Let me preface this post with some clarification. I didn’t grow up using cast iron, I didn’t get mine as hand me downs, and I am entirely self taught. I read a thousand articles on cast iron, I joined all of the groups on social media, and I felt utterly discouraged. Cast iron users are very passionate about cast iron, which I adore, but many also tend to speak about cast iron use as though it’s the hardest thing to master. Cleaning cast iron seemed to be a ritual, cooking seemed to be a right of passage. So, eventually, I stepped away from the articles and groups, and just started using them. Everyone has their own thoughts on what’s the right way or wrong way to handle cast iron, but I am very apathetic to those thoughts. If a method works, it works. This series of cast iron posts will probably be controversial, but that doesn’t bother me. I don’t judge if someone soaps their cast iron, or uses salt and a tater. I have weirder things to do in my day. Rather watch the video instead of reading? Check out my YouTube channel here!
What, exactly, is cast iron? Cast iron is a style of cookware made of iron that has been cast in a certain style. There are many styles of cast iron including but not limited to: frying pans, Dutch ovens, muffin pans, cake pans, and griddles. They tend to last a lifetime, sometimes even many lifetimes, and are very hard to destroy.
Where can you get cast iron? I am a huge fan of the hunt. Cast iron can be found at thrift stores and estate sales, both of which are like gold mines. Even rusty and worn pieces can be rehabbed. You may even have friends or family with cast iron hidden away in attics, basements, or in the back of a cabinet, so I suggest to ask everyone if they have neglected cast iron. Most stores that carry camping gear will have cast iron, as well. I have found it in many big box stores in camping sections next to shovels that fold down to tiny little… wait, off topic. However, the problem I have found with cast iron from regular big box stores is that they are not sanded smooth on the cooking surface. Old school cast iron were sanded smooth, where new ones generally are sold with deep divots and dimpling. When you buy cast iron with dimpling, you will need to work harder to fill those dimples to create a smooth surface that will cultivate more even cooking and great nonstick qualities.
How can you choose the right cast iron? I can’t really help much here, as everyone has their own preferences, but I will sure try! I choose as old as I can find, which means I ignore any sold new in store and look up any markings on the bottom of cast iron I find in a thrift store. I also feel the bottoms of the cooking surface for how smooth it is, as a smoother surface will be easier to season and get an optimal cook from it. I test the weight, I like heavier pieces because I have read they hold up better against extreme temperature changes and are less likely to crack if they are heavier. I favor deeper pieces, which I have figured out with use, because a deeper pan will be more multifunctional. I can simmer sauces, I can roast more veggies at once, I can make one pan meals that way. I do have 2 shallow pans and 2 deep pans, the deep ones are the winners. Now, would I choose pans with rust or caked on food? Definitely. In this series I will go over how to rehab a cast iron piece, and rust and food are easy fixes! But a smooth cooking surface takes longer to correct.
What utensils should be used in cast iron cooking? Pretty much whatever you want will work, but some pieces will help to maintenance the cast iron FOR you. I have used wood, stainless steel, silicone, and nylon cooking utensil in mine safely. Even regular forks and spoons. The nylon pieces will start melting if left in the hot pan, the wood will scorch under similar circumstances. Silicone holds up extremely well, but watch what the handle is made from! I favor my barbeque grill spatula that has a sharp metal edge. That spatula helps to maintain an even cooking surface but sloughing off any food chunks before they burn on. I also will scrape my grill spatula onto my cast iron between uses to help to keep the surfaces smooth and even.
Does cast iron really boost iron content in food cooked in it? Is this healthy? Yes to both. As a woman who loses blood every month, getting iron in my diet regularly is important to me. But I also prepare food for people who do not lose blood monthly and was wondering about their safety, as too much iron can actually cause heart problems. Upon researching, I found that cast iron does leech between 2-6mg of iron into the food prepared in it, and non-menstrual people are recommended to get about 8mg of iron a day, and menstrual peope are recommended to get 18mg a day. Considering many people, in America at least, are deficient in iron, this cookware seems to be a pretty safe choice.
What are the ways cast iron can be used? Ok, this part gets me hella excited. I no longer own any baking sheets or whatever people use in their ovens. I do use Pyrex for some baking, but mostly for food storage. Cast iron can easily transition between stove top to oven. You can roast veggies, fry bacon, bake cookies, damn near anything! And, big bonus, you can cook over a campfire with it! I always take my deep cast iron with the smallest diameter camping with me, as I can just set it directly into the fire to boil water for tea, to fry my eggs, and to even cook my hot dogs. I absolutely adore the versatility of my cast iron.
Is cast iron truly nonstick? I am not the authority on this. My cast iron is nonstick to a point, but there are times that oil or ghee are still a necessity. The big tip I have to avoid sticking is to preheat the pan. Yes, having a well seasoned pan is a major factor in how nonstick it is, but I am yet to see a pan so nonstick that you can cook absolutely everything in it without oil. This is why I can’t be the authority on it being nonstick. Hell, I can’t claim to be the authority on cast iron, period. I know only as far as I know. However, I know my pans are very nonstick, but I still use a little oil to cook my eggs, and I always preheat to get the best results.
Check in next week for Part Two of Intro To Cast Iron! I hope you enjoyed it, and please feel free to leave suggestions, questions, and more info about cast iron!
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