I’ve owned a cast iron Dutch oven for several years now and wouldn’t cook a pot roast in anything else. I love the versatility of cast iron, which can be heated on a burner and transferred to the oven with no trouble at all. I would say a cast iron Dutch oven and skillet are must-haves in any kitchen where cooking is done. My mom had a skillet when I was growing up and she used it for everything. I especially remember that she would not fry chicken in any other pan and would often bake her corn bread in the same skillet.
Oddly, it took me years to finally obtain a cast iron skillet. Now, thanks to my dad and his girlfriend, I have three different sizes, from the standard size down to a cute little pan just perfect for frying a couple of eggs.
Don’t take my word for it on the benefits of cast iron. Check out these tidbits from “Tips Cooks Love,” a Sur la Table book:
* Cast iron absorbs heat more slowly than other materials but retains heat better and more evenly.
* Cast iron can be used on the stove top, in the oven, under a broiler or on the grill.
* It is perfect for high temperature cooking and you can develop nice caramelization on foods.
And a few words of caution:
* Cast iron can be reactive with acidic ingredients like tomatoes. For this reason, you might consider an enamel-coated Dutch oven, which is non-reactive.
* Unless you buy an already seasoned cast iron pan (many these days are seasoned, including products by Lodge, the biggest dealer of cast iron), you’ll have to season it before you can use it. Why season? Because unseasoned cast iron is brittle, and seasoning strengthens the material, prevents it from rusting and creates a non-stick surface.
Read on for instructions on seasoning cast iron and a few other tips.
To season a new piece of cast iron:
* “Tips Cooks Love” says to rub the inside of the pan with flavorless vegetable oil, place on a baking sheet and put in a 350 degree oven for one hour. Let cool, then wipe off any excess oil.
* The folks at kitchenemporium.com suggest using lard or bacon grease instead of vegetable oil, saying vegetable oil leaves a sticky surface and does not season as well. They suggest placing the greased pan in a 300 degree oven for 15 minutes, pouring out any excess grease and continuing to bake for another 2 hours.
After seasoning, it might be good to use the pan only for oily cooking for the first few times. This will further season and strengthen the material. And you don’t want to wash cast iron with soap and water, because that will remove the seasoning. Also do not use scouring pads. Simply rinse out the pan with hot water and scrape off cooked-on foods with a wooden spatula, then sprinkle with coarse salt and rub clean with paper towels.
Let it dry well to discourage rusting. I will usually put my Dutch oven in a warm oven or on a burner over medium heat to make sure it has completely dried.
Finally, the Sur la Table folks warn against storing cast iron cookware in a plastic bag, because the bag can trap moisture and cause rusting.
I know many of my readers are fond of using cast iron and have experience with caring for it. What other tips would you give new owners, and how does the information I have provided differ from your experience?