Why Cook with Cast Iron?
Cast iron has a wealth of benefits, naturally, that make it the superior choice for a number of kitchen jobs. Among its top qualities:
- It spreads and retains heat well. Because cast iron is thick and dense, it gets hot and stays hot. This means that, you won’t get hot spots and burn your food.
- It’s unparalleled for searing. This is because cast iron can store more thermal energy than thinner materials. If you want to get a nice, dark sear on a steak or a piece of salmon, use cast iron.
- It’s naturally non-stick. Once cast iron has been properly seasoned (more on that in a moment) it has a smooth surface that prevents food from sticking.
- It’s versatile. Cast iron can go from the stovetop to the oven, allowing you to sear on the stovetop then follow up with long cooking in the oven or a quick trip under the broiler.
- It enriches your food with iron. Food prepared in cast iron picks up microscopic particles of iron while cooking. Health professionals living in countries where iron deficiencies are common use tools like the Lucky Fish, a small cast iron tool that sits in a cooking pot, to help raise iron levels.
How to Get Mirror-Smooth Seasoning on Your Skillet
Most cast iron skillets, like those offered by Lodge, come pre-seasoned. But, even pre-seasoned cookware can use the extra protection that comes from seasoning at home.
The seasoning on your skillet also occasionally needs to be refreshed. This can be especially true of a pan that has been in storage or neglected in your relative’s attic. Luckily, seasoning just takes a small amount of time, using equipment you probably already have and a bit of elbow grease.
To season or re-season your pan:
- Preheat your oven to 325 degrees F.
- Wash your pan with mild dish soap. This helps remove any old debris or oil.
- Rinse and thoroughly dry your skillet.
- Apply a thin layer of oil to the inside and outside of your pan using a soft cloth or a paper towel. Vegetable oil is the most commonly used oil for the job. You can also use freshly rendered lard or olive oil. If you’re interested in making an investment, many people swear by flaxseed oil for its long-lasting super smooth finish.
- Place your pan face down in the center rack of your oven.
- Bake for one hour.
- Turn off the heat and allow your skillet to cool completely in the oven before removing it.
Wipe down the pan with fresh paper towels after seasoning. You can repeat this whenever food starts to stick to your pan or when the pan starts to feel less smooth.
Maintenance Tips to Make Cast Iron Last a Lifetime (Or More)
Cast iron is a tough material, but it still needs some special care to make it last and work to its full potential. While many people believe that cast iron can’t be washed with soap, this is a myth. The seasoning on cast iron is actually polymerized to the pan, so it won’t easily wash off.
Soaking, on the other hand, can damage your seasoning and can actually rust your pan. To keep your cast iron rust-free, always wash it as soon as possible after use and don’t leave it in the sink.
If you live in a humid area, you may find that your cast iron develops rust when it’s put away in a cabinet. To prevent this, swipe a thin coat of oil over the pan before you put it away.
Recipes That Call Out for Cast Iron
A cast iron skillet is a great choice for any frying, searing, or other high-heat stove top cooking. In fact, frying in it regularly is a great way to make your seasoning job last longer. But, there are some recipes where cast iron is truly a star:
Cast iron cooking comes with a learning curve. But, once you have mastered the unique quirks of this cooking equipment, you’ll find that your cast iron pan is the one that you reach for every time. Happy cast iron cooking!