Cast Iron - Good for Cartoonists, but Better for Cooks
I think it’s so wrong when cartoonists show characters banging someone over the head with a cast iron skillet. Really, that isn’t funny, that is homicidal! Cast iron pots and pans ARE heavy, but their thickness, which helps to cook foods evenly, makes this one of the types of cookware that cooks love.
Cast iron cookware tip #1: DON'T cook with cast iron when you are angry or upset - this could be dangerous (to anyone around you). Ok, I had to say that, but I promise my other cast iron cookware tips will be better...
My Grandma Likes Heavy Metal and So Does Yours!
No, I don’t mean the (so-called) music, I’m talking about cookware! Well, I should say Grandma did like cast iron (sadly, she has passed on to the "heavenly kitchen." When I first got my own place, when moving away from home one of the first things I wanted from my Mom were some of her cast iron skillets!
Cast iron pots and pans are still the favorite cookware to use for certain dishes. Everyone remembers their mom’s or grandma’s kitchen having a cast iron skillet or three. And in the south, cast iron is the standard cookware for making corn bread, either in a full skillet or in cast iron corn bread pans (those pans with little corn shaped indentations). For cooking fajitas, I always prefer a cast iron pan. Cast iron ovenware - Dutch ovens and roaster pans made of cast iron - are very much in use today, too. These pans can be used at lower temperatures and will heat foods evenly. They are extremely durable, as they don’t dent, scratch easily and can last a lifetime. (And with proper care, they last a couple of lifetimes!)
THe name cast iron comes from the process used to manufacture it - molten steel and iron is poured into sand casts (or molds). This is what causes the rough texture that cast iron pans have.
Cast iron cookware tip #2: Not all cast iron is of good quality. Look for pans with an even, finely-grained texture and avoid those that have discolored areas.
The types of metal used in these pans can make a difference in their quality, too. Manufacturers in America have requirements they must legally meet for consumer safety. Though there may be bargain prices for pans that were made overseas, those manufacturers may not have as many requirements and there usually is no way to know what metals have been used.
Cast iron cookware tip #3: It is highly recommended that you buy pans that are made in the USA to be sure you get good-quality, safe cookware.
Should I Buy New or Used Cast Iron?
I've often been tempted to buy used cast iron because it's got that nice dark, black color I am accustomed to. Brand new cast iron that has not been seasoned will be lighter in color – a gray color - instead of black. Don’t worry about this. After you buy it, you can season it and your pans will get that rich dark color that the older cast iron cookware has. But the decision to buy new or used is strictly a personal preference. You can save money buying used cookware, but it takes time to find good cast iron.
Buying Used Cast Iron
You can find good used cast iron skillets and other cast iron cookware at yard sales, thrift stores, flea markets, or antique shops. But, be careful if you buy any used cast iron cookware, because sometimes these get painted black to LOOK like they are seasoned.
Cast iron cookware tip #4: When buying used cast iron, you need to look at it closely. If the surface looks more like paint than just a dark metal, don’t buy it.
If you are a fan of shopping in thrift stores, flea markets or yard sales, and you happen to come across any cast iron with a Griswold logo on it, be sure and buy it! These Griswold cast iron pans have become highly collectible and can be worth several hundred dollars.
Buying New Cast Iron
Some cast iron manufacturers sell pre-seasoned pans. These pans are dark in color, but come with a thin layer of machine oil on them, which prevents corrosion or rust while they were in the warehouse or during shipping. This oil will have to be washed off before the new cast iron is used. And with use the pans will become darker.
Whether you buy new or used cast iron, there are some features to be aware of:
How to Season Cast Iron Cookware
No article about cast iron would be complete without an explanation of the process to season your pots or pans. To give your cast iron pans that dark, seasoned color:
1. Wash with water and dishwashing liquid and dry the pan
2. Using a soft cloth or paper towel, cover the inside and outside of the pan with a thin coating of melted shortening, such as Crisco, or with vegetable oil.
3. Place pan or skillet upside down on the top rack of the oven (pre heated to 350 degrees). Also place a pan or cookie sheet covered with aluminum foil on the rack below to catch drips of grease or oil.
4. Keep the pan in the heated oven for 1 hour.
5. Turn the oven off – and don’t open the oven!
6. Let the pan you are seasoning cool off inside the oven for a couple of hours.
7. If the pan has an oily film on it, the best thing to do is to use it, or wipe the outside with a paper towel and heat the pan on the stovetop – then remove from the burner, allow it to cool enough to wipe the inside.
8. The more fatty or oily foods you use in the pan, the more seasoned it will get.
Cast iron cookware tip #5: The first things to cook in a new cast iron pan (or a pan you have re-seasoned) would be meats or oily foods which will help continue to season it.
Care and Maintenance of Cast Iron Cookware
Keeping your pans seasoned:
A) Don’t use soap to clean it. Using soap will undo all the seasoning.
B) Don’t put it in the dishwasher.
C) The best thing you can do is to put some hot water in the pan just after you cook with it. Let it soak in the water and scrape off or use a plastic scrub brush made for cleaning dishes to remove any food that happened to stick to it. Then rinse the pan off and dry it off.
D) Always dry it off as soon as possible, if you don’t cast iron can rust! You can also dry the pan off by turning it over the oven eye with it on warm.
E) Don’t scrub the pan too much, this will remove the seasoning. If you have to scrub it, you can always re-season it (see “How to Season Cast Iron” above)
F) Don’t cook highly acidic foods in cast iron if you can help it. The acids will break down the layer of seasoning and the food can become metallic tasting. If you do cook something acidic (such as tomato based foods) don’t let it stay in the pan too long.
G) Don’t store the pans with the lids on (this can hold in moisture which will cause the pans to rust. One technique to store the lids on the pans is to put a paper towel between the lid and the pan (which will allow air to circulate). Keeping the pans in a dry and cool place is best.
Cast iron cookware tip #6: Don't give a cast iron skillet as a gift to a homicidal cook!
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