Cast iron skillets have proven to be great utensils for cooking and baking many varieties of foods.
The cast iron skillet was the first original, non-stick cooking utensil that was first used over hot coals in a fireplace and then later on was used in a cast iron stove. On their famous 1804 exploration of the great Pacific Northwest, Lewis and Clark had listed their Dutch oven as being one of the most important pieces of equipment that they had taken along with them. As history further shows, long before anyone had come up with the idea of a crock pot, people had always used the cast iron Dutch oven to prepare their
meals in the exact same manner.
The reason’s and benefits of cooking with cast iron utensils are numerous.
- Once seasoned, food will slide out of the pan more easily than utensils made with Teflon.
- Stove top cooking can be easily transferred from the burner, directly to the oven without any other special cookware.
- When heated correctly, cast iron won’t warp and cleaning up is a very easy process.
- Cast iron skillets and utensils are an economical and healthy way to cook. They are great for frying, simmering and making gravy.
- Cast iron skillets are great for broiling foods such as chicken, fish and other meats.
- They are also very good for adding iron into your meals. The majority of people are deficient in iron and as you cook in cast iron pans, a small amount of iron dissipates into the food. Iron is necessary in creating hemoglobin which carries oxygen in red blood cells.(http://www.dietitian.com/iron.html) Some doctors even recommend cast iron cookware to their iron deficient patients.(http://www.frugalfun.com/castiron.html)
- When properly cared for, cast iron skillets will last for many years, even generations to come.
- Cast iron cookware is also excellent for camping, fishing and scouting adventures.
- Cast iron also works great on your outdoor grill when used for deep fat frying requiring high temperatures.
- Its uniform conductivity evenly distributes and retains a steady heat, therefore making it more economical than aluminum or other cooking utensils.
Although there are additional benefits of using cast iron cookware, in order to have a carefree and enjoyable cooking experience, your brand new cast iron skillet must be properly ‘seasoned’ before using it for the very first time.
The surface of a brand new cast iron skillet is porous and has many microscopic jagged peaks. The oil used in the seasoning process will eventually be cooked into filling these voids, therefore, creating a solid, smooth surface.
These new skillets also have a protective coating on them which must first be removed. A new skillet will be a gun metal gray (or silver) in color, but after using it several times, it will begin turning darker and finally it becomes a very dark black, which is the sign of a well-seasoned pan.
Although there are several schools of thought pertaining to using dish washing liquid on cast iron, I have personally removed the protective coating by lightly rubbing it down with a damp cloth and a touch of dishwater detergent. Afterwards, using a clean damp cloth of just plain water, I then wiped out whatever remaining residue there was and slowly dried it thoroughly over a burner using low heat. I’ve been using cast iron skillets for many years and this process has never caused any problems or harmed the skillet. Never wash your cast iron utensils in a dishwasher-this will rust them out in no time flat. And while on the subject of rust, if your new or older cast iron pans do receive light rust spots, you can scour those rusty areas with steel wool until all of the traces of rust are removed. Then clean and oil and it’s just as good as new.
Following the manufacturer’s instructions (which will vary), I seasoned the iron skillet by rubbing it with a very light coat of a neutral oil such as Crisco, vegetable oil, or lard. You don’t need to saturate the skillet with oil, just a very, very light coat will do. (Make certain to cover the entire pan, including the handle!) After setting the oven heat to 250 degrees (some manufacturers will recommend up to 350 degrees, etc.), I then placed the skillet upside down on a piece of aluminum foil to catch any of the oil drippings. I baked the skillet for about 60 to 90 minutes (again, follow your manufacturer’s suggestions) and then turned the oven off and I just left the skillet remain in the oven to cool off. I could see that it had already started changing colors and after a few uses, it will turn even darker. Some people do not like cast iron skillets because they say that everything they cook, ends up sticking. If this is a problem for you, then your skillet is not seasoned correctly and it needs to be re-seasoned again. Repeat the process and you shouldn’t have any more problems with food sticking. A cast iron skillet, or any cast iron utensil for that matter, is a natural non-stick surface and if your cooking utensils are seasoned correctly, you should never have a problem with sticking foods.
My sister has used cast iron cookware ever since I can remember and she was the first one who showed me that I didn’t need to wash my pans with soap and water, nor did I need to wash them after every use. You can simply rub them clean with oil using a paper towel or dishcloth. Should you ever encounter stuck on residues, you can place salt and vinegar, or even oil in the pan and after placing it on low heat for a few minutes, you can rub them completely off. An alternative to this process is to scrub them clean using a coarse salt and water. Directly afterwards, always make certain to dry them off completely, by placing the pan on a burner using low heat until thoroughly dried. After this, I personally wipe them down with a light coat of oil and then put them away without the lids being on. A well-seasoned skillet will be resistant to food sticking and will not require any additional oil.
Cast iron skillets and pans are available in most retail stores and online. When purchasing, you may want to be cautious of some of the cheaper imported skillets which are of a concern to the industry, since they may contain some scrap metals. Depending on the size and lid combination, a good plain cast iron skillet can be purchased for around $10-15 and a ceramic, enamel coated skillet can be purchased for around $30.