I am a staunch supporter of and advocate for cooking on cast iron cookware. I own half a dozen pans and use them almost daily.
Cast iron cookware has been around for hundreds of years. The same reasons that made it popular 200 years ago make it popular today. It is durable, non-toxic, non-stick, heats evenly, and retains heat well.
There are styles of cast iron for almost every type of cooking. When most people think of cast iron, they think of the old black fry pan their grandmothers would use to make bacon and eggs. Though the cast iron skillet is still one of the most traditional of cast iron vessels, it isn't the only choice. There are square skillets, Dutch ovens, casserole dishes, griddles, and deep fryers. I own one, and in some cases several, of each.
There are many makes of cast iron. Wagner and Lodge are probably the two best known. It really doesn't matter which one you buy; they are all pretty much the same.
There are two main types of cast iron cookware: enameled and non-enameled. Today I will discuss only the non-enameled variety. I will say, though, the porcelain enameled variety is very good for Dutch ovens because the enamel coating prevents rust, eliminates the need for seasoning, and allows you to cook more corrosive foods, such as tomatoes.
The fist thing you have to do before you use your cast iron cookware is season it. This is the process that bonds oil into the cast iron to build the non-stick surface. Much cast iron now comes pre-seasoned. Though this is a great advancement in cast iron cookware, I would still season it again before use.
Non pre-seasoned cast iron will come from the factory light grey in color and with a thin waxy coating on it. This should be removed by scrubbing with warm water and a brush or the rough side of a sponge. Dry the cast iron and then coat the pan, inside and out, with a thin layer of vegetable shortening or lard. Place the pan in your oven at 250-300 degrees for 90 minutes. Turn off the oven and allow the iron to cool to room temperature. Remove the pan and wipe off any excess fat.
After this process, the cast iron should be ready for use. It will have turned from grey to light brown. Continued use will make the pan the familiar black color we all know and love.
Once seasoned, a cast iron skillet is ideal for cooking eggs, sautéing onions, or any application you would normally use a non-stick pan for. Because cast iron holds heat so well, it also ideal for searing and cooking at very high heat. It can also be taken right from stovetop to the oven, and is oven-safe to about 850 degrees.
There are a few drawbacks to cast iron. You should avoid cooking reactive or acidic foods in cast iron. Tomato dishes, for example, will start to break down the non-stick coating. If you should choose to cook tomatoes in your cast iron you will have to re-season.
Something you should also be aware of is how to clean cast iron. Never put cast iron in the dishwasher. The pan should simply be wiped out after cooking. For a tougher cleaning, heat the pan, pour in water (a process called deglazing), and then scrape the pan with a wire brush or metal spatula. Dump the water out and dry with a paper towel. When you store the pan for future use, give it a quick shot of cooking spray and wipe that into the surface.
Once you get used to cooking on cast iron, I'm sure you'll find more and more uses than just frying things. I've used my 12" cast iron skillet for making pineapple upside down cake, baking biscuits, and making one-pan shepherd's pie. My skillet is so indispensable that it is never put away. It has a permanent place of honor on my stovetop, next to the whistling teapot and my Capresso coffee maker.
I give you this charge: Go out and try cooking on cast iron. I think you'll enjoy it and grow to love this classic, proven cooking method.
This is a favorite recipe of mine, a one-skillet recipe for pineapple upside down cake you can prepare in your cast iron skillet.
- 1 cup of firmly packed dark brown sugar
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter
- 1 can (20 oz) of pineapple slices
- 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
- 6 Tbsp cake flour
- 6 Tbsp of ground almonds (from about 2 oz of whole almonds)
- 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 3/4 cups of sugar
- 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter at room temperature
- 4 large eggs
- 3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 3/4 cup sour cream
1. Start by making the caramel topping. Take brown sugar and butter and combine and melt in skillet on medium heat until sugar dissolves and the mixture is bubbly. This should take several minutes. Arrange pineapple slices in a single layer on top of the caramel mixture in skillet.
2. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Whisk the flours, almonds, baking powder, and salt in a large mixing bowl. In a separate bowl, use an electric mixer to beat the sugar and butter together until light. Add eggs one at a time, beating after each addition. Beat in the vanilla. Add dry ingredients alternately with sour cream in 2 additions each, beating well after each addition. Pour cake batter over caramel and pineapple in skillet.
3. Bake cake until tester inserted into the center comes out clean, about 1 hour to 1 hour 15 minutes. Cool cake in pan on a rack for 10 minutes. Turn cake out onto a platter. Serve warm or at room temperature.