Cast iron skillets or frying pans have been around for a very long time, cast iron is the original first-choice for quality cookware. Cast iron cookware is very hard wearing and has excellent heat distribution properties and was originally a relatively cheap material for pots and pans. When correctly seasoned (prepared for use) cast iron skillets will compete with any non-stick coating and can be used with metal utensils without any fear of damaging the non-stick surface, so it is not surprising that many cooks consider cast iron pans when buying any new pan, not just a skillet or frying pan.
Enamel coated cast iron pans are also very popular due to their easy clean properties and wide range of colors – needless to say, they do not need seasoning before use.
Cooks have used cast iron vessels for centuries due to its ability to withstand and maintain high cooking temperatures which make it an obvious choice for frying and searing. But its excellent heat diffusion and retention properties also make it a good choice for slow cooking stews, casseroles and braised dishes. As cast iron skillets will eventually develop an extremely non-stick inside surface, they’re also a popular choice for egg recipes, including omelets and scrambled eggs.
Looking for a frying pan that will stand the test of time, providing year upon year of faithful service in the kitchen?
Look no further than a cast iron frying pan or cast-iron skillet. Prior to the days of non-stick, Teflon and other advances in cookware technology, cast iron was the standard in cooking. As more modern cookware started to enter the market in the past few decades, many tossed aside their old cast iron frying pan hoping that it would provide them with something new when it came to meal preparation. Soon enough though, many found that there’s just something about cooking in a cast-iron frying pan that just cannot be achieved by other types of cookware, no matter how fancy or expensive.
While on the outside a cast iron pan may not appear to be anything special, trained chefs know that cast iron frying pans are the best friend of any amateur or professional cook as long as they are cared for properly. Cast iron pans are most often preferred by chefs and professional cooks because of their versatility. Do you ever make a dish that requires pan frying at first followed by some time in the oven? A cast-iron pan is the perfect tool for such a dish since it can go from stovetop to oven without skipping a beat. No need to soil yet another pan in the preparation of that perfect dish.
What cannot be disputed when cooking with cast iron is that it results in a more flavorful dish. Most chefs will agree that the best way to ensure great tasting food when cooking with cast iron is to care for it properly. The term seasoning is the name of the process by which the user prepares and cares for a pan so that it cooks without sticking and provides exceptional flavor every time.
Cast iron is a great conductor of heat which is especially useful when cooking. You need your food to cook evenly no matter where the food is sitting in the piece of cookware and this is exactly what cast iron cookware does.
Contrary to what many people claim, cast iron cookware is actually non-stick. Sure it doesn’t have any fancy coating made of chemicals and metals that you cannot pronounce, but a properly seasoned piece of cast iron cookware will not allow food to stick to its surface.
While a non-stick pan is sometimes handy, they just can’t stand up to the kind of wear and tear that a cast iron skillet or dutch oven can. Many people still use cast iron cookware for decades and it still performs well and even better than the day that they bought it. This cannot be said of a non-stick frying pan that over time, loses its non-stick coating. This can be quite dangerous to your health and also expensive since you will be out shopping for new cookware after just a few years of use. What about using metal utensils in a non-stick pan? I’m sure we have all made the mistake of using a metal utensil in a non-stick pan that results in scratches and eventually having the coating were off. With cast iron pan, no such problem occurs as they do not have a surface that can be damaged by metal cooking utensils.
Simple to Care For
Just a quick wash with a mild soap and water or just warm water will suffice when cleaning cast iron, making them one of the easiest pieces of cookware that you will ever own.
Choosing A Cast Iron Skillet
Even though modern non-stick cookware is incredibly popular, and rightly so, there is still a place for the traditional cast iron skillet, and other types of cast iron cookware. But how do you go about choosing a skillet to use for those traditional recipes? As usual, help is at hand through the Internet – here’s an article to help you choose. To learn more, continue reading and find out how to choose a skillet, or any cast iron cookware, for your favorite family recipes. All in 3 simple steps!
Boring though it may seem – the initial step you need to take is to choose how much you would like to spend. This could be crucial because skillets can be found at a wide range of prices, and you will probably have a budget you have to stick to. You should avoid spending more than you can really afford and ending up struggling to buy food to cook in your new cast iron skillet!
Typical prices are from about $5 to $50 or more depending on size and quality. In my experience, with just about all cookware, mid-price range seems to be a good choice. It should be made well enough to last without paying a premium for “designer” brands.
Pre-Seasoned Skillets – Ready To Cook
Having set your budget, your second step will be to research the skillet manufacturers and find quality but value for money cookware. Things that you will want to avoid here are cheap skillets which might have manufacturing defects, and warp or crack when heated. And you may also want to avoid skillets that aren’t pre-seasoned. Although you can season skillets yourself, (watch the video) pre-seasoned skillets save time and you know that at the least you are beginning with cookware that is correctly prepared to use.
If you’re not aware, seasoning is the process by which the surface of the cast iron is made ready for first use, or is prepared if food has been allowed to burn or stick to the base. Seasoning involves cleaning the skillet, rubbing with oil and sometimes salt and then heating it until a layer of grease impregnates the surface. We will talk about this later in this article.
Comfort And Balance
The third step and perhaps the most important is to find a skillet that feels comfortable and balanced in your hand. This is really important because skillets can be heavy and can be very hot, so to be able to hold the skillet easily and comfortably is important. The most important thing to avoid is being rough and uncomfortable handles that hurt your hand or wrist whenever you pick up the heavy cast-iron skillet.
A small additional handle on the opposite side of the rim to the main handle is often a good idea to help balance the weight, but take care it will get hot, and you will almost certainly need to use a cloth or glove to hold the small handle.
Strange though it may seem, a well balanced heavy skillet, may be easier to handle than a light one with an uncomfortable handle, so it’s worth considering comfort and not just weight before deciding what to buy.
Go through the steps as listed above and everything should go well. Set your budget, find a reasonably priced manufacturer selling pre-seasoned skillets, and look for a skillet that is comfortable to pick up and hold.
How to Season Cast Iron Skillet
If you choose to purchase a brand new cast iron frying pan you will notice right away that the pan is new and shiny looking, unlike the many black cast iron pans that you may have seen before. As a pan is used over and over the pan starts to retain some of the oils used in cooking and eventually becomes black from use. While it may be tempting to get out a scratch pad and scrub that pan until it sparkles, this is the worst thing you can do for your cast iron cookware. In order for cast iron cookware to maintain it’s non-stick state or to move it in the direction of becoming a non-stick pan, it must be “seasoned” properly.
Cast Iron seasoning is a process that forces the iron in your cast iron pans to absorb oil, thereby preventing them from rusting. The other purpose for seasoning cast iron pans is to create a nonstick surface.
Some cast iron pans come already seasoned from the factory, others do not. In either case, knowing how to season cast iron is a good skill because they tend to perform better if re-seasoned occasionally.
Seasoning cast iron is a simple, six-step process
1. Cover bottom oven rack with aluminum to catch drippings.
2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
3. Always wash the pan first using hot, soapy water and a stiff brush. Be sure to rinse the pan well and dry it thoroughly with a clean kitchen towel.
4. Melt approximately 1/3 cup of solid vegetable shortening in the microwave. Using a clean paper towel, oil the pan completely- inside and out.
5. Place the pan upside down on the top oven rack and bake for one hour.
6. Because cast iron retains heat so well, let it cool completely in the oven before removing.
After cooking with skillet clean with mild soap and water. Skillets need to be cleaned with soap and water or oil will become rancid. Dry by placing on hot burner remove when dried this is the way my Mom always did her skillets. Never place in dishwasher.
The seasoning process only needs to be done once unless misuse or rust forms. The reason you need to season the cast iron is that the metal is very porous and the pores are what causes the ovens to rust. The oil lends itself to fill these pores when heated and stops the corrosive effects of oxidation.
In addition the seasoning becomes a non-stick surface similar to commercially manufactured non stick pans and skillets. With age and use the coating will turn dark and black which is a sign of great care and use.
How to Clean Cast Iron Skillet
- After cooking, rinse the skillet out with hot water.
- If you have residue that is being hard to get out, boil some water in it for a few minutes, then pour it out and using a metal brush or stiff nylon brush using a mild abrasive such as salt.
- Don’t ever put the skillet in the dishwasher and don’t ever use detergents or soaps. This creates rust by eating through the non-stick coating.
- After you thoroughly towel dry the skillet put a light coat of cooking oil on it.
- Always store it in a cool dry place with a paper towel on the inside to stop moisture from building up.
- If the skillet ever does develop rust you can scour it with steel wool and then re-season it.
To get the best results, the best way of seasoning a cast iron skillet would be by following the instructions below:
- Wash your skillet with salt and a brush. Potato and salt can be used as an alternative for removing rust.
- Pat dry with paper towel or under the low heat of the stove for about 5 minutes.
- Next using olive oil, vegetable oil or lard and coat the skillet rubbing with a paper towel.
- Heat the pan under low heat for about 10 minutes.
- Let it cool off.
- Store in a cool dry place.
Some may find cleaning and maintaining cast iron skillets hard and tasking. A great alternative for a cast iron cookware would be anodized cookware which is made from electromagnetically hardened aluminum. Cookware made to last longer than regular cookware and is nonporous. A complete lack of pores makes it resist sticking even when the food is burned or overcooked.
Our articles on this topic:
- Stainless Steel Cookware
- Quality Cookware Choices
- Best Cast Iron Cookware
- Copper Cookware
- Cookware That Works For You
- How to Choose the Best Cookware
- Cooking with Cast Iron Skillet
- Pros and Cons of Using Anodized Cookware