Cast iron skillets always remind me of mountain men, Louis L’Amour, and Little House on the Prairie. There’s just something rustic about using these big, heavy pans.
I’ve always liked to cook, and I was the queen of non-stick pans. I can remember my first set of non-stick pans from a popular cookware company. I held a party in my little apartment and coerced all my friends and coworkers into buying stuff so I could get the entire set at a discount. I could barely afford rent, but having good pans meant I’d finally ‘made it’ to adulthood!
Fast forward several (20?) years and those pans took a beating – I had roommates use metal spatulas or knives, they went through the dishwasher, we used metal scratchpads to clean. All of which scratched the coating and caused the Teflon to warp and start pealing. By then, I’d learned a little about the possible dangers of eating from Teflon and was looking for better non-stick pans to use instead.
What always bothered me about using regular metal pans is they weren’t non-stick! Everything stuck to the bottom, especially eggs, and they were notoriously hard to clean. I didn’t want to have to fight with the pans to keep them clean.
When Clifford and I got married, I found an old cast iron skillet in his kitchen. It wasn’t in the best of shape, but it wasn’t rusty, so I started using it. To be honest, I didn’t enjoy cooking with it. Everything burned, stuff would stick on it all the time, and yes, it did start to rust!
Over time, I’ve come to love cooking on cast iron and have started adding to my collection of pans. Right now I have a large skillet with a lid, a smaller skillet for single meals, and a large flat skillet. I can cook 95% of everything we make with just these three pans.
Using and taking care of cast iron isn’t rocket science. It has been used for centuries by people around the globe. All you need is knowledge on how to care for it and practice by using it.
To help you get started, here are some tricks and tips I’ve learned.
Cast iron is pretty much indestructible, and you can use any type of utensil or spatula without worrying about scratching it. I love using wooden spoons, metal spatulas, or even cutting meat with a knife in the pan. Nothing bothers it.
Cleaning is easy and chemical free! I normally run it under hot water and use a plastic food scraper to get anything still stuck. You can use a metal scraper, just be careful not to scrape too hard and remove the seasoning layer. Once clean, I put the pan back on the stove to dry off and then add a bit of oil and swish around with a paper towel. You want to make sure to add the oil once the pan is dry to add to the ‘seasoning’ and ensure it doesn’t start rusting. Since the iron is non-porous, bacteria and germs can’t linger inside the metal.
Cast iron, when properly seasoned, is naturally nonstick and allows food to cook without sticking. Adding oil once dry will help create a nonstick surface. It’s also helpful to add enough cooking oil when cooking.
Low heat is your friend, especially for eggs. I’ve learned that starting with low heat and cooking eggs slowly (even over easy) will help ensure eggs don’t stick to the pan. I usually cook other foods at a lower temperature than I would with my older pans. I very rarely use high heat.
Cast iron holds heat better than stainless or copper pans, which is helpful when searing meat as the pan won’t lose temperature when adding cold meat. It’s also great when heating tortillas on the flat skillet. I turn the skillet on medium, wait a few minutes, and then start adding tortillas. They turn out perfect every time.
Go from stove-top to oven seamlessly! Cast iron makes it simple to brown your meat on the stove top, add your other ingredients, and then stick in the oven to finish cooking. This is helpful for one-pot meals or even baking cornbread or biscuits.
Cautions when using Cast Iron
Highly acidic foods such as tomatoes or citrus can react with the cast iron and might cause your food to turn darker. Never leave acidic food in a cast iron pan since it might cause the seasoning to break down and possibly start to rust.
Soap will remove the seasoning, which is critical for keeping your pan non-stick. Don’t submerge your pans in hot, soapy water to get it clean. You don’t want to remove the oils that are in the pan. Using hot water is enough.
If food gets really stuck, you can add water to the pan and put on high heat. Once it’s boiled a bit, carefully dump the water out in the sink and scrape off the pan. Hard to remove food should come off easily.
The handle will be hot! Make sure you use a potholder when moving a cast-iron pot. The heat transfers up through the handle, and it WILL burn you. I’m speaking from experience.
Making the switch to Cast Iron
Cooking with a new type of tool can be a challenge, but don’t let the differences intimidate you. You can find good, inexpensive cast iron pans pretty much anywhere, with or without enamel coating. I recommend getting a 10-12” skillet, especially if you’re cooking for a family as it is the most versatile and will allow you to cook anything from tacos to scrambled eggs.
I hope you take the plunge and start using cast iron. As an added incentive, did you know it also adds iron to your food? Most of us don’t get enough iron, and this is just one small way you can increase your levels without having to take a supplement.
Let me know in the comments below if you have any other tips or questions about using cast iron. I’d love to hear from you!