Cooking at home has become more common in the last two years. Most households have continued to cook more at home as the pandemic is winding down. Cooking with no-tox cookware such as cast iron is essential. What kind of cookware do you use at home?
Our collections of cookware vary by household and stage of life. I remember in college having a mish-mash of hand-me-downs and Goodwill finds and often resorting to aluminum foil for cooking in the oven when I couldn’t find the right (clean) pan to use. Somewhere along the way, I came to own a cast iron skillet. I am not sure where this treasure came from. In fact, until recently, it has had more moves than uses. But this past year, I have dusted her off, learned to season her, and experimented with cooking different foods.
We have a fun tradition of naming things around our house, in addition to people and pets. My phone’s name is Emma. Our robot vacuum is Hazel. So it was only fitting that we named our skillet. Her name is Alice.
The History of Cast Iron
Cast Iron has a long history. I won’t bore you with all the details, but so that you know, here are a few fun facts. The Original Cast Iron pot was made from cast iron heated and poured into molds in China in the 5th Century BC. Steel was preferred, but cast iron was cheaper. So they save steel and iron for weaponry.
Cast Iron grew in popularity and demand in Europe by the 16th century. It continued to gain strength and eventually became a staple in most households worldwide as the first non-stick cooking pan. That is until the 20th century, following the industrial revolution when companies began experimenting with chemical compounds and developed non-stick varieties of cookware found worldwide today.
These non-stick varieties came with a cost. Many emit toxic fumes and release chemicals into your food when heated to high temperatures. A well-known example is Teflon. I am grateful to see a resurgence of cast iron and can’t wait to share with you the many benefits of its use. Read on to learn how easy it is to use cast iron today.
The Benefits of Cooking with Cast Iron
Here is a list of some of the top benefits of owning and cooking with cast iron:
- Cast Iron is eco-friendly and sustainable. It lasts forever and can be recycled indefinitely without losing its natural properties.
- It can withstand extreme heat without releasing any harmful toxins.
- Cooking with cast iron adds significant iron to your food and your body. But, unfortunately, iron is a vital nutrient many of us lack.
- Cast Iron is the original non-stick cookware (when seasoned).
- It makes an excellent gift for a housewarming or recent college grads.
- Cast Iron is one of the most versatile cookware available.
The Versatility of Cast Iron
From the stove to the oven, from the campfire to the table, cast iron provides a variety of ways to serve up your favorite dishes. The most common is stovetop.* It is beautiful because you can take it straight from the stovetop into the oven for an excellent finish. Just for lunch today, I heated some leftover steak with onions and peppers in our smaller cast iron skillet, then popped it into the oven on broil to crisp up some melted cheddar on top. Simply delicious.
It is also easy to bake with your cast iron cookware. We use our skillet for everything from freshly baked bread to cornbread and buttermilk biscuits. Another excellent dish it is suitable for is pie. A crisp blueberry pie in the summer is delightful.
We like to take Alice camping with us. She is on the grill over our campfire in the morning for bacon and eggs and again in the late afternoon for dinner as we fry up some burgers or fish.
*While it is not recommended to use cast iron on glass or ceramic cooktops, it is possible if you are careful never to slide it.
How to Cook with Your Cast Iron Skillet
Cooking with cast iron is as simple as cooking with any other pan. Remember these four things, and you will be a master in no time:
- Always begin each meal with a healthy fat. Fat is good for the pan and good for your body. Coconut oil and butter are two great choices.
- Keep a pot holder near you at all times. The handle gets as hot as the pan.
- Use both hands when lifting your skillet. It can be heavier than the traditional pans you find on the market today. And even richer with your dinner inside.
- Be sure the skillet is properly seasoned. Remember I mentioned that the cast iron was the original non-stick? It’s true, but maintaining that truth needs a little maintenance.
How to Care for Your Cast Iron
There are only two things you need to remember to keep your cast iron in tip-top shape. How to properly season your pan and how to clean it.
Seasoning your Cast Iron Skillet
Proper seasoning will keep your skillet looking beautiful and at peak performance for years to come. Seasoning is just a fancy way of saying ‘oil.’ The best oils for cast iron are coconut oil, avocado oil, or plain butter. Be sure to clear the pan of any debris by simply scraping off excess food particles. Get your pan nice and hot, then thoroughly coat it with your fat (oil) of choice. You want to cover it inside, out, and even all over the handle. Finally, throw it in the oven at 450 degrees for one hour. It is possible that doing this once will work to season your cast iron properly, but chances are you will need to do this two or three times.
Some of the newer pans come pre-seasoned for you. You should know how to season it yourself, though, especially if you are dusting one off from the back of your cabinet or attaining a secondhand treasure.
Cleaning your Cast Iron Skillet
To clean your cast iron, swipe it with your kitchen rag or a paper towel after cooking while the pan is still warm. If food is caked on, add some water, boil it for a minute to loosen up the food, then take a good sponge and wipe it clean. Do NOT use soap. Soap washes away the oils you need on your pan for proper seasoning. Soap must be avoided at all costs, for the skillet may keep its luster and the fat that maintains its non-stick quality. Once clean, dry the skillet with a lint-free cloth. Be sure it’s completely dry before storing it. Some users choose to heat the pan a little for total water evaporation. The tiniest drop can leave rust on your precious pan.
Where to Get Your Next Cast Iron Skillet
There are many options for you in getting your own or your next cast iron skillet. First, I would like to highlight the least expensive option: secondhand. We now have two cast iron skillets: Alice, and her son, Max. Max was a steal at a yard sale for only $3. I love good finds like that. Of course, if you’re not up for a yard sale, you can always check out army surplus stores, your local Goodwill and Salvation Army, or a local area thrift store.
Don’t have time to seek and search? Want a new one and want it now? Here are some brands to check out, all American-made.
- Lodge – Affordable and practical. Prices range from $7 to $55, with nine different sizes.
- Finex – Quality with a splash of fancy. Prices range from $125 to $195, with three different-size skillets.
- Smithey – A lot of fancy with a splash of class and luxury. Prices range from $80-$200. You can even get these skillets engraved.
- Field Company – Pure quality. Prices range from $75-$215 with five different options.
- Griswold & Sons – A classic cast iron, iconic, and somewhat of a collector’s item. You can find these pans on eBay ranging from $20-$3,000.
Be sure to check back soon for our blog post, where I share my favorite accessories that we use with our cast iron skillet. I might even throw in one of our favorite recipes. If you haven’t already, sign up for our monthly newsletter below. Don’t miss out. You never know what valuable information you might take away.
Written & Edited by: Jaime Snell