Buy Once, Buy For Life: Cast Iron Cookware


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“Quality is never an accident; it is always the result of high intention, sincere effort, intelligent direction and skillful execution; it represents the wise choice of many alternatives.” ~ William A. Foster

I never thought that I’d be a good cook as cooking skills do not run in my family. If my grandparents were popular dinner party entertainers, it was because of their prowess at pouring great cocktails. My parents were even worse. If food was eaten at our house by company, it was either catering or pizza delivery. Even now, when I cook something that I’ve served with great success before, I’m always nervous about how it will come out.

But somehow, despite my culinary heritage, I’ve discovered that I really do love to cook!

Since I need all the help I can get, I rely most often on my most prized kitchen possessions: cast iron skillets!

Cast iron skillets make anyone a good cook.

If you already cook with cast iron, you know what I mean. No stainless steel pans can compare when it come to putting a sear on meat or roasting vegetables. Everything sticks to stainless; it’s not pretty. And non-stick pans are not only potentially very toxic, but you can only use them on low heat.

Well-seasoned cast iron pans are the best of both worlds, as they allow you to cook at high temperatures on a naturally non-stick cooking surface. They are also the most versatile pans in the kitchen, as you can cook virtually anything in them from breakfast, to dinner and dessert.

The added health benefit of cooking with cast iron is that this cookware imparts iron into your food. This is actually a health benefit as many people are iron deficient.

If you’re not familiar with cast iron in the kitchen, or if you need a refresher course, here are the things you need to know about a cast iron skillets to get the best results:

How to season your cast iron skillet

This is the step that starts to establish the all-natural non-stick properties of your cast iron skillet. (If you ever find your food is sticking too much, repeat this step.) It means essentially that you are baking oil into the iron to seal it.

First, if your pan is brand new, wash it with soap and water. From here on out, you’ll only use hot water to clean your pan. Second, coat the entire surface of the pan with vegetable oil or lard until shiny but not dripping. Third, place your skillet upside down in a preheated oven at 350 degrees for two hours (placing tin foil on the base of the oven under your pan will keep your oven clean from drippings). Fourth, remove skillet and let cool. Fifth, repeat two more times for a natural easy-release surface that will last way longer than any chemically-coated non-stick pan as long as you take the proper care.

Today, many brands of cast iron skillets come already pre-seasoned. This means that you can skip this step altogether, but I found it helpful to do it anyways. In any event, your pan will only improve its seasoned surface with use.

How to clean your cast iron skillet:
As soon as possible after cooking, simply wash with hot water (no soap) and scrub with non-metal scouring pad or scrub brush to remove all food residue. Next, dry the skillet immediately with a dishcloth followed by a rub down of the cooking surface with about a tablespoon of vegetable oil. I use my hands to rub the oil in, but if there’s excess oil, I use a paper towel or dish towel to wipe it up.

And most importantly, my favorite way to COOK meat with a cast iron skillet:

The greatest attribute of cast iron cooking in my book is that you can get a great caramelized crisp sear on meat which is the first step to super moist oven roasting.

Whether you’ve got a couple of great steaks, a pork tenderloin, a whole or split quarters of chicken, you can incorporate this cooking technique into many recipes. I even use it for better-than-on-the-grill burgers.

Step One: Make sure you’ve preheated your oven to around 350 degrees.

Step Two: Heat your cast iron skillet on medium-high heat for 2-5 min. Heat two skillets at the same time if you’re cooking for 3 or more people. Overloading a hot skillet will bring the temperature down too low for a good sear.

Step Three: Pour several tablespoons of your favorite oil (I use olive or canola) on the pan, tilting the pan back and forth to coax the oil into covering all of the skillet’s cooking surface.

Step Four: Season your meat with a rub or salt and pepper, then place the meat into the pan with care to make sure that you’ve placed even distance between each piece. Do not move the meat at all until its achieved a nice brown color on the bottom and its ready to flip (about 4 mins)…If you’re roasting cuts of chicken with the skin on, I recommend putting the skin side down first into the pan as this will best render the fat and make the skin crispy.

Step Five: After you flip your meat, let it sear for several more minutes on the opposite side and then transfer your pan to the oven. Cooking times will vary depending on meat’s thickness.

Step Six: Remove meat from oven. Transfer meat to a cutting board and let sit for a few minutes. Then, enjoy delicious moist meat that tastes like you ordered it from a fine restaurant!

Try these other delicious recipes for breads and desserts that you wouldn’t think you can make in a skillet.

One Hour Skillet Focaccia Bread

Cast Iron Skillet Corn Bread

Vegetarian Deep Dish Skillet Pizza

Skillet Apple Crumb Pie

Mistakes NOT to make with your cast iron skillet…

– Never use a metal spatula or cooking utensil on your cast iron. Period. This will scratch the surface of your skillet bringing up the seasoned coating and thus removing the naturally non-stick surface of the pan. Also never use a metal scouring pad. Opt for a plastic scrub sponge or scraper instead.

– Don’t ever air-dry your cast iron pan or leave it to soak overnight. I know its tempting but this will invite rust to creep all over your pan. This doesn’t ruin it permanently, but you’ll have to season your pan all over again. As I mentioned before, use a clean cotton or linen dish cloth to dry your pan off, and rub a few drops of oil on the cooking surface to ward off rust until you use it again. My favorite way to dry my cast iron pans is to put them back on a medium hot burner to heat-dry for a few minutes. Then I rub olive oil in with a paper towel to really ensure I maintain the pan’s seasoned surface.

– Dish Soap is off limits! Promise me that no matter how bad food gunk is cooked on, you won’t use soap! It was a hard lesson for me to learn and its probably counter intuitive for all of us. Always, as I said before, just clean with hot water or return pan to stove to boil water to make cooked on food dislodge. Chances are, if you’re having a really hard time cleaning your pan, you either cooked your food to incineration or you really need to just season your pan again. Any kind of soap or detergent will remove your seasoned surface and sabotage your skillet cooking.

– Avoid Acidic Foods. Avoid cooking with acidic foods like tomatoes and beans unless your pan seasoning is very well established. Otherwise, Food acids and break down and damage your easy-release seasoned surface.

– Get Caught Without Pot Holders. I know this sounds obvious, but these are even more necessary with cast iron than any other pans you are used to. This is partly because of the heft of cast iron, it is heavier to lift. Also handles get almost as hot as the cooking surface. Make sure you have at least two dry pot holders around before you even start to cook on the stove or in the oven. Silicon coated ones are the best. I’ve learned this lesson the hard way, but if you’re prepared you’ll be all set to avoid any burns.

We’ve all done it – headed over to TJ Maxx or Ross and picked up a $10 fry pan because the one we had just wasn’t working anymore. It warped from the heat, the teflon flaked off, or it just wouldn’t come clean anymore. However, as with most things we buy for cheap and spur of the moment, that $10 fry pan “bargain” probably won’t last very long before it too needs replacing.

Cast Iron is what all pots and pans used to be made out of, and for good reason: they last forever. With proper care, cast iron cookware can last hundreds of years. What used to only come in one form, cast iron is now available as woks, frypans, dutch ovens, grills, and skillets.

cast iron cookware

Lodge Cast Iron sells cast iron cookware made here in the USA, should you wish to buy quality cast iron from a company based in the U.S. Like colors rather than plain ole’ black? Companies like Le Creuset sell quality enameled cast iron everything in plenty of beautiful colors. It’s expensive – kinda like designer cookware – but word to the wise: sometimes TJ Maxx and the like sell Le Creuset products at way below market price, so be on the lookout if that’s your thing.

Pick up one decent-sized cast iron pan and you will have one that serves most of your cooking needs and will be used by your grandchildren. When it finally is in need of discarding, the entire thing can be recycled. It is a lifetime (inexpensive) investment and will never need replacing. Ever.

Buy Once, Buy For Life. Stop buying cheap crap.

See all the articles in the Buy Once, Buy For Life series.

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  1. I have a 6 inch cast iron skillet that I found thrown into a dump in the woods in Arkansas in about 1949. The dump was at a house site but there had not been a house there in local known history and in fact the road to it had disappeared. It was probably in the dump 20 years at least. It looked it. I cleaned it up and my parents used it until about 12 years ago when it came to live with me. My 9 inch skillet came along in the early ’60’s and is in daily use now. My bride has a full array of cast iron pots and pans that are all regularly used. I don’t believe a single cast iron piece that we have is less than forty years old. We still have some Teflon and Tefal but they are pretty used up and going to animal feeding duty. I will not be falling for that stuff again.
    The cast iron is forever.

  2. Love cast iron skillets – I have 4 different sizes! They are truly, naturally non-stick. Talk about buying for live: just revitalized a large skillet that my husband’s grandma was given for a wedding gift and never used – it just sat in the dusty, moldy basement for 50 yrs.

    Didn’t know they were recyclable, thanks for sharing!

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