You can spend a fortune on cookware, and if you’re a gourmet chef, it might make sense to spend that kind of money. However, for the average home cook, one of the best pieces of cookware you can own is a good old-fashioned piece of cast iron. Sure, they’re heavy as can be, but the tradeoff is that cast iron will last forever, along with many other benefits. You can use it on the stove top, in the oven, or even on an open campfire. You can do everything from frying to baking with cast iron, and if nothing else, the nostalgia factor makes it worth owning at least one piece of cast iron. Here’s everything you need to know about cooking with cast iron.
First off, if you’re purchasing a brand-new pan, skillet, or Dutch oven (or if you’ve bought a used one, but it’s in rough shape), you’re going to want to “season” the pan before you use it. Start by washing your pan with mild soap. This should be the only time you ever use soap to clean cast iron. Rinse it off so that all of the soap is gone and dry thoroughly. Then, rub some shortening all over the plan, so there’s a thin layer covering the entire surface, top, and bottom. If you don’t want to use shortening, you can use canola or soybean oil, but you should avoid using butter or olive oil. Finally, bake your cast iron cookware in the oven, upside down, and on the top rack at 350-400 degrees for at least an hour. Then, turn off the oven and allow the pan to cool to room temperature inside the oven.
Once your pan is seasoned, you’re ready to cook. Keep in mind that cast iron takes longer to preheat than other pans, but you’ll get a much more evening cooking surface, so it’s worth the wait. When your pan or skillet is preheated, go to town. Steaks are especially delicious when seared and cooked on cast iron, and you’ll also get a healthy dose of added iron in the dish.
When it comes to cleaning cast iron, there are some definite DOs and DONTs. Do NOT put your cast iron in the dishwasher or use soaps once you’ve seasoned it. Simply brush the pan with hot water and a stiff nylon brush. If you get food that’s stuck on, try adding a little coarse salt to the pan and scrub again. Also, don’t douse a hot pan in cold water to clean it—it could crack or warp. When you’ve cleaned off the food, dry the pan well and rub a small amount of oil over the skillet before storing in a cool, dry place.