4/18/12

Great stuff: Cast iron


I switched from nonstick to cast iron cookware three years ago, and I haven't looked back. Now I have three frying pans and two Dutch ovens. I do still have one nonstick griddle, because pancakes made on cast iron make me gag (I have no idea why).

I make everything in my cast iron, from scrambled eggs to brown rice to no-knead bread.

When I first switched, I thought I would hate having to wash it by hand. It still isn't my favorite task, but I love its benefits so much that I am willing to do it—and I've figured out some ways to make the washing easier, like, say, washing the pan immediately instead of letting the food dry on overnight. Sometimes my husband even washes it. :)

Reasons I love using cast iron:
  • I have not had low iron since I switched. Making acidic foods in cast iron, such as tomato sauces, and foods that stick a bit, such as eggs, can help more iron get into your food.
  • It will never wear out or break—well, I'm not sure about my enameled Dutch ovens—they have a couple of chips—but I know for sure that my Lodge frying pans will last pretty much forever.
  • It holds heat well, so it cooks better than my other cookware. My Dutch ovens turn out perfect rice every time!
  • No questionable chemicals or flakes of nonstick coating in our dinner.
  • It goes from stovetop to oven with no problems. (This is why I am so happy with my Ikea Dutch ovens over the much more expensive Le Creusets—their plastic knobs can't take high oven heat. Mine have enameled metal knobs.)
A few tips for cleaning cast iron (these are just my opinion—I know people have strong opinions on cleaning cast iron):
  • Try not to soak unless you absolutely have to. It ruins the seasoning. Also don't leave sitting in a wet sink—it will start to rust.
  • Clean as soon as possible after use. Sometimes I even have to hold the handle with a hotpad while I clean it, but the stuff usually comes right off while it's still hot. Be careful, obviously, of the hot pan and of the steam that comes off it. When I do this, I can often put the pan back on the still-hot burner and save myself having to remember to turn off the heat when it's dry.
  • If you dry your cast iron on the stove, set a timer when you turn the heat on to help you remember to turn it back off.
  • Don't use soap unless you really need it—it will break down the oily coating that keeps food from sticking. 
  • Lightly oil the pan after it's dry and still warm, if it needs it. I try to oil it if it's looking particularly dull, especially after I cook something acidic in it. I used to use a paper towel to spread the oil around, but now I use a tissue, because it's cheaper and less waste. Works for me.
Do you prefer cast iron or nonstick? Any tips for successfully using cast iron?

9 comments:

  1. A fancy technique called "deglazing the pan." After you take the food out, turn the burner up high and get the pan really hot. Add small amounts of warm water while gently scraping the bottom of the pan. A lot of the stuck-on bits come right up. The bonus is that often the water-and-pan- residue mixture form a lovely sauce that can be poured onto the food for extra flavor. (Don't use too much water, or you'll have to cook it down.)
    When you're done, the pan will be practically clean.

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  2. Great tips! I LOVE my cast iron!
    Dutch Oven is on the 'wish list' for me but I have one GIANT sized pan that I cook all stir fries and skillet dishes in. I couldn't make it without that one.

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  3. Thanks for visiting!!! I LOVE my cast iron!!!

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  4. Hmmm..interesting! I bought a cast iron skillet at one point and hated it. I think I sent it to DI! I think I also had some little cast iron pans from my grandmother and got rid of them because I couldn't figure them out and they were such a pain. Maybe I should try it out again.

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    1. I think cast iron takes some getting used to. I grew up with it!

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  5. I have cast iron cookware that I have been carefully assembling (5 sizes of skillets, one giant Dutch oven and a smaller, enamal coated D-oven) and I like the IDEA of using it, but when it comes down to it and I'm standing their with my tomatoes or an egg to cook, I always lack confidence and use my non-stick or stainless pans with which I am familiar. I really would like to become comfortable using them. How long did the learning curve last for you? Were there any disasters that you wouldn't want to repeat or see a friend repeat?

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    1. I actually grew up using cast iron, so there wasn't a learning curve for me. I think the best way to learn to use it is just to start using it. If you're used to non-stick, just remember that you need to add a little oil or grease when you cook in cast iron. There are lots of great articles if you Google a bit.

      My only disasters have been minor, and mostly related to drying the cast iron on a hot burner. In my impatience, I always turn it up on high, but sometimes I forget to turn it off. Once it got super hot, and it looked so dry I thought it could use a bit of oil. I poured some on and it sparked and burned. So that was a bad idea. Luckily it wasn't much, so it burned out fast, before it could cause a big problem!

      Another annoyance is when I don't clean it promptly and the food crusts on. Yuck.

      I will try to write up a better post on using cast iron soon.

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  6. Thanks for the tips! I recently threw out all but one of my non-stick pans in favor of cast iron and stainless steel. (I read somewhere that the fumes that come off a hot non-stick pan--especially if it's empty--are enough to kill a small bird!) It's taking some getting used to, though. :) Have been working out my scraping-burnt-stuff muscles...

    My regimen is basically the same as yours. Rinse while still hot, apply a little grease, and dry on a warm burner. I've been making sure to thoroughly dry the bottom of my pan before setting it on the burner, though, as both the pan and the burner started to rust!

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  7. I too use cast iron skillets and dutch ovens.I love them.. I basically use mine the same way..
    Note: [my brother in law, actually taught me this trick]- when you buy new iron skillets and need to "season them", or if your skillets over time, have black smudge/or whatever you call it? on the bottom... You can put your skillet [no oil in it.just dry skillet] in your oven, turn on your automatic oven cleaner. When finished, it will burn up all the crude on the bottom side. It will be smutty... Just wash it good, and oil it good.It is perfect, and will not stick at all. I do this once a year or so..

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