I’ve written about my love for the Cast Iron Skillet before, but I think it’s time for a refresher.
We need to spread the word about this super-awesome magic no-stick throwback multi-purpose skillet sensation. (That’s its “street name.”)
The Cast Iron is uber-cool for so many reasons – even a few beyond the apply-heat-then-eat realm. It’s awesome for smacking ne’er-do-well home invaders in the noggin. (Didn’t Harry get hit with a cast iron in Home Alone I? Or was that an actual iron?)
When you cook with it, food takes on a heavenly glow.
It’s a total status symbol, if you own the vintage ones. Owning a Wagner or a Griswold shows that you truly know your retro cast iron.
A few other reasons the Cast Iron is Cool:
It cooks evenly and sits flat. (Enough said. And enough with balancing the pan lid below the pan handle to make it teeter-free.)
No gnarly non-stick chemicals. Remember the Teflon drama of years gone by? The fact is, we don’t know how many of these “non stick” lab-created coatings are actually safe, especially after months, even years, of applying heat to them. And let’s be honest: the only real reason to use a conventional non-stick pan is to avoid using rich, nutritious, stable fats like coconut oil, tallow, or ghee for cooking. Non-stick pans are nothing but a symptom of fat-phobia.
Fat, friends, is the ORIGINAL non-stick coating.
It can take some major abuse. If you’re like me, you know that every single kitchen utensil is going to make contact with the floor about eighteen thousand times. It’s going to get stacked, hacked and attacked. Food will burn and scrapers will be used. The cast iron can survive that and more – there’s not a thing you can do that’ll damage its utility, and there’s nothing a little re-seasoning can’t fix. That’s why they last for generations! The more you use it, the better it gets.
It can go anywhere. It can go from the stove to the oven and back. (Don’t. Touch. The. Handle. USE A MITT. Because…ow.) You can use it over the campfire or on the backyard grill.
You can roast, saute, and bake in it. You can rock your world and everyone else’s with your sweet skillet skills.
Now, here’s the challenge: seasoning that bad boy. And it’s REALLY NOT SO COMPLICATED! Cast iron pans must be “seasoned,” which is just an old-school way to say “you have to make it non-stick all by your kitchen-genius self.” It’s actually quite easy.
(You can also buy pre-seasoned cast iron pans, but according to this post, these pans may be coated with a (mysterious) wax that I’m not so sure is trustworthy. The same is NOT true of the old-school ones. Another point for vintage cookware!)
Note: I still use my PRE-SEASONED Lodge skillets (below) but I’m watching a few eBay auctions for some sweet vintage skillets.
This article has great insight on what else is different between the new and the old.
Now, here’s the fun part: seasoning is a bit of an art (or, at least, a lesson in chemistry). While I know plenty of folks – including me – who have had a great experience seasoning just by using the darn thing and cooking with fats like home-rendered lard, there is a whole geeked-out underworld of cast iron enthusiasts who can give the ins-and-outs of the chemistry of seasoning – turns out, it’s a process of polymerization. Sounds scary. And it kind of is. But not really. (Just read the links.)
While I originally set out to make this post an all-about-seasoning extravaganza, I think the work has been done for me. Fabulous and intriguing resources here, here and here.
Don’t be scurred about the encouragement to season with vegetable oil as those posts suggest. You don’t have to do it that way – it’s just a bit of geeky chemistry (polymerization, to be exact). Cast iron has been in use much longer than the vegetable oil industry has been around, so it’s CLEAR that folks have been seasoning without soybean, Canola and flax oil for many years. Any stable, traditional fat you’ve got will do!
Don’t forget to go here for the how-to of seasoning your skillet. Short version: coat the empty skillet and bake it HOT. Voila.
Tell me what YOU know about cast iron! What are your memories, tips and experiences? Share them with our community in the comments!
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