People have used cast iron cookware for ages. This week, in blogs about cooking while camping, we talked a lot about cast iron skillets, Dutch ovens, and grill pans. But cast iron cookware has a place in your household kitchen, as well—and you don’t have to settle for basic black (though, I admit, there is an attraction to that for me).
Even in this modern age of high-tech kitchenware, a solid cast iron skillet is still one of the most versatile and economical choices for everyday cooking. It's an ideal alternative to non-stick pans with many added benefits.
Why is cast iron so useful? Two of the reasons have to be the way heat is evenly distributed over the surface of the pan and the natural non-stick coating of well-seasoned cast iron cookware. Many professional chefs prefer cast iron to modern non-stick pans: they require minimal maintenance and are long-lasting. Cast iron cookware also has excellent heat retention properties. The entire pan will eventually become hot, including the iron handle or handles. Manufacturers recommend chefs use oven mitts to handle the cookware.
What was that part about “well-seasoned”? Before you begin using a new or refurbished cast iron skillet, it must be prepared for use through a process called seasoning. It’s not especially difficult, but it does need to done right and often to maintain the natural non-stick qualities of the pan.
Take a close look at a well-used cast iron skillet. If you notice a black layer on the cooking surface of the skillet, then that’s a good indication it is well seasoned.
Cast iron seasoning is the practice of applying a very thin coating of oil to the cookware, then using heat to seal the coat and create a natural non-stick surface. The oil creates a thin, level surface that prevents food from sticking to microscopic bumps and ridges. Seasoning allows you to use little to no additional oil when cooking with the pan. This results in healthier, low-fat meals. Many chefs consider cast iron cookware to be the best choice for achieving even browning. Here’s how to season your cookware at home:
Caution: Avoid using soap or placing seasoned cast iron in the dishwasher. Soap breaks down oil, which will remove the seasoning. This will allow water to rest on the metal, resulting in rust and cracking that can render the skillet unusable. Hot water, salt, and a sponge are all a cast iron skillet needs to be cleaned—plus a fresh coat of oil after it has been dried.
Cast iron is strong and can take a lot of heat. This makes it equally suitable for any kind of stove top range, oven-baking, and, as we’ve seen, over a campfire. With proper care, it is unlikely to wear down. Washed and seasoned regularly, cast iron will last for decades.
When people first think of cast iron cookware, they often picture a skillet and a cowboy hunkered down over a campfire. But cast iron is used for much more than skillets—or the other camping standard, a Dutch oven. Here are some other unique kitchen tools made of cast iron:
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