The 5-Step Guide To Cast Iron Cookware
By Ardith Stephanson
So you’re looking to add the best possible cookware to your kitchen.
You want the versatility of a cookware that allows you to use it on the stovetop, in the oven and even on the grill and in the campground.
You want heat retention, a non-stick finish, great flavour and health benefits.
These are all excellent reasons that cast iron cookware should be added to your kitchen.
But you probably have questions about cooking with cast iron, including choosing the right skillet, preparing the pan, and cleaning your cast iron.
We’re here to help with our 5-step guide to cast iron cookware.
1. Why Choose Cast Iron Cookware
First off, if you doubt your decision to buy cast iron, don’t! There are many benefits of cast iron cookware, making it the best choice for you and your kitchen.
Cast iron cookware is superior in many ways:
- Non-stick surface: Cast iron has a natural non-stick surface, making it ideal for cooks of all experience levels, and for cooking a variety of foods.
- Health benefits: The non-stick surface is better for you than pans coated with a chemical non-stick layer. Cast iron is a natural product.
- Durability: The best cast iron cookware will last a lifetime with just a little bit of TLC. We’ll talk about that TLC later.
- Even heat distribution: Cook without those annoying hot spots in the middle of the skillet. Even heat distribution along with its heat retention properties makes cast iron superior for cooking a wide variety of food.
- Versatility: Fry your bacon on the cooktop, bake your cornbread in the oven, and take your cast iron skillet on your next camping trip. You can’t do that with artificial non-stick surfaces or pans with plastic handles.
2. Selecting Cast Iron Cookware
The best cast iron cookware is heavy, and you want to ensure you’re getting authentic cast iron.
There are imitations out there, so beware the lightweight skillet! Fresh Australian Kitchen is a top producer of authentic cast iron cookware.
Once you know you have an authentic product, your choice is more about size and style.
A good, basic, starter cast iron is a 10-inch or 25-centimetre skillet. You can do a lot with a skillet this size, and you’ll get used to cooking with cast iron – or get re-acquainted with how cooking should be!
If you’d like something a little bigger, or want to add a second skillet, you can look at a 12-inch (30-centimetre) skillet, which has an extra handle to make it easier to lift its extra size, depth and weight.
Fresh Australian Kitchen is a family business that sells top cast iron cookware in Australia, and offers a lifetime guarantee when your product is registered within 21 days of purchase. Their 25- and 30-centimetre skillets are fully cast iron, including the handles, and have pouring lips to limit spills.
You can then decide to expand your collection beyond skillets.
Choose a square grill pan, which features ridges to wick fat away and provide sear marks on your food. Or, go even bigger with a reversible double burner griddle or a 5.2-litre Dutch oven. These are specialty items that you will use for cooking specific food, like campfire pancakes on the griddle or stew in the Dutch oven.
Once you use cast iron, you won’t want to cook on anything else.
3. Seasoning Cast Iron Cookware
You’ve probably heard that when you first receive your cast iron, you need to season the product before using it. Seasoning is accomplished by oiling the pan and then heating it above the smoking point, cooking the oil onto the surface and creating the natural non-stick finish.
Some cast iron, like Fresh Australian Kitchen’s cookware, is pre-seasoned, meaning you can use it without seasoning first.
But seasoning will have to be repeated on pre-seasoned cast iron:
- after multiple uses, when you notice the non-stick quality isn’t what it used to be, or,
- if you notice any rust appearing on the product.
So here’s how to season your cast iron cookware.
Hand-wash your pan thoroughly with warm water. Soap can be used but it’s not really necessary. Dry the pan completely, placing it in the oven or on the stovetop for best results.
Wipe the pan inside and out with an edible vegetable oil that has a high smoke point. A teaspoon will usually do, because you want a thin layer of oil. Wipe away any blobs of excess oil.
Bake the pan for one hour on the highest heat setting of your oven, at least 260 degrees Celsius. Turn the oven off and let the pan sit another two hours.
If your pan does happen to develop rust over time, mix a solution of salt and oil, rub it in the pan, and rinse it in warm water. Then follow the seasoning instructions and your cast iron pan will be like new again.
4. Cooking With Cast Iron Cookware
There really are no limits to cooking with cast iron.
Here are some examples to get you started:
- Bacon: You can’t go wrong with bacon cooked in any manner, but cast iron is superior for frying perfect bacon, cooked evenly throughout, and the fat is actually good for the pan.
- Steak: The perfect steak needs high heat and even heat distribution, to ensure it’s cooked the same all the way through. The best cast iron cookware will deliver the best steak.
- Eggs: There’s no substitute for the flavour of eggs fried in cast iron. You can even put scrambled eggs in the oven, and they’re great done on the fire while camping.
As you get more comfortable with your cast iron, you can experiment with a multitude of meals done in a variety of ways.
5. Caring For Cast Iron Cookware
There isn’t much to caring for your cast iron, other than keeping it clean and dry.
And that’s the key: always dry it completely, right after washing. It’s also a good idea to wash it soon after cooking, and not let it soak in water too long.
In fact, if you wash it while it’s still warm, it will be even easier to clean. Use a gentle brush or cleaning scrubber to remove any stuck-on pieces of food.
You don’t need to use soap when cleaning, but if you feel you should, limit the amount. Don’t scrape or scratch the pan when cleaning, and avoid scraping the cast iron with metal utensils. Use a gentler product like a wooden spatula while cooking, or simply be cautious with metal utensils.
As mentioned, repeat the seasoning process if you notice the non-stick property isn’t as effective as it used to be. Or use a seasoning hack like washing it, rubbing it with oil while still wet and drying it on the stovetop. That can be done between seasoning treatments to keep your cast iron in great shape.
Wait until your cast iron cookware cools before storing it. It also needs to be completely dry before putting it away. You can place a piece of paper towel inside of it to protect the surface, particularly if you are stacking other pans inside of it. The paper towel will also absorb any extra moisture that may still be present.
By following these few simple steps for cleaning and caring for your cookware, you can get years and even decades of use from your cast iron.
The idea of cooking on cast iron cookware can be intimidating. If you’ve grown used to cooking with a Teflon pan, for instance, you may think cast iron isn’t for you.
But the reality is that cast iron is just as non-stick as a Teflon pan. In fact, it’s naturally non-stick and you don’t have to worry about any harmful chemicals that produced the non-stick properties.
Cast iron is natural, and has so many more benefits for every type of cook, from the amateur to the discerning chef.
Our 5-step guide to cast iron cookware will help you introduce yourself to all the advantages of this superior product.
Ardith Stephanson is a freelance writer and communications professional who has some fun with her blog theardizan.com