Cooking with Cast Iron

Let’s talk about cooking with cast iron skillets, pans and pots. Cookware has always been important to the chef and novice home cook alike. The advent of non-stick pans seemed to have changed the go-to choice for cookware when it debuted and for several decades after. But there are issues with non-stick pans these days including concerns that chemically treated pans could give off harmful fumes when put in the oven. In case you are a new cook, putting your skillet in the oven is a technique that tons of chefs use, and you will definitely find yourself doing this as well.

A great choice for cooking is cast iron. They have been produced and used for cooking for hundreds of years. They are also a great value. You can buy a decent cast iron skillet for about $30 and with just a little care, it can easily outlast you. There are also no concerns with using cast iron in the oven.

Cast iron tends to distribute heat very evenly, and a well seasoned cast iron pan will be just about as non-stick as your top-of-the-line non-stick pan (that literally costs hundreds of dollars more).

Cast iron’s disadvantages include the fact that it is heavy (multiple handles are nice) and that it requires a bit more care than your typical chemically treated non-stick pan. If you have any desire to get a cast iron pan made with the purest of iron, you should check out the only U.S. producer of cast iron (that I know of), Lodge Cast Iron. You may find that the cheapest cast iron pans do have ‘hot spots’.

If you are into thrift store and garage sale shopping, you can definitely find some used cast iron cooking implements there. Even if they look a bit rough (they have rust and are dirty), they are still a good buy. You can get rid of the rust by scouring the pan with steel wool. After the rust is gone, you will wash the pan and re-season it.

Seasoning your cast iron is not difficult. There is a lot of mildly conflicting information on the internet regarding how to properly season cast iron. I will tell you what worked for me.

I pre-heat my oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheight. I warm the skillet slightly on the stove and spread a neutral cooking oil over it with a paper towel or brush. Corn or grape seed oil works well. The old school way is to use an animal fat. I have my pans done with olive oil. Make sure the oil is evenly distributed and there is little excess. Place the pan upside down in the oven (put some foil on the oven bottom to catch drips. Bake for about an hour. Turn off the oven and let cool. That’s it. If your coating turns out splotchy and sticky, then your oven was not hot enough. There should be smoke from the carbonization of the oil. That is ok.

Once your cast iron is seasoned you should cook using oil or fat for the first few times. To clean the pan, you will scour with a soft scouring pad and then dry over the flame on the stove. You should not use soap, but it won’t hurt the seasoning if you used a little. You do not have to put more oil on the pan after washing unless your seasoning is getting thin. Some acidic foods may do this. If you put oil on the pan, put it over medium heat for a few minutes.

Another advantage to cooking with cast iron is the fact that iron is actually transferred to your food. This is really great for women who loose iron every month (think about it) and for vegetarians and vegans who may have a tough time getting in the necessary amount of iron.

One final benefit of cast iron is that it is environmentally friendly. It doesn’t take toxic chemicals to produce it, it can be used for an extremely long time and it is recyclable.

Give cast iron cooking a try. It works out wonderfully, and if you need any recipes that are caveman diet friendly, check out the paleo cookbook review page of our site. Happy cooking.