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I started cooking with cast iron when I was in my teens. My mom is into antiques and likes to collect the pans. I honestly did not think much about cast iron at that time other than it was difficult to clean and heavy.
Now that I have more experience with cast iron I can tell you that cast iron is a breeze to use. If used correctly, it is also nonstick! That is an added bonus, plus you don't have to worry about toxins leeching into your food. When you cook in cast iron (especially acidic foods), some iron is leeched into the food. This is perfectly fine; most of us can use the extra iron (unless you are sensitive).
Many other types of cookware contain heavy metals or toxic chemicals. Even the new, "safer" nonstick pans are truly not safe to cook with. And speaking of toxins, be careful with enameled cast iron cookware because there are many that contain lead and cadmium.
Cast Iron is very versatile and can be used on the stovetop, oven, and campfire. It also can tolerate high heat, so you don't have to worry about damaging your pan.
Many people today experience sticking, flaking, and rusting and end up tossing their pan because they don't know how to maintain it. In this guide, I will discuss how to properly care for your pan so it will last for generations, tips for buying, and how to cook with it.
Seasoning Cast Iron
The only time I use dish soap on my cast iron cookware is when I pick up a used pan. Since I have no idea where its been, I give it a good scrub before seasoning it. After I do that, I make sure to thoroughly dry it off so there is not any moisture on the pan that could cause rusting.
Once its dry, cover it in a healthy fat that has a higher smoke point. And you will want to cover the entire pan in oil, not just the cooking surface. I like to use coconut oil or tallow when I am seasoning cast iron. Make sure there isn't too much oil on there; you want just a light coating. Then stick it in the oven at the highest temperature the oven will go (I do around 450 degrees F) for an hour.
Be prepared for a little bit of smoke (that sometimes happens to me). It is okay, but just make sure you have good ventilation or your smoke detectors will go off.
If you experience rusting, that means you need to clean out the pan with soap and water and then reseason it. Sometimes you may have to season the pan a couple of times before its ready to cook with.
Cooking in Cast Iron
When you go to cook anything in cast iron, preheating is a must. Let it get nice and hot; the food should sizzle when it touches the pan. Cast iron tends to heat unevenly but will hold heat really well, so this is why you preheat. Make sure you are cooking on a medium-high temperature to get a nonstick surface.
What the real secret is to getting that nonstick surface is using plenty of oil. Another tip is to not flip or stir the food as frequently. Let the food cook thoroughly on one side before flipping. This will also decrease sticking.
And as I briefly mentioned above, cooking with acidic foods can mess with the seasoning on the pan. Also, avoid using plastic utensils with cast iron because they will melt. Stick to wood or stainless steel.
It's useful to have a silicone cover for the handle of the skillet when you are using it on the stovetop (don't use in the oven). Always remember to use oven mitts and hot pads with cast iron.
And my last tip is to have a variety of pans for different types of food. So have a smaller pan for melting butter or warming up a single serving meal, and a bigger pan when cooking for the family (I usually have two larger ones cooking at the same time to get food on the table faster). If you are planning on making fish for dinner one night and then cinnamon rolls the next morning, use two different pans or your cinnamon rolls will taste like fish. Cast iron pans absorb the flavor of the food cooked in it.
Cleaning Cast Iron
If you take the precautions that I mentioned above, you should rarely have sticking. However, I like to have a stainless steel scrubber for my cast iron pans. I use it whenever I have a mishap and something does get stuck on.
However, I don't wash my cast iron out with soap unless I just got a used pan. I also don't use water that much either because it makes the pans rust easier and I tend to have more sticking issues.
What I do is wipe out my pans with a cloth or paper towel. Because it is a nonstick surface, everything comes off easily. Sometimes I use coarse sea salt to lightly scrub the pan and empty out the crumbs. This may sound gross, but I don't leave leftover food sitting in my pans and the pans are getting used constantly.
If I do use water, I make sure to dry the pan thoroughly and reseason if needed.
It's also completely normal to get a brown/black residue on your paper towel when you wipe your pan. The pan is not dirty; that is just the iron.
Buying Cast Iron
When buying a cast iron pan, take notice of how heavy it is. You may have to feel a couple different brands of pans to start noticing this. A heavier pan is usually lower quality and a lighter one is usually higher quality.
Then take notice of the surface of the pan. A smoother surface is going to indicate a higher quality pan and a rougher surface typically indicates a lower quality pan.
I personally have rougher and heavier lodge cast iron cookware which still works well and is easily available. If you want something nicer, keep an eye out at estate sales, antique stores, and your grandparents' attic. You never know what you will find.
If you see a number on the pan, that could indicate the size of the pan. But that is not the size in centimeters or inches. Cast iron has its own sizing system which you can check out here.
Once you get the hang of it, cast iron is really easy to cook with. Cleaning is a breeze and iron is nontoxic for the most people. However, if you have any questions, leave me a comment below and I will be happy to help you!