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Cast Iron Cooking

10.17.13 Cast Iron Cooking

cast iron muffin pan

People have been cooking in cast iron for a long time. Nearly every home at the turn of the century (talking about the 20th) used cast iron for cooking. It wasn't until the 1950's when Teflon made its debut, and the launch of the "Happy Pan" was all the rage. Cast iron was immediately dumped in favor of the light, slippery surface of non-stick chemical-laden teflon and the heavy iconic pans were relegated to the garage. Or worse, the pans received their final good riddance at weekend "tag sales."

Many people have already started this reverse trend - kicking their Teflon pans to the curb and going back to cooking in a naturally non-stick cast iron skillet. If you're lucky enough to have received a hand-me-down from Grandma, you may feel intimidated by cooking in cast iron. Maybe you're even worried about ruining the slick surface that came with years of seasoning. But have no fear, there a few simple rules to keep your pan in good working order and you'll quickly master the technique and the everyday use of cast iron.

First off, why use cast iron?

Cast iron is well known for its even heating, heat retention, durability and value. At the Lodge manufacturing plant, a layer of soy-based vegetable oil has been evenly applied to all surfaces of the cookware, then baked-on at extremely high temperatures to deeply penetrate the surface. This "seasoning" treatment allows for immediate use without the process of repeatedly curing the pan at home. Every time you cook in your pan, it continues to become seasoned more and more, while helping to prevent rust and creating a permanent, natural nonstick surface.

Recap on the benefits of cast iron:

  • Healthy. Free of any harmful toxins.
  • Durable. Expect to own your cast iron for your lifetime.
  • Naturally non-stick. Without slippery slope chemicals. 
  • Excellent heat retention. Can withstand very high heat
  • Versatile. Move from stove to broiler. Or even on a campfire.
  • Even heat distribution. And browns perfectly.
  • Affordable.

What to cook in cast iron?

Cast iron is versatile. You can start out cooking on the stove (making a fritatta, for example) and then slip the pan into a heated oven for the final few minutes of browning. Cornbread, roasted chicken+vegetables, tarte tatin, chocolate chip skillet cookies, scones, fondue, pizza, skillet cake, stuffing, apple pie, tarts, risotto...see what I mean? Make sure to check our Cast Iron Cooking board on Pinterest for recipes and ideas.

How to care for cast iron?

Difficult and counter-intuitive as it may be, put the soapy dish brush down. Using hot water (but NEVER soak the pans), a handful of salt and a coarse scrub brushthe pan will release and clean up quickly.

If the pan is particulary grungy, toss in about 1/2 cup of coarse salt and rub with a soft sponge. The salt removes excess oils and removes bits of food without compromising the seasoning of the pan. Once the pan is clean, immediately dry with a towel and lightly coat with oil (like coconut, olive or grapeseed oil) and you'll ready for cooking your next dish! And remember, the more you cook, the better the pan ages.

Avoid using any scouring pans when cleaning - this can remove the seasoning. However, if the pan does rust, you'll need to scour the rust, rinse, dry and re-season with oil.

And at some point you may want to re-season your cast iron cookware, especially if foods are sticking, the pan is looking dull or maybe the babysitter left it soaking all night in the sink (or ran it through the dishwasher). Scrub your pan, dry and cover in a thin layer of oil. Bake in the oven at 400 degrees for an hour and then let sit (with the oven off) until cooled.

Acidic foods like tomatoes, beans and certain sauces can damage the seasoning and should be avoided until the seasoning is well-established.

What do you like to cook in cast iron? Share your recipes below and we'll pin to our Pinterest board!

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