Care for, season, and cook delicious recipes in your cast iron skillet. Food bloggers and rock star chefs are rhapsodizing about cast iron, with good reason.

For searing, browning, sautéing, baking, and roasting, it’s hard to beat this back-in-vogue cookware. Besides, food just tastes better when cooked in cast iron. Vegetables caramelize perfectly, pancakes turn out a wonderful golden brown, baked goods stay moist on the inside with a delicious crisp crust, and meats sear and brown perfectly. It also makes a rustic serving piece.

Passed between generations, every cast iron skillet has its own stories to tell. Rescue yours from the garage or grandma’s attic and enjoy the versatility, flavours, and history it brings to mealtime.

Recipes

Cast iron guises

The skillet is the most popular piece of cast iron cookware and comes in sizes ranging from 5 in (13 cm) to a 15 in (38 cm) two-hander, but there are plenty of other ways to deck your kitchen out in heavy metal.

Cast iron dutch oven
Approximately 4 to 5 in (10 to 13 cm) deep, use this for your favourite stews and soups.

Cast iron griddle
The flat, smooth surface is great for cooking eggs and pancakes side by side. Large griddles can be placed directly on outdoor grill grates.

Enamelled cast iron pan
More expensive than traditional cast iron cookware, this has the advantages of being easy to clean and not requiring seasoning or reacting negatively with acidic ingredients.

Cast iron rippled grill pan
Meet your new indoor barbecue.

Cast iron muffin pan
Use for muffins as well as mini cornbreads, meatloaves, and frittatas.

Cast iron wok
Successful stir-frying requires high heat, to which cast iron is perfectly suited.

Cast iron care

Seasoning
The point of seasoning cast iron is to bake the fat into the porous surface of the skillet, thereby creating a smooth, nonstick coating as well as reducing rusting and preventing food from taking on metallic flavours.
To season a cast iron skillet properly, wipe it down with a thin layer of a neutral-tasting vegetable oil, such as grapeseed, inside and out including the handle.

Place skillet in the oven upside down on a baking sheet at 300 F (150 C) for about one hour. Be sure to have your oven fan on. Turn off the heat, let it cool completely in the oven, and then wipe with a paper towel.

The first few times you cook with your seasoned skillet, lightly grease it until the seasoning has a chance to set in and develop a permanent nonstick surface. A number of store-bought cast iron skillets now come preseasoned. Avoid cooking too often with highly acidic foods such as tomato and vinegar, which over time can remove the seasoning from cast iron.

Washing
Once your skillet is seasoned, avoid washing it with soap, as this will break up the tiny oil molecules that are embedded on the pan, affecting the nonstick surface. Also, never put your skillet in a dishwasher, as it will accelerate rusting. Simply rinse it under hot water and dry immediately with a cloth to prevent rust spots.
If egg or other food has caked onto it, put hot water in the skillet, simmer it on the stove, rub with a non-metal brush or scraper, rinse, dry thoroughly, and coat with a thin layer of oil. Wiping with coarse salt and vegetable oil can also be used to remove food bits.

Storing
To store, line the pan with a paper towel and place in a warm, dry place such as in the oven, separate from lids to allow air to circulate and prevent condensation, which leads to rusting. Rust is a problem with cast iron only with improper seasoning, washing, and storage.

A case for cast iron

Here’s why the cast iron skillet is the ultimate workhorse of the kitchen.

A pan of many talents
The versatility of cast iron is unrivalled. Able to go from stovetop to oven to grill, a cast iron skillet can cook everything from pies to pizza to paella, making it ideal for one-pan cooking. Turned upside down, the jack-of-all-trades can even stand in for a baking stone.

No stick, no chemicals
Seasoned right, cast iron is the original no-stick material without the need for sketchy chemicals such as polytetrafluoroethylene, a likely carcinogen. This also lets you cut back on calories from oils or butter when making fried eggs, pancakes, or French toast.

It can take the heat
Most cookware comes with heat warnings whereas cast iron can be placed directly on red hot coals without a worry. Moreover, a cast iron skillet holds heat for a long time and heats evenly so your food cooks evenly. Because you can safely get cast iron crazy hot, it’s an excellent tool for searing meats such as steak, whole chicken, and pork tenderloin before finishing in the oven. The handles can become very hot, so keep oven mitts nearby.

No worse for wear
A cast iron skillet will take any and all abuse tossed its way yet still outlast you. There is no worry about scratching, discolouring or warping it like other cookware. In fact, treated properly, it only gets better with age.

It’s economical
A cast iron skillet is one case where cheap is not tantamount to poor quality. In stores the skillets are often much cheaper than other fanciful cookware such as stainless steel. Not to mention that perfectly good cast iron skillets pop up at many yard sales and flea markets for a few bucks.

Pumping iron
Since it’s made out of iron, some of the mineral likely gets transferred to the food during cooking. This is particularly beneficial for women who have not reached menopause as they may have poor iron levels due to menstrual blood loss and inadequate dietary intake.

About the Author

Matthew Kadey, MSc, RD, is an Ontario-based dietitian, food writer, and recipe developer. He is currently working on his first cookbook based on his blog
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