Most great chefs, especially those who work in the home kitchen, will tell you that cast iron is the cookware of champions. Whether you’re slowly cooking a stew in a Dutch oven or frying some homemade fries in the pan for breakfast, the taste and texture of a cast iron pot or pan are better.
Cast iron cookware has been around for centuries. In fact, besides stones, iron utensils are one of the first things people cooked on. And somehow we got it right early on. It has been a little downhill since then. Stainless steel has proven ridiculous in terms of food sticking, and many non-stick surfaces pose a perceived health hazard. But cast iron has remained strong and faithful.
Nonetheless, some people have turned their backs on the old school pans, and it is time to correct that injustice and note both why cast iron is amazing and why it’s not so scary.
Go to thrift stores, flea markets, or antique stores and you’re likely to come across old cast iron cookware. Finding a pan that is 50 years old and still strong is nothing. It’s not impossible to stumble upon a piece of 19th century cast iron. This stuff was built to last like it’s made of iron … aha!
Since cast iron pots and pans are made from a solid piece of iron, there are no handles to break or screws to wiggle freely. They are easy. They can be thrown away and forgotten for decades, and with a little elbow fat (cooking oil to be precise) they’ll be active again in no time.
High emissivity and heat storage
While cast iron pans have a reputation for cooking food evenly, this is not always the case. Cast iron actually has poor thermal conductivity, meaning that if there is heat in one place but not in another, it will not distribute heat very well. So there can be hot and cold spots on a stove.
However, cast iron is characterized by its heat emissivity and heat storage. When it’s hot, it radiates heat beyond the metal surface, which means it cooks food more evenly from top to bottom. Cast iron cookware also stays hot longer when it’s hot and doesn’t drop in temperature significantly when food is added to the mix.
- Tip: For even cooking on the sides of the pan, preheat it in the oven so that the entire pan becomes hot. Remember to use a pot holder when handling it afterwards.
Of course, non-stick
To be honest, a well-seasoned cast iron pan has a relatively non-stick coating. This is not as anti-stick as Teflon-coated pans, but Teflon-coated pans will flake plastic into the food, and there are some health concerns associated with Teflon-coated cookware.
Cast iron cookware is given a non-stick coating by “seasoning” the metal. To do this, it is rubbed into cooking oil with a high smoke point such as peanut oil, grape seed oil or rapeseed oil. The cast iron device is easily heated, oiled and baked. The baked oil forms a hard non-stick layer over the metal.
- Tip: If you cook a little longer, they can often be removed more easily from the cast iron surface. They become crispy in the long run and separate from the hot surface.
Improves with use
Another plus of the seasoning process with cast iron is that the cast iron non-stick surface improves with use, unlike Teflon-coated products. This improvement is particularly the case when frying or deep-frying. After all, this only further oils the surface.
In addition, proper care of cast iron cookware includes washing and towel drying after each use. Then, to go the extra mile, the cookware can be further dried on the stove, wiping off a layer of oil after it is completely heat-dried.
Since cast iron pans and Dutch ovens are made of 100% metal, they are extremely versatile. In contrast to things with plastic handles or other questionable parts, cast iron cookware can be used in almost all situations: ovens (cornbread! Biscuits!), Stovetops (sauce! Tempeh seared in the pan!), Induction hobs, campfires (chilli!) …
Not only does this versatility come in handy as fewer cooking utensils are required with cast iron, it also means that food can be moved between the stove and oven for browning, casseroles, etc.
- Tip: For things that brown or burn too much, for example tofu for tofu scrambled eggs or potatoes for hash browns, use steam as a benefit by putting a lid on while cooking and even adding a little water if necessary. Just before handing out, remove the lid.
Cast iron cookware is certainly not to be feared. Despite other warnings, well-seasoned cast iron can be washed with soap and water, scrubbed (which is often not necessary), and used to cook acidic foods (although slow-cooked tomato sauce might be better in something else). And without a doubt, the payback – a lifetime investment that costs very little – is ten times as much.
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