Ask me a year ago and I would have shaken my head – no.
Ask me today, and I’m the world’s biggest fan.
The cast iron pan- it’s a kitchen utensil that I think a lot of people overlook for whatever reason.
Sure, they might be old-fashioned. Yes, they’re heavy. But you can’t ignore the fact that cast iron pans are so much better – and incredibly useful – in the kitchen.
Here’s why you should start cooking with cast iron – and some tips to help you get started.
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The Benefits of Cooking with a Cast Iron Pan
1. It’s healthier.
Cast iron pans are better for you to use than other types of cookware. Although the iron from the pan can leach into your food, this doesn’t hurt you – it can actually be good for you if you are deficient in iron.
This kind of cookware has been in use for essentially forever. There are some research studies that suggest ancient Chinese civilizations used cast iron as early as the 3rd century B.C. That’s some history.
You already probably know how damaging aluminum cookware can be to your health. There are studies suggesting that it can increase your risk for Alzheimer’s disease. Teflon is no better – the chemicals used in these non-stick pans can cause flu-like systems and even endocrine problems in women.
So why would you want to use them? There are no known risks of cooking with cast iron – it’s a safe bet.
2. They are versatile.
We only have two cast iron pans, and we rarely use our other frying pans any more. I also rarely use casserole dishes or baking pans.
Why? Cast iron pans can be used for just about everything. You can use it as a skillet, a dutch oven, a sauteing pan, a frying pan, or a roaster. They are so incredibly functional – why would you use any other kind of pan?
3. They’re easy to clean.
Cast iron pans are super easy to clean. You don’t have to worry about loading up the dishwasher or even scrubbing your pan with soap and water. Instead, all you have to do is wipe the food scraps out of the pan and reseason it with a little bit of oil. That’s it! Clean up done.
4. They’ll last forever.
You just can’t beat the value of a cast iron pan. Although one of these pans can be a bit more expensive when you buy it new, there are tons of low-cost cast iron pans out there, and since they last forever, you can often buy awesome pans completely new. Both of our cast iron pans were yard sale finds! One was so rusted you could barely see the bottom – we did some reseasoning, and it was as good as new.
Cast iron pans can handle the heat. We have had a lot of pans that buckle and warp when exposed to high temperatures – but not our cast iron pans. In fact, the higher the heat, the better the pan does.
They’re also incredibly durable. You can cook with cast iron over an open flame – heck, you can even toss it into that open flame! If you want a pan that will last a lifetime, you need to get a cast iron pan.
5. Food just tastes better.
I’ll get to this in a minute, but for now, just know that cast iron pans heat much more evenly than other pans – so your food tastes ten times better. You won’t have spots of cold, undercooked, or underseasoned food in the middle of your dish – everything will be cooked exactly the same.
Because cast iron has the ability to transfer heat from one part of the metal to the other – it’s thermal conductivity is low – it is better for high-heat applications. It gets hot slowly, but once it gets hot, it stays hot. This makes it perfect for applications like browning and searing.
Some people believe that you can’t cook tomatoes or other acidic foods in a cast-iron pan. This isn’t true. Although the pan can leach small amounts of metallic flavors back into your food, a well-seasoned pan will prevent the acid from interacting with the iron.
Another common myth is that you can’t use cast iron on an electric stove – also untrue! We have an electric stovetop and our cast iron works great – you just might need to cook your food a little bit longer.
6. They are naturally non-stick, requiring minimal oil.
If you’re watching your cholesterol, you might want to opt for a cast iron pan. You don’t need to use nearly as much oil in a cast iron pan. Even when you’re frying food, you can get by with a pinch less because the cast iron pan will naturally release a little oil from when it was seasoned.
Often, if food sticks to a cast iron pan it’s just because the skillet wasn’t warmed up first. Otherwise, you can get by with about half as much oil as you would use in any other type of pan.
7. They’re easier to cook with.
When you use a “regular” pan, and by that I mean a pan that is not cast iron, you’re going to have to keep stirring and shifting your foods regularly. The pan will not distribute heat evenly, so you’ll have hot and cold spots in your pan.
A cast iron pan, on the other hand, heats up evenly and distributes that heat evenly. They are naturally non-stick, so you don’t have to worry about food adhering to the side of your pan if you leave the pan unattended for more than two seconds.
8. It gets better over time.
Like fine wine, cast iron gets better as it ages. It’s probably the only piece of kitchen equipment you’ll have where this is true. As you cook in it over time, a cast iron pan will develop a natural patina, or seasoning, which helps prevent food from sticking. In fact, a good cast iron pan can become just as non-stick as any other commercial non-stick cookware.
Yep – you can pass your cast iron down to your grandkids.
How to Season a Cast Iron Pan
For a long time, I shied away from using cast iron pans in my cooking because I had no idea how the seasoning process works.
That was silly – because it’s actually quite easy to do.
All you have to do is clean the cast iron skillet with a little bit of water and elbow grease.
Let the pan dry. Then, put it on the stove and turn it up on high. You can also put it in the oven if you prefer. Once the pan starts to smoke, it will be completely dry.
Then, you apply a bit of oil. Just put a few drops in the pan and then rub it around with a paper towel. Turn the stove back on and wait for the smoke.
Once it starts to smoke, remove it from the burner and allow it to cool. When it has cooled, you can stash the skillet and it will be ready for use.
In some cases, you may have to reseason the pan a few times before it is ready for that first initial use. Otherwise, you will only need to season the pan when it begins to wear out or become dull.
How to Clean a Cast Iron Pan
While a cast iron pan is not difficult to clean, you should always clean it after every use. To do this, wipe down the pan with a paper towel to remove any excess oil or food. Rinse it briefly under hot water and scrub any remaining traces. You should put the pan under medium-low heat to let all moisture disappear – this step is important, as water can rust your pan – and add a bit of oil.
Wipe down the interior until the entire inside is covered in oil. Do this until the pan is dark and shiny. Let it cool completely.
If your pan goes quite some time without being cleaned, you may need to service it a bit more – but this is still extremely easy to do. If your skillet is looking dull or patchy, simply heat it over medium-high heat and wipe it with a few paper towels covered in oil. Do this a few times and allow the skillet to cool between rounds.
You can also repair your pan in the oven. Heat it to 500 degrees and wipe oil all over the surface of the skillet using paper towels. Wipe out any excess oil using clean paper towels. Bake the skillet upside down in the oven for about an hour before allowing it to cool completely. This is a helpful method if you are trying to remove odors from cooking particularly stinky foods like fish.
Here are some other hacks.
You can allow your dirty pan to cool and then use a mesh produce bags (like the one you might purchase oranges in) to wipe down the pan. I like this option because it doesn’t scratch your pan like steel wool. You can also use a wad of aluminum foil to wipe out your pan.
There are some people who believe that using dish soap and water in a cast iron pan will ruin it for good. This is true – to an extent. You don’t want to soak your pan, since this will damage the seasoning, and you also shouldn’t scrub with steel wool or any harsh cleaners. Otherwise, you can use a couple of drops of dish soap (and water) if you need to clean a dirty pan.
Instead of using steel wool on a dirty pan, it might behoove you to scrub kosher salt on a particularly grimy skillet.
The Best Cast Iron Pans and Cookware
This is a classic pan and one you’ll never have to replace. It’s more affordably priced than a lot of the other options you might find, and at 12”, it’s got pretty much all the space you’ll need.
This cast iron pan may not look like your grandma’s cast iron, but it’s nevertheless still a great option. It has a helper handle so you don’t have to worry about burning your hands, and it also has pour spouts and a more balanced weight. It’s a modern take on cast iron – but I love it.
A new trend in cast iron cookware is lightweight products. These pans are made in metal molds, which allows them to be thinner. It should be noted that lightweight pans do heat up and cool down faster than traditional cast iron, so while they are a lot easier to lift and manage, they aren’t quite as functional when it comes to cooking your food.
Nevertheless, I like this option by Kinden. It gives you over ten inches of cooking space and isn’t a beast to carry.
Now, I do a lot of my baking in my traditional cast iron skillet – it’s great for proofing sourdough – but you can also use a baking pan to get that perfect pizza crust or batch of cookies. Cast iron is great for baking since it absorbs and maintains heat. This option by Lodge is better than a baking stone and lets your pizza crisp up perfectly!
Ok, so you can make cakes and other pastries in a regular cast iron skillet. But how awesome is this mini cake pan by Lodge? It would make a great gift for sure.
Like I said, your cast iron skillet will get the job done for you, but if you want a loaf of bread that’s shaped more like a traditional loaf, then this is a good option. Plus, it will cook and proof your bread for you in the same pan.
This griddle is excellent for making burgers, sandwiches, quesadillas…whatever you want! It’s heavy duty and gives you the perfect flat cooking surface.
If you’re looking for the perfect wedding gift for the newlyweds in your life, this is the gift to go for. It’s less expensive than other cookware sets – plus, it will last a lifetime. It comes with everything you need to get started, including two skillets, a Dutch oven, and a griddle. Plus, it’s preseason – so less work.
Are you a fan of making summer sauteed or stir fries with all those fresh summer veggies, like zucchini and radishes? If so, this cast iron wok is the way to go. It has a flat bottom for cooking and will crisp your veggies to perfection.
If you don’t already have a Dutch oven, you need to get one. They are perfect for slow-simmer chicken stock or proofing bread, and they’ll make your guests wonder when you became such an excellent cook! This option by Keladay is just big enough to get any job done – yet small enough that it’s not overly heavy.
Unique Uses for Cast Iron Pans – and the Best Recipes
Use it as a pie plate – here’s a great apple pie recipe to try.
Make it into a griddle or panini press – all you have to do is lay a cast iron pan on the stove, put the sandwich in the middle, and put another pan on top. Flip halfway through cooking. Here’s an excellent recipe for a cast iron pan panini.
Thaw your meat – you can use a cast iron skillet to thaw your meat more quickly. Put your thin cuts of meat in the skillet and let them sit. The pan will transfer ambient heat to the food quickly, helping it to thaw in an hour or so.
Whip up a quick cast iron pizza – assemble all your ingredients in the cast iron pan andddd go. Recipe here.
Make a quickbread in your cast iron pan – Need to make a quick pull-apart bread for that family gathering, or for Christmas morning? Don’t mess with cooking spray or your baking dishes – just use your cast iron pan. Here’s a great recipe for Caramel Apple Pull Apart Bread by My Home Based Life.
Make a not-so-quick bread in your cast iron pan – Here are some of the best cast iron pan bread recipes to try!
Season your potatoes to perfection – Potatoes are my favorite recipe to make in a cast iron pan. Here’s the one you’ve got to try.
There you have it! Everything you need to know to get started with your new cast iron pan.
What tips do you have for cooking with cast iron? Let me know in the comments!
Want to learn more about traditional cooking? Be sure to check out these articles!
- How to Cut Up A Chicken For the Freezer
- How to Make Your Own Sourdough Bread
- 20 Resourceful Recipes to Use Up Leftover Pickles
- 6 Absolutely Tantalizing Radish Recipes You Need to Try Tonight
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