Cast iron is a long-lasting, versatile, and reliable fry ware that comes in handy for any kind of cooking, from frying bacon and sausages to a sticky skillet cake. If you’ve never used cast iron before, you might be wondering how to cook with them.
Here’s how to cook with a cast iron:
Keep reading to learn more about cooking with cast iron pans and the proper way to clean and take care of them. We'll also show you that, unlike what you've heard before, they're very easy to maintain and can literally last you a lifetime!
The first and most crucial step in cooking with a cast iron is to preheat it to make it non-stick. Placing ingredients in a cast iron without preheating means they’ll end up stuck at the bottom or the sides of your pan, and you don’t want that!
Therefore, before you start the cooking process, allow the cast-iron pan to preheat on low to medium heat for about 5 to 10 minutes. Cast iron is excellent in conducting heat, so if you carefully hover your hand over it, you'll know when it's warm enough and ready to go.
No matter what you're doing with the cast iron - searing or baking - you should always use some oil or butter to enhance its non-stick properties.
If you're going to sear some veggies or even meat in the cast iron, then it's best to use a spoonful of oil with a high smoke point. This is because you should preheat your cast iron skillet longer than you would a stainless-steel skillet.
But if you want to bake something like bread or cinnamon roll in your cast iron, you can rub some butter all over its surface. This way, your bread won't stick to the cast iron, ensuring you get the much-desired crispy brown crust.
If you want to sear something in your cast iron pan, you should ensure it comes entirely in contact with your hot skillet surface and cooks evenly. So, chop your veggies or meat such that they have thin surface areas to ensure they sear evenly. Extremely large surface areas might affect the outcome of your meal as they will require relatively longer cooking time.
A common mistake made by most first timers when cooking in a cast-iron skillet is stirring ingredients without allowing them to settle. Your food won't create that crispy, caramelized layer if you’re constantly stirring it in your cast iron.
As a result, you should leave the food to cook undisturbed for a while. You’ll know it’s time to flip the delicacy or stirr the ingredients when the edges become brown.
If you're going to cook a thick layer of food, such as pork chop, you should use the sear-to-oven technique for which the cast irons are great. And since cast irons are heavy-duty and thick, they can tolerate very high temperatures in the oven.
To get a nice and beautiful crust on both sides of your meat, you should first sear each side of it in your preheated and oiled cast iron. Next is to transfer the cast iron straight into the oven to cook the meat thoroughly.
Cooking with a cast iron and achieving the thick, rustic crust is a tempting prospect for both seasoned chefs and beginners. However, that's not the only reason behind cast-iron cookware’s ever increasing popularity.
Here are some of the benefits of cooking with cast iron.
Seasoning a cast-iron skillet is the process of applying some oil all over it using a paper towel and then heating it for around an hour in a preheated oven to 450°F (230°C).
The seasoning process polymerizes the oil such that it turns into a slick coating that protects your cast iron from rust and corrosion, while also preventing food from sticking.
Seasoning cast iron is very easy yet essential to its maintenance. Just remember to use as little oil as possible to prevent messes like dripping oil in your oven. While most cast irons are pre-seasoned by their manufacturers, they'll still need seasoning every now and then to keep them in tip top shape.
Cooking overly acidic foods or washing cast iron with dish soap can wear off their seasoning. If you don't know when is the right time to season your cast iron, you can cook a sunny-side-up egg in your skillet, and if it sticks to the surface, you'll know your pan needs seasoning.
Here’s how to do it:
Note: Since the oil may drip down the pan, you can place an aluminum foil underneath it to prevent any mess. You should avoid using butter for seasoning your cast iron, as it can burn at high temperatures.
Interestingly, the quality of cast iron increases over time, provided it’s regularly used and well maintained. So, it's crucial to use your skillet for cooking or baking on a regular basis, then clean it appropriately and season it a few times a year.
The more you cook with and reseason with your cast iron, the thicker the seasoning layer gets, which consequently improves its heat retention ability.
Regular usage doesn’t necessarily mean using your cast iron every single day as cooking with it, say once or twice a week, would suffice.
Cleaning cast iron is tricky because it’s highly susceptible to rust. Plus, improper cleaning can lead to the wearing off of the seasoning layer.
If you want to maintain your cast iron pan and use it for as long as possible, it’s important to clean it properly every time you use it.
Once you’re finished cooking, you should try to clean the pan right away. When it’s still hot and fresh off the stove, the excess food will come off a lot easier, saving you a lot of time and effort. But if you decide to clean it later, you should use hot water to make your life that bit easier!
You also want to avoid using anything too rough to scrub the pan because this could remove some of the seasoning, and it could damage the pan. Instead, you can use a simple dish brush or sponge to get rid of the excess food.
It’s also a good idea to add a small amount of salt to the pan. This will work as a mild abrasive and helps you get rid of those stubborn food residues. It’s also a super convenient option because you’re almost guaranteed to have salt in your kitchen!
Although it's generally recommended not to use dish soap for washing your cast irons, many people have found that using a little mild dish detergent doesn’t do any harm. Therefore, If your cast-iron pan is really grimy, you can add a little dish soap (mild) and then scrub it with the brush.
Some experts also suggest sprinkling a little baking soda on the cast iron and then scrubbing it gently with a brush. Baking soda has antibacterial properties and helps eliminate any flavors or odors that have remained from what you’ve been cooking.
Don't forget to dry your cast iron immediately after washing; otherwise, it'll rust or corrode. You can put it on your stove and heat your pan over low heat to dry thoroughly.
Once your pan is completely dry, it's time to re-season it with some natural oil and a paper towel. Make sure the oil gets all over your cast iron, even its handle, and do it while the skillet is still warm.
Your cast iron should be well seasoned and ready to go after completing the above process.
Don’t panic if you see some rust spots on your pan as it happens even to those who meticulously take care of their cast irons.
A rusty spot on your cast iron pan doesn’t mean your cookware’s useful life has come to an abrupt end. You can eliminate the rust using any simple DIY methods you know, or even scrubbing the affected surface with a ball of steel wool.
After removing the rust, remember to wash and season the cast iron again before putting it to use.
Note: Don't wash your warm skillet with cold water because it can make your cast iron warp, buckle, or even crack. So, always remember to use hot water to wash your pan.
Although you can cook most things in a cast iron pan, there are some foods to avoid if possible. For example, cast iron pans will often absorb smells from the food you cook, so you should avoid cooking foods with strong odors.
Now, let’s take a closer look at some foods you should avoid when using a cast iron pan.
The most common acidic foods would be lemons, peaches, oranges, and tomatoes. If you use any of these mentioned foods on your cast iron pan, be sure to clean it as soon as you can (ideally, right after cooking). This will decrease the risk of acidic damage to the pan, and it’s also much easier to clean while it’s still hot.
Another thing to remember is to avoid cooking delicate fish like tilapia in your cast iron. While its excellent heat retention gives your steak a nice brown crust, it can ruin lovely pieces of trout or tilapia, which have delicate tissue.
Therefore, it’s better to cook meat with delicate tissue in a non-stick pan. However, salmon or other meaty fish that can bear such heat is fine.
Cast iron skillets are excellent for cooking different dishes as they don’t leach harmful chemicals. They're also great for cooking proteins as cast iron gives a beautiful crust to your meat or chicken, which is hard to achieve with other pans.
Just make sure it's well-seasoned, and add oil into the pan if you think it's needed. Always preheat your skillet and let the food sit without stirring ingredients unnecessarily. Whatever you cook, make sure it has a flat side to get a nice, even brown crust.
And, finally, don't forget to clean and reseason your pan after cooking.