The very thought of cooking with cast iron pans can be daunting for a good number of people. Instead, many choose the Teflon non-stick, hard anodized aluminum, or ceramic pans that line store shelves. I’m guilty myself of having some hard anodized pans that I received as a gift. However, soon after I was married, I was awakened to beauty of cast iron. While many see cast iron as old-fashioned, I have to say… grandma knew what she was talking about here. However, because so many opt for the “new non-stick” pans, the art of cooking in the original non-stick pan is on its way to bing lost. If you switch out someone’s Teflon pan for cast iron without warning and no preparation, they’ll likely end up with a mess.
“So what?” you might be saying. “Why does it matter?” You’ve probably heard this before, but Teflon and other new non-stick pans aren’t really all that healthy for you. And they might make cooking easier but they’re really just handy capping you from achieving excellence. My eyes have been opened to the superiority of cast iron and stainless steel. Let me explain!
Why Cast Iron
There are a multitude of reasons why using cast iron is superior to other “non-stick” methods. Most of them revolve around the fact that cast iron is made of just that, cast iron. No extra chemicals or coatings.
Made of Iron, Period
So many pan coatings are made of a variety of chemicals. If the pans are used incorrectly or overused, they can result in chemical release from the coating or the coating chipping off and being ingested. Personally, this makes me nervous. Cast iron, on the other hand, is made of just iron. Iron is a mineral that we need in our bodies so if there is any possible iron leaving the pan and transferring to your food, it’s simply just extra minerals.
Heavy Duty and Timeless
These pans are the real deal. They’re really difficult to ruin. I mean, you really have to try hard to bring them to a place where they can’t make a recovery. As long as the pan isn’t cracked, you can restore and use them. This is the very reason these pans can be handed down from generation to generation. You can use and abuse them and at the end of the day still have beautiful pans. They’re simply built to stand the test of time. Such a difference concept in a world where some people regularly replace their cookware.
The Original Non-Stick
Many people argue that cast iron isn’t actually non-stick. To that, I say they just aren’t cooking in them correctly. If you follow the core basics and keep your pans seasoned (more on that later), these pans will be non-stick every time. If all you’ve ever cooked on is other non-stick cook ware, then there is a learning curve to these pans. But trust me, it’s worth it.
Even Heat Distribution
You often hear of certain cookware not distributing heat evenly across the pan. In fact, it’s a huge marketing topic for cookware companies. They like to advertise that their pans have even distribution of heat. Here’s the thing, thin cookware that has different metals is hard to judge on heat distribution while its sitting on the shelf. There are so many different combinations, too. But cast iron, again, is just iron. Once you pre-heat cast iron and get it hot, that heat distribution will be there until you cool the pan down. No questions asked.
Easy to Care For
One of the biggest arguments against cast iron out there is that it’s difficult to care for. In fact, it was the most intimidating factor for me at first. I’m here to tell you it’s a hoax. Are there a few different “rules” for their care? Yes, I fully admit that. But honestly, I consider my cast iron my “easy keepers”. If you keep them well seasoned, these pans literally wipe clean with simply a little hot water and a dish rag, no soap. So. Easy. We’ll go into some more care tips later, so stay tuned!
Find another pan that is as versatile as cast iron, I’ll wait! Cast iron is not only useful on the stove top, but it can also directly transfer into your oven. That hotdish that you otherwise had to move to a baking dish? Nope. Don’t worry about it, you only have to dirty one pan! Or likewise, maybe you want to bake biscuits. Throw them in your cast iron pan. Easy as pie! There’s no limit on temperature like with some pans that have plastic handles. You can always feel confident throwing this pan in the oven.
How to Cook with Cast Iron
Cooking with cast iron can seem so intimidating but, trust me, it’s so easy and satisfying! I have five tips that drastically improved my cooking and made me fall in love with cast iron.
- Always preheat your pan. I usually do about 5 minutes on medium high heat. This prevents hot spots and creates an evenly heated atmosphere to cook in. This also aids the pan in being non-stick.
- Use a healthy fat. I usually throw a tablespoon of butter into my pan while I’m preheating it. By using a healthy fat, you’re more likely to enhance the non-stick of the pan. This, in my opinion, is absolutely essential to cooking eggs in cast iron. Pre-heat + healthy fat = non-stick pan.
- Do not flip foods repeatedly! This one is hard to remember sometimes. When cooking on cast iron, the food will release itself from the pan when it’s ready to flip. So, for chicken or steak, for example… place the meat in the pan and only flip the meat once it releases from the pan. At that point, there should be a good sear on the meat. This rule is less applicable for foods like scrambled eggs and ground beef.
- Keep a steady cooking temperature. I rarely if ever have my burner on high heat when using cast iron. I usually start on medium high to preheat and sometimes turn it down slightly if I’m cooking more of a hotdish or skillet meal. If I’m cooking eggs or just meat, I stay on medium high. Having the right heat setting is important otherwise you might end up with an uncooked inside of a steak that’s crispy on the outside!
- Never, and I mean never, wash your pan with soap. The only exception to this rule is if you need to completely re-season your pan. Otherwise, never wash with soap. If your pan is well seasoned, all you should have to use is hot water and a rag to clean it. Seriously. Fill your pan with hot water and wipe it out. If you have stuck on food, I recommend boiling water in the pan on the stove to release it. Another method I’ve used is taking salt with just enough water to make a paste and scrubbing the pan lightly with that and a rag.
- Re-season your pan regularly. This is so simple to do. And by taking the little extra time to re-season your pans even just monthly, you’re adding another coating to continue keeping your pan non-stick. It’s just generally good to keep your pan in tip-top shape.
How to season a cast iron pan
Seasoning a cast iron pan simply consists of coating the pan in a very thin layer of fat or oil and baking it in the oven until the oil reaches its smoke point. This helps the oil bind to the iron which in turn causes the pan to be very shiny, smooth, and well…. wonderfully non-stick!
Different people recommend different oils. Personally, I use regular Crisco shortening or bacon grease. I apply it liberally all over the pan, including the outside and handle, using a paper towel. Then, I take another paper towel and wipe the pan off until I really don’t see any oil transferring onto the paper towel.
Then, I stick the pan in the oven at 450˚F for about an hour. Be prepared for your house to possibly get a little smokey! You may want to run your vent fan or open windows. After an hour, I turn the oven off and let the pans cool. If you removed enough oil, you should be left with beautiful black pans without many splotches. If you had a little excess oil on the pan, you may see some splotches. To get a better seasoning, just repeat the above process a few more times until you’re happy with the finish!
An Inexpensive Investment
Cooking with cast iron might be a bit of a learning curve at first for some, but it’s well worth it in the end. These pans will last years upon years and can provide a fulfilling cooking experience. They are an investment that is actually really cheap in the world of cookware. You don’t need a fancy Griswold; the Lodge brand is just as good! Practice makes perfect, friends!