Old Timey Learning Post #1: Cast Iron Cookware Basics

I’ve decided to do a series of “Old Timey Learning” posts.  There’s a lot of wisdom in the ways things used to be done.  Some of these old timey methods are perfect and/or necessary for how we are living now and I think are worth sharing.  Most of the things that come to mind at the moment are related to cooking.  I was recently inspired to write something about cast iron cookware because of a close family member who is an amazing cook and yet is not using her cast iron cookware because she isn’t sure how to use it.  So I thought I’d share my little cast iron journey because cast iron cookware IS such a mystery if you don’t know it and use it.  I hope I can help inspire anyone reading to pull out those heavy pans and get cooking!  I am SO glad I did because I absolutely love cooking with cast iron.

My mom cooked with both stainless steel and cast iron cookware while I was growing up.  That’s just what she had and she used it.  My mom was great about cooking dinner just about every night – I am so glad that family meals were such a high priority.  But by the time I was old enough to learn to cook I didn’t have any interest in cooking… just too busy with band practice and friends I guess.  Fast forward a few years and I was teaching myself to cook some basic stuff while in college during the early 2000’s.  I LOVED my nonstick Teflon-coated pans and thought it was ridiculous that my mom was using stainless steel and cast iron when there was something as AMAZING as Teflon.  It was many more years later when I finally learned about the toxicity of Teflon.  About that time my maternal grandmother passed away and I was able to obtain her stainless steel cookware.  (I still miss her so much!)  The Teflon pans were out and stainless steel was in, but it was still years before I got any cast iron.  In a moment of sentimentality (is that a word???) I purchased a couple of cast iron pans while browsing at the local antique store.  But they mostly sat in my kitchen cabinet untouched after a couple of burned-stuck-on-impossible-to-clean attempts at using them.

Still a few more years later we were in Asheville visiting close friends on a research trip for our future farm location.  Dinner at our friends’ home included some amazing potato fries cooked in a cast iron pan.  They were so yummy – crispy on the outside and soft on the inside…I immediately decided I had to get those pans of mine out and learn to use them.  I’m so glad I did because I am now cooking with cast iron often and just loving it.  So here’s just a few of the reasons why I think cast iron cookware is awesome:

  1. Cast iron cookware pretty much lasts forever!  Unlike Teflon-coated pans that are useless once they get scratched (a single scratch in the coating releases carcinogens into your food, in case you didn’t know) cast iron pans can take a beating.  Instead of buying new Teflon pans of every size every time they get scratched or worn, you can get one cast iron pan of each size you need and that’s it.  You can use them forever and then your great-grandkids can inherit them.  They can get rusted from improper care, but even then you can remove the rust and re-season them and they’re fine!  (You can also use them to bash the brains of someone dangerous who tries to steal your friend’s baby “Fried Green Tomatoes” style.)
  2. Once well-seasoned, cast iron cookware is NONSTICK without toxic chemicals.  I can make amazing pancakes on mine.  In fact, the pancakes that I make using my cast iron pan is a huge part of my infatuation with cast iron.  Just ask my husband – my pre-cast-iron pancakes were sticky, ugly, and pretty much tasteless.  Now they are amazing.
  3. Cast iron really enhances flavor and texture.  My cast iron griddle fajitas I made this week were awesome.  The chicken was almost as good as grilled chicken and the veggies were perfect.  My previous attempts at fajitas were soggy veggies and boring chicken.  The cast iron fajitas were almost as good as restaurant quality.
  4. Cast iron cookware can be used on the stove top, in the oven, or over a fire or grill.  If the power goes out, you can cook with your cast iron pans over a fire or on your gas grill.  You can also sear meat in your cast iron pan on the stove top and then transfer to the oven to cook through.  It’s very versatile.

Okay, so if you want to try it, here’s the best instructions I’ve found for seasoning.  You have to season cast iron and then you have to clean it carefully to maintain the seasoning.  I think that’s what gets people hung up on it.  But really once you get started it is easy.  The more you use your cast iron, the better the seasoning gets and the better it is to cook with.  Check out these instructions from Lodge and please comment if you have any more suggestions!  I am a cast iron convert and definitely not an expert.  I’ve been following the Lodge info, but if there’s a better or different way I’d love to know about it.

Click here for instructions:   cast iron FAQ Specifically check out the “how do I reseason my cookware?” and “what is seasoning?” sections.

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