Cast Iron Skillets – Not Just for Your Grandma’s Generation
I have vivid memories of those Sunday morning brunches at my grandparents' home growing up. The smile on my grandma's face as she welcomed us inside, the rustle of the morning paper as my grandpa sipped freshly percolated coffee, and the smell of bacon frying on the stove.
That last memory is one that has been rekindled lately by my obsession with cast iron cookware. Grandma used a vintage Griswold set that was passed down to her from her mother and unfortunately I have no idea what happened to it. However, I recently purchased a new skillet several months ago and have been cooking up a storm ever since!
Today I want to share some of the knowledge about these legendary pans that I remember grandma talking about and that I have figured out on my own this year. I will be giving you a background on what cast iron pans are, why I use them, myths about cast iron skillets, as well as some tips and delicious recipes!
Why Cast Iron?
A Bit of History for Every Kitchen
The use of cast iron goes back over 2,000 years to the Han Dynasty in China where pans were first used for evaporating salt brine. They have been around for centuries and became extremely popular in the early 1900s during the Industrial Revolution. My grandparents rarely went a day without eating at least one meal that was prepared with cast iron cookware!
Legendary antique brands of cast iron include Griswold and Wagner. If you can get your hands on one of these, go for it! They don't come cheap but are certainly worth the investment. Nowadays, Lodge is the dominant force in the cast iron market and the brand that you will find in every home goods store. I absolutely love my Lodge skillet but wouldn't hesitate to upgrade to one of the antique brands if the right opportunity presents itself!
Versatility - Cast Iron Can do it All!
Cast iron cookware isn't limited to skillets - they come in a ton of different forms! Regardless of whether you will be frying, searing, or baking, there is a cast iron pan to suit your every need :)
- Frying Pans
- Dutch Ovens
- Deep Fryers
- Crepe Makers
- Waffle Irons
- Panini Presses
Tried and True, Unlike Teflon
I use stainless steel and cast iron cookware exclusively now due to health concerns for my family and pets. It is scary to me to think that cooking with Teflon pans can release fumes into the air that can kill birds! Not to mention the negative side effects on everyone else that breathes in those not-so-lovely chemicals.
Yes, cooking with cast iron does release some additional dietary iron into your food, but as long as you don't have an extremely high blood iron level it won't be a problem. Personally, I would rather put my health in the hands of cast iron that has been used for over 100 years than with Teflon and other new non-stick technologies that have been invented in the past couple of decades.
Myths and the Do's and Don'ts
Common Misconceptions of Cast Iron
There are several common myths surrounding cast iron pans that you should let go of before enjoying all that these marvelous kitchen tools have to offer.
First of all, cast iron is extremely durable and resilient when you take proper care of it. You don't have to worry about scratching or beating it up or handle it like a newborn baby. A well-seasoned and maintained skillet will last for many generations (and possibly forever!). See below for proper care instructions to ensure a lasting relationship with your pan.
Second, cast iron does not heat up evenly. It does, however, retain and emit a ton of heat once it gets hot. You can feel the intensity of a hot cast iron pan from over a foot away and once you turn the burner off it will stay hot for a long time before you are able to handle it without an oven mitt.
How to Properly Maintain Cast Iron
The most important aspect of owning a cast iron pan is to create a layer of seasoning on it. The seasoning process generally involves heating up your skillet with an oil or fat. Many people use vegetable or canola oil for this, but my favorite oil to use is coconut oil.
Be cautious when heating up oil in the skillet. It doesn't take too long before it reaches a smoke point and is smogging up your kitchen! Keep the fumes away with a trusty vent hood.
While you can indeed hand-wash cast iron, DO NOT under any circumstances put it in the dishwasher. I've found that using H-O-T water in combination with a lightly-soaped sponge can remove even the most resilient residue while keeping the seasoning intact. Just be sure to dry it right away after washing to avoid rust. I like to let my skillets drip-dry for a few minutes and then heat them up on the stove and wipe them down with a little coconut oil.
The best cast iron maintenance tip is to just USE IT OFTEN. I shoot for 1-2 times per week, but the more frequent the better. Using your pans on a regular basis will build up the seasoning in no time...not to mention all the delicious recipes you will enjoy along the way!
Make Cast Iron Your New Best Friend!
There you have it folks, my newfound love of cast iron. Not only does it remind me of those times when I was a kid at my grandparents, but it is some of the best cookware you will find. I just love these pans and hope you will learn to love them too if you haven't already!
What are your favorite cast iron skillet recipes? Personally, I love a good seared steak and am in the process of perfecting my cast iron cornbread. It is almost as good as my grandma's ;)