "deglazing" the pan) to remove any remaining food particles.
  • Dry immediately with a towel or put it back on the burner.  Do not allow the pan to air dry or to sit in the sink.  
  • Coat with a little cooking oil to protect the surface. Use a paper towel to spread oil on the cooking surface.
  • When cleaning, avoid putting very cold water into a hot pan as it might damage your pan.
  • Do not use soaps and harsh detergents or the dishwasher.  Not only are soaps unnecessary, some cast iron aficionados claim that the use of soap can adversely affect the taste of the food.  If you worry about the cleanliness of the pan without the use of soap, rest assured that the high heat will help to sanitize the pan. 

Storing

Store your cast iron cookware in a place that is cool and dry.  If you must stack your cast iron cookware, place a paper towel between pans to allow for air circulation. Consider storing your cast iron cookware in the oven.

Re-Seasoning

What happens if you accidentally washed your cast iron cookware in the dishwasher, used soap, or did not dry the pan completely?  Not to worry.  Should you notice a metal smell or taste, or rust spots, use steel wool or fine sandpaper to scour the rust.  Then re-season the pan.  

Seasoning creates a non-stick surface on a pan, and you can buy pans like Lodge Cast Iron cookware, already pre-seasoned.  However, if you have inherited a pot or pan, or you need to repair the surface.  Here’s how you re-season.

  1. Wash your cookware with hot, soapy water (yes, soap is ok here because you are seasoning not cooking). Then rinse and dry.
  2. Coat your cookware with vegetable oil or oil of your choice on the inside and outside of the pan.
  3. Place aluminum foil on the bottom rack of the oven to catch any dripping.
  4. Set your oven to 350-400 degrees F.
  5. Place the pan upside down on the top rack of the oven and bake for an hour.  
  6. Turn the oven off and let the cookware cool.

Buying

You have many choices when you are looking to buy cast iron cookware and the prices are reasonable relative to other types of non-stick kitchen items.  You might start with a small fry pan or skillet at about $10, and then add to your collection.  If you cook specific types of food, you can buy different types of cast iron cookware -- from a chicken fryer with lid, a Dutch oven, or grill pan to a pizza pan or even a wok!

Lodge LCC3 Logic Pre-Seasoned Combo Cooker(88108)

Shop around as there are some good cast iron cookware deals at your local retailer or online. One of the best sources is Amazon.com, particularly with its free shipping.  Well-known brands in North America include Tennessee-based Lodge Cast Iron, and Grisworld and Wagner.  

A word of caution when buying: As cast iron cookware is heavy, the larger the piece the heavier it will be. For example, the Lodge Logic L5SK3 Pre-Seasoned Cast-Iron 8-Inch Skillet weighs 3 pounds. The Lodge Logic L10SK3 12-Inch Pre-Seasoned Skillet is 8 pounds, although it comes with two handles to aid lifting.

Summary

Even heating, heat retention, durability and value make cast iron cookware a smart choice for all kitchens.  Use these tips and tricks for the easy care and maintenance of your equipment.

Note: The skillet I inherited from my mom several years ago held great sentimental value for me. Once I learned how to re-season and care for it, I began using the skillet daily and I love it! Happy cooking!

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Comments

Mar 5, 2012 10:21am
kateperez
Great article on the care of cast iron. It seems to be a lost art!

You forgot one use, though: keeping your husband in line! LOL

Good article, I'm going to share it around.
Mar 6, 2012 1:02am
dorilyn
Thank you for your kind words and sense of humor! A well-cooked meal with cast iron will likely do the trick -- no threats or hefting required! ;-)
Mar 6, 2012 1:35am
eileen
Great helpful article on cooking and caring for your cast iron cookware. I love using these although I find the weight a bit much these days (getting old)
Love using my camp oven when out traveling in the bush.
Mar 8, 2012 12:16pm
Lynsuz
Wouldn't know what to do if I didn't have my cast iron cookware.
Jul 5, 2013 10:22am
cactusfruit
i would love to buy one. thanks for the article!
Jul 5, 2013 10:23am
cactusfruit
i would love to buy one. thanks for the article!
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