Cast Iron (and how to love it)

Cast iron is one of those things that once a person gets into, rarely do they give it up. I forget who it was that introduced me to my first skillet, but I haven’t been the same since.

I have always appreciated simple things. I enjoy the straight-forward and the honest. Cast iron is one of these things. In fact, there’s no mistaking it for anything other than what it is. It requires little and gives a fortune. Cast Iron is dependable, trustworthy and frank. If I burn something using cast iron, I know it’s completely my fault.

I remember when and where I bought every piece and for why. The first piece I bought was about ten years ago, a simple 10″ skillet without a lid. Next I bought a round griddle that I can’t believe I ever lived without. Later, I bought a 10″ dutch oven that had a lid, but I ended up giving it away (but I kept the lid) when I moved from Washington in 2003. In 2001 I found a cast iron Wok for $14. It was the end of a college quarter and I had less than $20 to my name but I bought it anyway and ate cheap bread and mayo sandwiches until my next check.

In 2002, I bought a small egg pan for my sister, but ended up loving it too much to give to her. I sometimes feel bad about it except I don’t think she would have used it much anyway – she is wary of the “no soap” rule.

In 2004 I found a fajita pan at ROSS (of all places), though I’ve only used it for fajitas a couple times, I mostly use it to bake batards (a short, fat baguette).

I cook almost exclusively with cast iron for these reasons:

  1. Cast iron retains its heat throughout the entire piece, so I am able to turn the heat down or off significantly earlier than cookware in the same price range.
  2. Cast iron doesn’t use soap, and a well-seasoned piece will wipe down easily with warm water and a soft cloth.
  3. Nothing sticks to a well-seasoned piece of cast iron cookware. Nothing.
  4. Once seasoned well, it will last you a lifetime.
  5. It can be used on the stovetop or in the oven.
  6. It has very little upkeep.
  7. It is very inexpensive.
  8. I heard that it deposits iron into your food. I don’t know for sure if that’s true, but it’s good enough for me.
  9. You can defend yourself with it.
  10. There is no freaky science to cast iron. It simply is.

When seeking a piece of cast iron to purchase, try to find pieces that are unseasoned. Corporate seasoning (like almost everything corporate) is weak and will often burn off and cause your food to stick unmercifully. This is why people hate cast iron. They think everything sticks to it, but it doesn’t if it’s treated properly.

There are lots of resources on the net about how to season a piece of cast iron. There should also be instructions that come with your piece. I like to season about twice a year – but only when it’s nice out, like the Spring or Fall because of the smoking process necessary to get a real nice patina.

It’s best for the first couple times you use your new cookware that you cook high-fatty foods like bacon or ham or some sort of extra fatty greasiness, even if you have no intention on eating it. Oils and fats are cast iron’s best friends. They are what cause the beautiful slick patina to which even the most delicate omelet will not stick.

I have used Crisco and lard to season. Bacon fat is best for some reason. I don’t condone purchasing corporate bacon, but I must admit that bacon fat is the best substance to use. Vegetable Crisco will do. DO NOT USE OLIVE OIL. Olive oil leaves this weird film that causes your pans to be sticky (!); I don’t know why this is, it just is.

Store cast iron away from moisture. I like to hang mine. It frees up counter space and keeps ’em dry all at the same time.

Leave a Reply