Despite being popularly seen in food photography, there are many other benefits to cooking with a cast iron skillet or pan.
They’re practical and a lot less destructible than normal pans; this is because cast iron is literally a chunk of iron.
However, there is a lot to learn when it comes to cooking with cast iron, whether that is a pan, skillet or even just a wok. That’s why we have put together this short guide on everything you need to know about cooking with cast iron.
We will cover the basics from what cast iron is actually made from to why you should try out cooking with cast iron cookware.
What is Cast Iron?
It is a firm and quite brittle mix of iron and carbon which can be molded and placed into a cast. It contains a higher proportion of carbon than steel which is normally around 2 to 4.3%. it has a very low melting temperature which makes it a lot more useful than other metals and it is very rare that cookware made from cast iron will get damaged due to its indestructibility being high.
What is Cast Iron Made of?
Generally, it is iron and carbon but depending on the color of the cast iron when it is fractured, there is often a different amount of chemicals and carbons in it. White cast iron has more carbide impurities than other cast irons as these impurities allow for cracks to pass through.
Ductile cast iron has circular graphite nodules all over it which stops the cast iron from cracking any further whereas grey cast iron has smaller graphite flakes which will deflect any passing cracks and initiate new cracks when the material breaks.
Typically, the type of cast iron that is used for cookware is malleable cast iron, this starts as white cast iron and then it is heat treated for a few days and cooled over another few days. Because of this, the carbon transforms into graphite and ferrite (also known as austenite).
The cast iron is then cast and molded into the shape of cookware the factory is making. Despite the process being difficult and a lot of steps involved, the outcome is a very malleable and reliable piece of cookware which can be in a home for many years.
How to Clean and Season Cast Iron Cookware
There are a lot of myths about how difficult cleaning and seasoning cast iron cookware is but it isn’t that hard to take care of, and the more you ensure the steps are taken to keep it in a good condition, the longer it will last – essentially saving you a lot of money in the long term. You can use soap on any cast iron pan that has been properly seasoned without the fear that it will ruin or rust it.
You can also scrub it with a sponge or wipe it with a rag; the chances of it falling apart are very slim. If you’re unsure of how to take care of your cookware, you should probably start by seasoning it, and we don’t mean with salt and pepper; seasoning is how you get a non-stick coating on the bottom of a pan that is natural.
You create a layer of fat that is bonded to the iron by rubbing some cooking fat into the pan and heating it up. After you’ve done this then let it cool down and repeat the process again another 2 or 3 times. To allow the cookware to stay in good condition we would recommend you do this again every few months or whenever the pan looks like it needs it.
Why Should I Cook with Cast Iron?
The best thing about cooking with a cast iron is that it retains heat really well, so if you’re cooking something like a baked egg dish where the egg finishes cooking outside of the oven, it is ideal. You can also move the cast iron skillet or pan from the stovetop straight into your oven without having to worry about it getting ruined, plus it saves on washing extra dishes. There are no direct reasons to use cast iron when you’re cooking, it’s just a different way to cook your recipes and meals.
Pros and Cons of Cooking with Cast Iron
Below we have listed 3 pros and cons of cooking with a cast iron.
- They’re a non-stick surface if you look after them an ensure they don’t get rusty. This non-stick surface isn’t chemical either which means you’re not putting any potentially harmful substances in your body just because of the pan
- They stay hot for a while so it’s ideal if you’re cooking something for a long time and want to save energy and electricity
- They put iron into your food and help to improve your iron levels so are particularly useful for people with an iron deficiency
- It is easier to burn yourself on the skillet or pan as they do stay hot for a while, ensure if you do have one that it stays out of reach of any children
- They’re heavy to carry so you must be careful whenever you’re using it
- They also require maintenance in order to ensure they don’t rust, this means you have to season the cast iron properly
Health Benefits of Cooking with Cast Iron
One health benefit of cast iron is that if it is well-seasoned then less oil will be needed to prepare your food.
Another advantage of using cast iron over nonstick cookware manufactured prior to 2013, is that it does not contain PFOA.
Perfluorooctanoic acid, which is also known as PFOA was one ingredient used in the manufacture of the liquid coating Teflon™. Dupont states they completed phasing out PFOA in 2013.
The issue of whether or not PFOA is a cause of cancer continues to be debated. In February, 2017, Dupont and Chemours. (a spinoff from Dupont) settled a class action lawsuit involving the leak of PFOA into the water system in Parkersburg, WVa and contaminating the water supplies. It was alleged this leak was linked to six diseases including testicular and kidney cancers.
If you have nonstick pans coated with Teflon™ prior to 2013, their use is worthy of research and consideration.
Today, in cookware manufacturing plants that use Teflon™ brand nonstick coatings, the liquid coating used is supplied by Chemours. These nonstick coatings for cookware contain the PTFE (polytetrafluoroethylene). PFOA is no longer used by Chemours in the manufacture of PTFE.
For those who are concerned that using cast iron might lead to iron toxicity, purchasing cast iron cookware that has a quality enamel layer is a viable option.
What Not to Cook in Cast Iron Cookware
We would recommend you stay away from cooking certain foods as it can not only ruin the way the food tastes, but it can often ruin the lining of the pan and cause the cookware to rust. These food items include the likes of acidic foods (maybe tomato sauces or lemon-based ingredients), sticky foods (anything with a glaze on, as this, can cause the seasoning of the pan to get damaged), and delicate fish (as it can often overcook the fish and ruin the food for your meal).
Some people have a cast iron skillet that is only used for preparing desserts. Their theory is that if a skillet is used to cook spicy foods and then used to prepare an apple pie for example, the residual flavors from the spicy food can transfer to the apple pie.
How to Cook with Cast Iron
Cooking with a cast iron is similar to frying, however, the pan can go in the oven afterward. You can cook sauces in a cast iron skillet or pan then add your other ingredients such as meat or cheese and stick it in the oven to cook furthermore.
You can also serve your dishes on the cast iron (but be aware as the food item will keep cooking and the pan will remain hot for a while. This is a neat idea for restaurants if they want to serve their steaks or other meats on a hot plate, they can use a cast iron skillet, pan, or piece of cookware.