I’ve always been the kind of guy who likes things nice and easy. When it came to choosing cookware I would mostly look at price and how easy it would be to clean. So, a trip to Target for a teflon non-stick pan would solve my problems.
But, as I am getting more interested in cooking and the details that go into it, I’m finding out about more options. One of those options: cooking with a cast iron skillet.
benefits of cooking with cast iron
The benefits of cooking with cast iron actually surprised me. They can withstand high temperatures, which makes them ideal for using on the stove or in the oven. They’re extremely durable. And most surprising to me, if cared for correctly, food slides out of cast iron cooking pans with ease. It doesn’t hurt that you can find fairly cheap cast iron cookware pretty easily.
I was in disbelief. The first thing that would come to mind is rust on cast iron skillets. Not just something I could picture food sticking to, but something I wouldn’t want to dare put food on in the first place. Yuck! I guess I’ve always been around cast iron cookware that has been neglected.
The most important thing about caring for cast iron, and keeping it working well, is seasoning. If you have some very old and rusty cast iron, cleaning that up is first on the list.
how to clean rust off cast iron
As long as there isn’t a thick layer of rust, it should be very easy to take care of. A little mixture of salt and vegetable oil will go a long way. When cleaning rust from cast iron you need to pour some salt and oil into your cast iron cookware and use paper towels to scrub the rust to oblivion! Add more salt and oil as needed, and if the towels aren’t doing the trick, steel wool should get the job done.
Give it a good hand washing with dish soap, rinse with hot water, and dry it off completely. Cast iron cookware is not stainless, and metal + water = rust.
Now that you have a nice clean skillet, it is time to season.
how to season cast iron
I want my skillet to be the best cast iron skillet it can be. I knew nothing about seasoning before, but it is a simple process of heating and oiling the cookware. In just a few steps (and a few hours of heating) your cast iron cookware is seasoned and ready for cooking.
I recommend NOT buying pre-seasoned cast iron cookware. Mostly because you’ll be forced to learn how to season, and you’ll know for sure it was done right (and with love).
I found this great video online that demonstrated the process:
cast iron recipes
There are many different recipes out there for cast iron cooking. Because cast iron cookware holds onto heat so well, it is great for cooking with an even temperature. No hotspots! But this means…
WARNING: cast iron cookware is made entirely of cast iron! That means you should make friends with your pot holders and use them!
If you haven’t seasoned your skillet enough, beware of acidic foods (tomatoes, lemons) that will react with the iron and make your food taste…weird. Also, it is always a good idea to pre-heat your cast iron skillet before cooking.
Here are a few more pointers for cooking with cast iron:
cooking chicken on cast iron
If you’ve seasoned your cast iron pan, a little olive oil can go a long way. Throw that chicken in the pan with olive oil, some spices, and some veggies and you’ve got a meal. Chances are if the chicken is sticking, you need to go back and season again.
Poaching chicken with water or chicken stock is also another easy method.
cooking fish on cast iron
The nice thing about fish is that you can cook it quickly at high temperatures. Combine that with cast iron cookware that can handle high-temp cooking and you’re in business!
Since high temperatures are needed, ideal ways to cook fish are baking, broiling, or blackening (cover your fish in spices and cook on a high-heat, dry skillet).
cooking steak on cast iron
Ahhhhh, steak. This is fairly easy. As I mentioned earlier, you always want to pre-heat your cast iron skillet. For steak, you want it very hot! If you’re wondering if it is hot enough, put a drop of water in the pan. It should bounce a little then sizzle into steam. That means it is ready and your pan is around 500 degrees (F). No oil, no butter, no nothing! Just a hot, well-seasoned cast iron skillet.
You’ll also want to get your oven set to at least 400 degrees (F).
Put your steak in the pan and let it cook for exactly two minutes. There is bound to be some sizzling and smoking. As long as it doesn’t burst into flames or disappear in a pile of ash, you’re okay.
After two minutes, flip it and let the other side cook for exactly two minutes.
Boom! You now have a rare steak!
If you like it cooked more than rare, take it off the burner (using our good friend the pot holder) and put it in the oven. I usually put a pat of butter or drizzle a little olive oil on it at his point. Let it cook in the oven until it is cooked to your liking (this process is a little more scientific…it may be a separate article someday).
healthy cooking cast iron
Lastly, when I think about cast iron, I picture settlers on the prairie cooking every little thing in lard and fat. It doesn’t bring a healthy picture to mind. As you may have noticed in the cooking ideas above, a common theme was starting with a dry surface.
No extra oil or fat needed. Take that, lard!
As long as you take care of your cast iron cookware, season it correctly and keep it dry, it is a very affordable and healthy cooking option. And if you’re planning any long treks via covered wagon any time soon, you’ll be set!