This post is by Doug who blogs at The Kitchen Professor. He likes to take a practical approach to cooking and also tends to geek out on the science of kitchen stuff, too. His site’s tagline is “nerdy stuff about food” so that should give you an idea about Doug. Learn more about The Kitchen Professor.
Doug approached me to share some information about cast iron, which has been getting more and more press recently. It sounded interesting so I said “Yes”.
Take it away, Doug.
Imagine the sizzle of bacon. Go ahead and dream about what it smells like – smoky, sweet applewood, and rich.
You should be picturing the bacon by now, and if you are anything like me then you should have an image of a cast iron skillet on the stove.
Cast Iron is an essential piece of cookware, highly versatile, and even has a few unique health benefits.
For me, cast iron was always part of the kitchen…
My History With Cast Iron
Some of my first memories in the kitchen involved cast iron – sausage for breakfast, gravy to go with it, cornbread, hearty beef stew, and even cake! They were our primary skillets for just about everything.
My family had a couple of “no name” cast iron skillets – one was a 7.5 inch, and the other was a 10 inch. They are jet black with a slick layer of seasoning and my parent still use them to this day. The seasoning is the part of the skillet that provides you with the sought-after non-stick character. (The seasoning can take a while to develop and it is worth the effort – read the Definitive Guide on Seasoning Cast Iron.)
When I moved into my first home, I bought a Lodge Skillet at Walmart. Lodge is a great American company and I have been to the factory store in South Pittsburg, TN several times. Less than a year later, I bought a nice 10 inch griddle again from Lodge. (You can get your own brand new skillets from Amazon…)
Recently, I started getting into vintage cast iron, like Griswold and Wagner Cast Iron. They had some appeal that the modern Lodge cast iron doesn’t have – mainly the older cast iron was made differently so it has a smoother surface. That means you can create an even slicker non stick seasoning! It is really cool to think about how the pieces of cast iron are 50, 60, or more years old!
At this point, I have several Wagner Ware Cast Iron skillets, a few from Lodge, a few Lodge Dutch Ovens, and some small casserole style servers. Be careful! It can be an addictive hobby once you see the great deals on used cast iron.
Enough about my obsession with cast iron!
Let’s talk about…
Why You Should Be Using Cast Iron
- It is built to last a lifetime or more. You probably have a grandparent or even great grandparent that passed down an antique, vintage piece of cast iron cookware. In general, cast iron will last indefinitely and it can be severely mistreated and still be restored to near-brand-new-condition.
- It is extremely durable. Cast iron is at home on a gas stove, glass top stove, induction burner, gas grill, charcoal grill, fireplace, oven, and even a camp fire. One of my favorite recipes, cast iron steak, calls for the steak to be cooked on the stove and in the oven – at high temperature, too. Cast iron is just about the only solution for this kind of recipe.
- It is non-stick. If you have a well used piece of cast iron cookware, you know just what I mean! You do have to cook on your cast iron a lot to develop an ultra-slick surface. Check out my Wagner Ware 1056 – I can fry an egg on it with no problem.
- It is extremely versatile. You can make cornbread. You can make a dessert, like a skillet cookie. You can make a casserole or mac & cheese. You can bring it to a camp site and make biscuits or cowboy hash browns with sausage. And, frying. Frying may be one of the best things to do with cast iron. It takes a little while to heat up but once it does, it stays hot. You can even deep fry bacon!
- It doesn’t have chemicals like teflon. Teflon was a great development and I was amazed at the super-non-stick-surface. However, that comes at a cost – Teflon contains Perfluorocarbons (PFCs). PFCs are man made chemicals that are used in a variety of household products (See more here…), and a 2011 study by WVU finds link between early menopause and other health issues. It is best to avoid the PFCs if possible so cast iron is the obvious choice.
- It provides iron to your diet. You can get more of this essential nutrient by cooking in cast iron. The nutrient iron helps transport oxygen through hemoglobin in the blood and myoglobin in muscles. If you have an iron deficiency, called anemia, you can get a little more iron in your diet by using cast iron more often. (Read more from Columbia.edu.)
- It is economical. You can get a high quality starter set of cast iron brand new for about $75, like the classic 12 inch skillet, 10.5 inch griddle, and a 5 QT Dutch Oven – all brand new. A set like that will last your lifetime and can be passed down to the next generation. If you want to check out thrift stores and garage sales, then you can find crazy-cheap-bargains and diamonds in the rough. You just have to go out and look for them. Most of the time you can get cookware for pennies on the dollar.
Recipes That Work Well For Cast Iron
- Lisa’s Stove-Top Garlic and Herb Pot Roast
- Lisa’s Garlic and Herb Pork Roast with Vegetables
- Lisa’s Stuffed Turkey Breast with Feta Cheese and Spinach
- Cast Iron Skillet Pizza
- Seared Sea Scallops
- Pineapple Upside Down Cake
- Biscuits and Gravy
- List of my 20 Favorite Cast Iron Recipes
Tips for cleaning, seasoning, and caring for your cast iron
Here are a few links that I found really helpful and I think you will too.
- Cleaning Cast Iron from thekitchn.com
- Using a Lodge Plastic Scraper on a skillet
- Seasoning Cast Iron
- Advanced Seasoning with Flaxseed Oil
- Bon Appetit’s Guide for Using Cast Iron
Cast Iron Products to Consider
Here are a few items that I like.