Complete Guide on Cast Iron Cookware
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When it comes to legendary cookware, it’s hard to talk of anything else other than cast iron.
This is one of the strongest and most durable cookware when treated properly.
It’s not quite uncommon to hear of cast iron skillets or pans that have been handed down through multiple generations, a true testament to their incredible durability.
It’s the same reason why you’ll find old cast iron skillets still in great condition at garage sales and also antique shops. They are extremely well-built and nearly indestructible.
Even with the introduction of several other materials like copper, aluminum, and stainless steel, cast iron cookware is still a staple piece in most kitchens and continues to be revered by many cooks worldwide due to its versatility, effectiveness at cooking food, and durability.
Well-seasoned cast-iron cookware can also provide a natural non-stick surface that rivals chemically engineered options like Teflon. A mistreated cast iron cookware is a sad thing though. If a skillet, griddle, or grill isn’t properly treated, you’ll struggle to cook anything.
Now with that in mind and before we take a deep dive into the world of cast iron cookware, let’s first learn more about cast iron, the material itself.
What is cast iron?
You probably already know or have seen what cast iron looks like. It’s hard to forget those dark, heavy pans, and pots that look like something you would find at a campsite. And for sure you would, they’re great for campsite breakfast. But that’s certainly not all.
Cast iron has been used for centuries. In fact, the earliest documented use dates back to 220 AD in China and even some studies show that it was invented as early as the 5th century BC, still in ancient China.
The material became widely popular throughout Asia and it was one of the main methods of open fire cooking before the invention of the kitchen stove. Cast iron was also used to make weapons and even agriculture products from ancient times. Over the past several centuries, it has found a wide range of use through streamlined manufacturing.
It’s highly used in industries as well as in other commercial and consumer applications (depending on the type), including making machinery components, electric fittings and equipment, pipes and pipe fittings, automotive parts, hand tools, and of course, cookware which is our main focus for this guide.
Cast iron itself is a ferrous alloy that’s primarily composed of iron and carbon (over 2 wt. %). It also contains silicon (1 to 3 wt. %) and small amounts of manganese. It may also contain small traces of minor elements like sulfur and phosphorus. It’s usually brittle and nonmalleable – you can’t bend, stretch, or hammer it into shape.
It’s also fairly weak in tension and tends to fracture with just a little prior deformation. However, it has excellent compressive strength and durability which is why it’s often one of the best options for applications that require these properties.
Although both cast iron and steel contain traces of carbon and almost appear similar, there are several differences between the two metals. For instance, steel has less than 2% carbon (by weight) and lower silicon content, which allows the end product to solidify into a single microcrystalline structure. Cast iron, on the other hand, contains fairly high carbon content of around 2% to 5%, meaning it primarily solidifies as a heterogeneous alloy – there’s more than one microcrystalline structure in the final product or material.
However, the combination of relatively high carbon content and some silicon is what gives cast iron its excellent casting qualities or “castability”. It’s hard and brittle. The presence of silicon equally increases the electrical resistivity of the metal and also allows it to withstand extremely high temperatures without cracking.
Cast iron can as well be further optimized or enhanced by alloying it with small quantities of other elements such as:
- Manganese: increases the resistance to wear and abrasions
- Molybdenum: increases hardenability
- Nickel: increases tensile strength
- Chromium: increases hardenability and resistance to wear, corrosion, and oxidation
- Vanadium: increases hardenability as well as hot hardness
- Tungsten: increases hot strength and hot hardness
- Cobalt: reduces hardenability and also resists softening at elevated temperatures
- Niobium: reduces hardenability and increases ductility, resulting in increased impact strength
The amount and rations of each alloying element entirely depend on the type of cast iron and its intended use.
Benefits that cast iron provides
There are several reasons that professionals and home cooks go crazy for cast iron. They include;
1. Excellent Casting Qualities
Cast iron is highly favored because it can be easily cast into different complex shapes when molten as well as its low cost. The molten cast iron is poured into a sand mold in the shape of an item being made and once it cools, the sand mold is broken to release the required item. Moreover, its properties can be easily optimized or changed by adjusting the composition and the cooling rate without any significant changes to production methods.
2. Incredibly Long-lasting
Cast iron is incredibly resilient and durable. It’s tough, heavy, and robust hence it can last for generations and even centuries with the right care. It’s virtually indestructible. This is one of the reasons it’s a desirable material for things like pipes, automotive parts, machines, and, you’ve guessed it, cookware.
3. Amazing heat retention and distribution
One of the top misconceptions about cast iron is that since it makes such good cookware, it must ultimately be excellent at conducting heat. To the surprise of many though, exactly the opposite is true.
Overall, cast iron has a thermal conductivity of 52 W/m K (Watts per meter-Kelvin), compared to carbon which is 54 W/m K, aluminum at 237 W/m K, and copper at 413 W/m K.
In other words, when it comes to conducting heat, cast iron is 4 ½ times worse than aluminum and 8 times worse compared to copper. However, stainless steel is much worse at conducting heat than cast iron. For instance, grade 304 stainless steel, which is the steel often used for most pans and pots has a thermal conductivity of just 14.4 W/m K.
The low thermal conductivity of cast iron means that it certainly takes longer to preheat than it does copper or aluminum cookware. If you own a piece of cast iron cookware at home, then you’ve probably seen this yourself. The low thermal conductivity also means that cast iron cookware is less responsive to heat adjustments and does take relatively longer to cool or release the heat it has accumulated during cooking.
Despite that, it still makes a good cookware.Sure, it does take a few minutes (a good 3 to 4 minutes) for it to heat up but once it reaches the desired temperature, it will retain the heat for a longer time compared to other metals. This means it’s able to keep hot foods, hotter, longer. It also means quicker recovery between dishes.
Thanks to its density and strength, cast iron can reach extremely high temperatures too, so you can get the best crust or sear on your good. The thick, sturdy bases of most cast iron cookware also help distribute the heat evenly and keep a steady cooking temperature. However, hot and cold spots can occur if the cookware is not heated properly – low to medium heat at the beginning and then gradually increasing the heat.
Expert tip: ensure the burner is sufficiently large for the cookware you’re using to facilitate a nice, even heat distribution because heat conduction isn’t really on your side. Additionally, ensure you give the cookware enough time to pre-heat properly before use.
Given proper treatment, cast iron can no doubt cook food beautifully. You can use it to cook nearly all kinds of food using various cooking methods.
4. Naturally non-stick
Cast iron is quite special compared to all other metals used to make cookware because it bears natural non-stick properties when well-seasoned. It’s a porous material that slowly absorbs oil, creating a non-toxic, non-stick layer that prevents food like eggs and pancakes from sticking to the cooking surface of the cookware. Due to this, you get to use less oil when cooking, plus the non-stick qualities can continue to get even better over time with use and proper care.
Cast iron is basically a healthy option compared to non-stick cookware that’s chemically engineered or coated with synthetic materials like Teflon. But, you are not out of the woods with cast iron too. Acidic foods such as tomatoes, wine, and vinegar can react with cast iron and give your dishes an unpleasant metallic taste.
Types of cast iron
All cast irons are basically classified into two primary types according to their microstructure and silicon content. They are either grey cast irons or white cast irons. The two types can be treated further under specific temperatures to produce ductile or malleable cast irons.
Grey cast iron
This is the most common type of cast iron. It’s called grey due to its pale to dark grey interior appearance. It has a graphite microstructure that’s made up of various small fractures/flakes from the carbon in the material which turns grey during the heating and the cooling process. It’s the presence of these small flakes and the cooling process that create the greyish appearance. The presence of the graphite flakes is because of the addition of silicon.
The grey cast iron usually has a carbon content of between 2 wt. % to 4 wt. % while the silicon content is between 1 wt. % to 3 wt. %. Unlike in white cast iron where the carbon and iron are actually combined, the carbon in grey cast iron is mixed in amongst iron molecules.
The other notable property of grey cast iron is that it has a very high thermal conductivity as well as heat capacity. Heat moves more easily through it, which is one of the primary reasons why it’s often used to manufacture cast iron cookware. The other is the fact that it’s the cheapest type of cast iron to produce.
Another important property of grey cast iron is its ability to withstand thermal cycling (going back and forth between the warmer and colder temperatures). The thermal cycling process can create stress and cause premature failure in some metal castings. Grey cast iron, however, is able to endure the strain that comes with the thermal cycling process pretty well and therefore does not stress as easily.
Its shock resistance and tensile strength are less in contrast with steel or most other castings though. Its compressive strength is comparable to carbon steel, mainly low and medium carbon steel. Generally, all these mechanical properties of the grey cast iron are a result of the graphite flakes (their size and shape) in its microstructure.
White Cast Iron
White cast iron is not really that common compared to the grey cast iron. It typically has a lesser amount of both carbon and silicon than the other cast-iron types. It contains 1.8 wt. % to 3.6 wt. % carbon content, 0.1 wt. % to 0.5 wt. % silicon content. It also has 1.0 wt. % to 2.0 wt. % manganese. Its melting point is equally slightly lower than that of grey cast iron. However, it’s extremely wear-resistant. With regards to contraction, it contracts by around 2 to 2.5%, which is slightly higher than the grey cast iron at only around 1%. Overall though, this type of cast iron is rarely used in making cookware.
How cast iron cookware is made
Cast iron is primarily made from pig iron, which is a crude iron that’s produced by smelting iron ore (with carbon content greater than 2 wt. %) in a blast furnace. So, you can say cast iron is basically melted pig iron (with impurities removed) that’s cast. That’s not always the case though because other raw materials are usually used, such as re-melted pig iron and substantial quantities of scrap steel and recycled cast iron, along with limestone and carbon or coke.
The scrap steel is obtained from steel that has been discarded and then collected by the waste management centers while the recycled cast iron is typically cast iron cookware from earlier production from the foundry which has imperfections. This mixture of old and new metals makes cast iron both sustainable and durable.
Now making the actual cast iron cookware will require several other materials which include silicon, vermiculite, sand, water, and clay. With that in mind, here is exactly how the process goes;
1. Blocks of iron and steel (in perfect proportions) are first melted together in a foundry.
The iron and steel are melted together on a Cupola furnace which is nearly the same as a blast furnace – it’s cylindrical in shape with a height of about 5m and a diameter of about 1m. The materials are poured from the furnace’s top which is then heated to around 1800°C in an oxygen atmosphere to make them liquid.
At this point, the mixture is separated into molten iron and slag. The impurities of the pig iron are removed by oxidation (to some extent) which forms the molten iron and the slag. The formed slag which consists of the impurities rises to the top of the melted iron where it’s removed from the furnace at regular intervals. Vermiculite can also be added when the mixture reaches the casting temperature. Vermiculite is basically a material that serves as a binding agent to keep the oxides and the slag together in the mixture.
2. Chemicals are added to the molten mixture to increase its carbon level
Once the impurities are removed selectively from the melted metals, the carbon content of the iron is reduced. Therefore, limestone and coke are added to the mixture in order to raise its carbon levels. As mentioned earlier, cast iron usually contains 2% to 5% carbon to 95% to 98% iron. At this point, silicon is also added to help convert the carbon content to either graphite or cementite.
3. The molten iron mixture is poured into the mold
To make the cast iron cookware, the molten iron is poured into molds to be cast into various forms. The molds are normally made of compacted sand (or a sandy mixture), water, and powdered clay. They are usually in the shape of the cookware being made which can be skillets, griddles, or Dutch ovens. As the molten iron cools down, it takes the exact shape of the mold.
4. The mold is broken to release the cookware
Once the casted cookware has cooled sufficiently, the sand mold is broken to release it. This accounts for the slightly rough surface often seen on most cast iron pans and skillets, although nowadays more modern cast irons are usually less polished in contrast with their vintage counterparts. Some manufacturers, however, do smooth each piece of their cookware before being sold.
5. The new casted cookware is pre-seasoned or porcelain enameled
Although this is not always the case, there are manufacturers who porcelain enamel or pre-season their cast iron cookware to give them non-stick properties. If the casted cookware is pre-seasoned, then a coating of vegetable oil or wax is applied at this point in order to prevent it from rusting while it sits in the warehouse or on store shelves.
In general, this casting process ensures the cookware will stay durable and also maintain its shape. Moreover, the iron material is excellent at withstanding heat hence perfect for use on different heat sources.
However, because cast irons have more than 2% carbon content, 1 to 3% silicon content, and up to 1% manganese content, their weldability is poor. Most grades are not weldable, plus special precautions are usually required even with those grades that claim to be weldable.
Most of the manufacturing process takes place in the furnaces, where heat (thermal energy) is used to melt the raw materials. Most of them don’t exist in their pure form hence have to be extracted by extremely high temperatures (around 1800°C).
The energy source can be either coal or charcoal which a lot has to be used. However, since burning fossil fuel involves burning with oxygen and also releasing heat, many manufacturers resort to electricity (chemical or electrical energy) as an energy source. They melt the raw materials in electric arc furnaces or electric induction furnaces.
Different kinds of cast iron cookware
There are two main varieties of cast iron cookware; the traditional kind and enameled coated cookware. Each type has certain characteristics that distinguish it from the other.
Traditional Cast Iron Cookware
Also known as bare or raw cast iron cookware, the traditional cast iron cookware is not coated with any other materials (paint or enamel). It’s just plain iron, which is the initial form of almost all cast iron cookware. It’s what most people think of when you talk about cast iron cookware because the surface is typically rugged and black.
Generally, it’s the most economical type of cast-iron cookware and the best option if you are looking for cast iron camping cookware. However, it requires seasoning before use in order to prevent rust and also to create the natural non-stick layer.
Most cast iron manufacturers nowadays though season the cast iron cookware in the factory before shipping them off. This helps protect them from rust and also makes them ready to use right out of the box upon purchase.
The cookwares are pre-seasoned with vegetable oil to give them a natural, easy-release finish which improves with repeated use. These are usually less expensive compared to enameled cast iron cookware, although just like the plain cast iron cookware, they require re-seasoning from time to time with a light coat of vegetable oil, particularly after washing.
Enameled Cast Iron Cookware
Enameled cast iron cookware is simply a regular/traditional cast iron cookware that has been coated or lined with porcelain enamel, which is a glass-like protective coating. The enamel helps protect the surface of cookware from all sorts of things including rust. It makes the cookware easier to clean and care for because it doesn’t need regular seasoning like the traditional cast iron cookware.
The enamel lining also gives the cookware non-stick qualities that prevent food from sticking to its surface. However, the non-stick qualities are not usually as strong as that of well-seasoned traditional cast iron skillets and pans.
The enamel coating also makes the cookware rust-resistant, non-porous, and completely non-reactive, so you can slow-cook acidic dishes like tomato sauce and other recipes containing wine, vinegar, or citrus. You can’t do that with raw cast iron cookware as the acidity will certainly mar its surface.
Enameled cast iron cookware tends to be incredibly durable too because the coating adds an extra protective layer to its surfaces. It equally gives it a tasteful aesthetic appeal as it can come in beautiful different primary colors such as red, orange, yellow, and green.
However, all these benefits come at a cost as these cookwares are usually more expensive than their raw cast iron counterparts. The coating can also scratch or chip when no proper care is taken because enamel is basically powdered glass that’s fused with an underlying layer under high heat which gives it a slightly delicate characteristic. As such, you can’t use metal utensils on it or use it on extremely high heat, unlike raw cast iron. Enameled cast iron cookware is pretty heavy too due to the extra layer, making storing them tricky.
Handles for cast iron cookware
The handle is a vital part of any cast iron cookware because it’s the only part that will get directly in contact with your hand when cooking or transferring the cookware. As such, you want a piece that has a comfortable handle that will not end up burning your hand.
Unlike other cookware types, cast iron is made in mold hence both the cookware and handle are all one single piece – riveting a handle to cast iron cookware is very challenging. Although these handles are usually short (just sufficiently long for one hand) they are far more durable than riveted and welded handles, plus they are quite easy to clean, unlike riveted handles where food is easily lodged in between the rivets.
Unfortunately, they tend to get too hot to touch, especially when cooking for a prolonged time. As such, you always have to hold them with a dry towel, silicone pads, oven mitt, or other heat insulators.
Some brands do use several methods to ensure their cast iron handles stay cool to the touch. They often fix silicone pads right onto the handles which completely remove any residual heat that radiates from the cookware and also make the handle comfortable to hold. The downside is that they make the cookware not oven-safe because the silicon pads would melt in the high heat.
Heat sources you can use with cast iron cookware
Before making any large investments into cast iron cookware, you have to consider the primary source of heat that you use in your kitchen. Due to its higher temperature limit (2200°F), cast iron cookware can work on almost all kinds of heat sources ranging from cooktops to open-flame heat sources. Below are various examples and how cast iron cookware performs with each one.
Cast iron cookware is highly suitable for use on gas cookers because of its ability for slow and even heating which works best over low flame. The fact that gas cookers deliver instant heat immediately they’re turned on means you won’t have to wait so long to get your pan, skillet, or pot to heat up and that’s an advantage since cast iron takes pretty long to preheat.
Still though, the thickness of your cast iron cookware will directly affect how quickly and efficiently it heats up. The thicker it is, the more time it will take. Nonetheless, no matter the quality, style, or construction of the cookware, cast iron will function very well on gas stoves.
You can cook with cast iron cookware on electric stovetops (both electric coil and electric glass top). An electric stovetop is in fact better at keeping low heat levels hence it can gradually heat cast iron cookware for best results than cookers that operate at high heat immediately after they are turned on. That said though, electric cookers are generally less efficient and less convenient than other types of cookware, especially when it comes to cast iron cookware.
First, they are notoriously slow to heat up. Once you turn the dial, you have to wait several minutes for the element to reach optimal temperature yet heat from gas ranges is instant. In other words, it will take much longer to prepare a dish in cast iron cookware on an electric stove than when the same dish is cooked on a gas stovetop.
Electric cookers can also be erratic and heat unevenly, especially when turned on at a high heat setting at first to kick-start the heating process. This can create hot spots and cause your food to burn, negating the positive benefits of cast iron cookware.
Moreover, while cast iron cookware won’t damage electric coil cookers, using it on electric glass cooktops requires a lot of caution due to its rough exterior (the traditional type) and heavy weight. You have to place it gently down and lift it directly up after use or when you need to adjust it. Sliding or dragging it on the electric glass cooktop, will most certainly crack, gouge, or scratch the surface.
Besides that, a glass stovetop is fragile, so there’s a greater chance of breaking or cracking the glass if you drop it. You have to use both hands to position the cookware.
Alternatively, you can opt for an enameled cast iron cookware as it often has a completely smooth bottom which will work better with glass cooktops. The smooth bottom has less friction than the bare rough iron bottom of traditional cast iron cookware.
There are as well heat diffusers that you can use on glass tops when cooking with cast iron which is great if you want to be really super-safe. They are specifically designed to protect the glass surface while helping to spread out the heat evenly across the bottom of the cookware.
Cast iron cookware will certainly work well on induction cooktops, 100% of the time. Its solid construction of iron makes it highly magnetic, more than any other metal, meaning it works very effectively with induction technology, whether it’s the traditional kind or the enameled type.
However, just like the glass cooktops, using cast iron cookware on the induction cooktops requires caution, especially the traditional/bare cast iron. Their rough and grittier bottom is likely to easily scratch the glass surfaces that are quite common to induction cooktops.
However, you can place something thin between the cookware and burner to protect the glass. You can use a scratch protector mat, a tissue, or parchment paper. Paper towels, newspaper, and even Silpat mats can work too. Because induction uses magnetic fields, the burners or cooking surface itself doesn’t actually get hot, so the paper won’t burn.
A good option would be using enameled cookware because it has the advantage of a smooth bottom which will help prevent the glass of the induction cooktop from sustaining damage.
Cast iron can certainly go in the oven. Not just the Dutch ovens and other obvious bakeware pieces. Skillets, griddles, and even pots are safe to use in the oven. Cast iron only melts at temperatures above 2200°F. It doesn’t show any signs of metal fatigue until it hits around 700°F. That’s a much higher temperature than what an average home oven provides.
However, as much as cast iron skillets and pans are perfectly oven-safe, you’ll need to be careful in case it has some handle material that’s not oven-proof, like those that have silicone grip.
Enameled cast iron cookware is also oven-safe but unlike regular cast iron cookware, they aren’t able to withstand very high heat. They are okay to use only up to 400°F. Anything above that can cause the enamel coating to chip or crack. Since enameled cast iron cookware is often made using thinner metal than regular cast iron cookware, it can also warp easily if not handled or used correctly.
Broiler or Grill
Cast iron skillets and pans are not only oven-safe but can also go under a broiler or grill, which makes them ideal, especially for finishing off meals that do require browning in the oven like those yummy cheese and potato topped dishes. It’s pretty convenient to finish off such dishes under the grill without really having to change pans. However, the heat of the broilers can get quite intense, so you have to check with the manufacturer first to confirm if they have some specific requirements for broiler use.
Is cast iron cookware healthy?
Cast iron cookware does “leach” some iron into food, which can be advantageous because it can greatly increase the soluble or beneficial iron in a person’s diet. This has actually been demonstrated to be true through research.
A study published in the American Dietetic Association in 1986 showed that cooking in cast iron pans or skillets added substantial amounts of iron content to 20 foods that were tested. For instance, it increased the iron content of 3 ounces of apple sauce from around 0.35mg to 7.3mg and that of scrambled eggs from around 1.49 mg to 4.76mg.
In fact, newer, more recently pre-seasoned cast iron cookware has shown to add higher amounts of iron to foods than the older, more thoroughly seasoned pieces. This can be beneficial, especially for pre-menopausal women who do not get the necessary 18 mg of iron content they need daily.
On the other hand, it can be a disadvantage for those that already get an abundance of iron content in their diets. There’s plenty of iron in many various foods like red meat, lentils, beans, millet, chickpeas, pumpkin, dark leafy greens, molasses, dried peaches, dried apricots, and sunflower seeds, walnuts, pistachios, almonds, oysters, scallops, clams, soybeans, and many other foods.
Moreover, even though cast iron cookware is suitable for cooking a variety of foods, it’s considered a reactive cookware because the iron can react with certain foods, primarily, acidic foods (such as tomatoes, wine, and vinegar) and extremely alkaline foods like beans.
Generally, the more acidic the food is and also the longer amount of time it’s cooked in the cast iron cookware, then the more iron would be absorbed or leached into that food.
Acidic foods such as chili, tomato, and spaghetti sauces absorb the most iron. They are not the best recipe to cook on cast iron cookware. The acid from them reacts with the metal, which causes a substantial amount of iron to leach into the food. Although it’s harmless, the high iron content can alter the flavor and color of your dishes drastically, giving them a metallic taste and darker hue – not quite pleasant.
So, does it mean you have to completely avoid acidic foods when cooking with cookware made of cast iron? No. In fact, a properly seasoned cast iron pan or skillet can handle most acidic foods well without issues. Seasoning basically creates a natural barrier between the cast iron and the acid, therefore minimizing a reaction.
However, prolonged simmering of overly acidic foods on a regular basis will negatively impact the seasoning over the course of time. It will no doubt deteriorate the seasoning over time, particularly if your pan or skillet is new and its seasoning has not fully set in yet.
Quicker meals such as seared chicken breasts with wine or lemon added towards the end, won’t really pose any threat. Generally, the key is limiting the cooking time to less than 30 minutes, and also removing the food once it’s finished – it shouldn’t sit in the cookware for hours.
An enameled cast iron cookware would be a good choice though if you do a lot of acidic food cooking because the enamel coating is completely non-reactive. So, you can slow-cook acidic dishes like tomato sauce and other recipes containing wine, vinegar, or citrus. The acidity will certainly not mar the enamel surface and leave the cast iron bare.
Utensils you can use with cast iron cookware
Being one of the most durable metals, you can use nearly any type of utensil with cast iron cookware, from silicone to wooden to metal. Each option, however, has its pros and cons as you’re going to see below.
Silicone utensils are amongst the safest kitchen utensils to use with cast iron cookware because they have incredible heat resistance as well as a high melting point than ABS plastic and nylon. They only begin to break down at temperatures of 600°F and some are even rated as high as 900°F, so they won’t soften or melt like normal plastic if you cook below this temperature or below 600°F.
Besides that, food-grade silicone utensils are very rubber-like. They are not likely to scratch the surface of cast iron cookware or remove the seasoning. They are ideal for use even on enameled cast iron cookware. They are equally non-corrosive, non-reactive, and chemically stable, meaning they won’t ruin food, even when they come in contact with acidic foods and fluctuations of temperatures. Another advantage of silicone utensils is that they are widely available and affordable, plus they don’t stain much or keep odor.
Wooden utensils are also ideal for use with cast iron since they can stay cool regardless of how long they remain in the cookware. They are generally safe, inert, and relatively gentle on the cookware. They won’t damage the cooking surface of your cast iron cookware, plus although they may be biodegradable, they can be strong and durable or sturdy enough to cook with and scrap the surface of your cast iron pan or the grooves of your skillet.
Stirring, turning, and scraping are all so easy for nearly all wooden utensils. Their classic lightness makes it a lot easier for people to use them. They are also inexpensive and widely available in a similar way as silicone utensils. However, they can stain easily, are challenging to clean, and tend to absorb odor.
You can use metal utensils too on cast iron cookware. Some believe that metal utensils can damage it or probably the seasoning layer but that’s far from the truth. Cast iron is exceptionally durable hence it’s not likely to be negatively affected by metal kitchen utensils. It can withstand a lot of abuse from stainless steel utensils for decades and still never bat an eye.
Furthermore, since seasoning is a chemical bonding, it’s unlikely to scrape the seasoning off the cooking surface of a cast-iron skillet or pan, especially a well-seasoned cast iron cookware – it’ll be essentially impervious to metal utensils. In addition, if you happen to scratch or scrap some of the seasoning off, you can simply re-season it.
However, using metal utensils on enameled cast iron requires some caution. It’s not that it can scratch it, because enamel is still extremely strong, but it can leave streaks of metallic residue (marks not actually scratches) if you try hard to do so. The streaks can be cleaned up though with Bar Keeper’s Friend, Bon Ami, or even denture tablets.
The only problem is knocking or dropping the metal utensil onto the cookware as it might chip the enamel. Therefore, it would be best to use silicone or wood utensils where you can, especially for stirring when cooking or scrapping when cleaning. The metal utensils should be for your properly seasoned traditional cast iron cookware.
Avoid plastic utensils at all costs. Even cast iron cookware that’s heated at a pretty low temperature will no doubt melt the plastic. Besides the potential dangers, you’ll ruin the seasoning or non-stick properties of the cookware. Since cast iron is quite a porous material, the melted plastic will fill the pores and probably partially or fully dry, which means a massive cleanup job, plus a full re-seasoning.
Making cast iron cookware non-stick
The fear of many cooks when using any cookware is food sticking to it when cooking. Unlike most other materials, cast iron cookware tends to be naturally non-stick when properly seasoned prior to use. It’s not really as non-stick as the chemically bonded non-stick surfaces like Teflon, but when correctly seasoned, it can significantly reduce the amount of sticking that you would encounter while avoiding the health concerns associated with nonstick cookware.
But what does seasoning actually mean?
Seasoning a cast iron basically means baking or heating oil or fats into the surface of a cookware to create a natural protective layer on top of it. The layer is formed when the fat or oil naturally oxidizes in the cookware, changing into a solid form (layer of carbonized oil or fat). It’s a more natural way of forming and maintaining a stick-resistant surface in contrast with chemically-coated protective surfaces.
This natural coating helps food slide off the pan or pot easily and it also prevents the bare cast iron from oxidizing or rusting quickly. Plus, you get to use less oil, fat, or butter when you cook with a properly-seasoned cast iron pan.
So, how do you season your cast iron cookware?
- First, give your cast iron cookware a good washing with hot soapy water or liquid dish soap and dry it thoroughly. This ensures the cookware has a fresh clean surface as anything left from the manufacturing process and shipping is removed. There should be no moisture whatsoever on the cookware when seasoning. Place it on a stovetop (at low flame setting) or in a warm oven to dry.
- Heat the oven to 450°F and place a lined baking sheet or foil on the bottom rack of the oven to catch any oil or lard that drips down.
- As the oven preheats, use a cloth or paper towel to rub a very thin layer of oil (high-heat/high-smoke oil) into the cookware. Work the oil evenly into all the surfaces (interior and exterior) and wipe away any excess with the paper towel. The oil/fat will harden as is, so any pooling is likely to create an uneven cooking surface which is subject to chip. Coat all the areas to ensure they don’t rust.
- With oil/fat distributed evenly around the cookware, place it upside down on the middle rack inside the oven to prevent any displeasing pooling. Bake it for an hour.
- As soon as the oil/fat starts to smoke slightly, turn off the oven, let the cookware cool inside it for an hour and then remove it and let it cool completely. Now your cast iron cookware is seasoned and ready to use.
You can repeat this process several times if you notice the sheen isn’t quite visible or the non-stick isn’t working really well. This is pretty common (especially with new cast irons) although it’s generally unnecessary since the cookware will continue to season over time as it’s used.
However, it’s important to heat up the cookware slowly and evenly so that its entire surface reaches the smoking point of the oil – the point at which it starts to smoke from the heat. At this point (just slightly past it), the oil polymerizes or rather turns into a hardened protective layer/coating that binds to the surface of the cast iron. The source of heat can be an oven, a cooktop, or even a camping or barbecue grill. You use the one that’s most convenient for you.
Most new cast iron cookware, however, nowadays comes “pre-seasoned.” Does that mean you still need to season one? Well, a little extra protection won’t really hurt, so we would recommend seasoning your new cookware anyway. Once you know how to do it, the process becomes easy and you don’t have to repeat it very often.
Is there specific oil that’s best for seasoning cast iron?
Well, from what we’ve gathered, there seem to be divergent opinions on what oil is better for seasoning cast iron cookware. However, from our research, these are the best oils you can consider:
- Flaxseed oil: creates the best quality seasoning than the other oils as it has the lowest amount of saturated fat (9%). However, it has a low smoking point (225°F) meaning it’s easy to heat for polymerization but makes it a poor choice for cooking.
- Grapeseed oil: it’s nearly as good as flaxseed oil because it only has 10% saturated fat. Furthermore, it’s far cheaper and has a higher smoke point (420°F) making it a great oil to also cook with.
- Corn oil: it’s equally cheap and a very popular option, with almost identical benefits as grapeseed or flaxseed oil – has low saturated fat (13%). It also has the highest smoking point too (at 449°F).
- Olive oil: it’s not as good as the polyunsaturated oils above, but it’s still a solid choice (contains only 14% saturated fat). The smoke point does vary greatly though depending on whether it’s virgin or extra virgin olive oil. It can be anywhere from 320°F to 410°F
- Sunflower oil: a perfectly fine option too if you already have it (contains only 13% saturate oil) plus it has a high smoke point (449°F) just like corn oil.
- Vegetable oil: this can be another decent option. It has the lowest saturated fat (6%) but if it’s of poor quality, it can have high impurities (up to 12%) which may affect the seasoning. However, if it’s of good quality, then it’s as effective as the sunflower oil with a smoke point of around 400°F.
Best foods to cook in cast iron cookware
Cooking with cast iron cookware is sure to yield great results. It simply provides the best surface for cooking a wide range of foods since it can withstand extremely high heat, plus it distributes heat uniformly and holds on to it quite well.
For this section, we’ll look at various common cast iron cookware you can find out there. Each piece has its own specific purpose, so here’s a look at some of the best foods for cooking in each of them.
Cast Iron Skillet
- Frying – the nonstick nature of a well-seasoned cast-iron skillet makes it excellent for frying bacon and scrambled or sunny-side-up eggs. It heats up relatively quickly and holds heat well hence it’s easy to maintain a consistent temperature. It’s also easy to fry fish or even chicken with little to no oil without the skin tearing off. Enameled cast iron skillets also work great.
- Searing – cast iron skillet is no doubt the absolute best at searing foods. Nothing else out there can give that perfect, crispy sear (delicious golden brown crust) than a well-seasoned skillet. The high, even heating across its surface makes it great for searing scallops and juicy rib-eye steaks without overcooking. You can as well sear chicken, peanut tofu, veggie burgers, and even delicate cauliflower florets. The skillet holds heat very well when it comes into contact with cold protein. If you put a thick-cut steak into a hot copper or aluminum pan, its temperature drops almost instantly (but recovers just as fast). That’s not likely to happen with a cast-iron skillet, plus you can even reverse-sear a steak with it.
- Stir-Frying – with a bit of oil, cast iron skillet does so well at stir-frying foods like quinoa fried rice, tofu stir-fry, and tempeh stir-fry. It’s also great for stir-frying almost any vegetable, meat, or grain. The little oil helps the food to brown and to prevent sticking.
- Baking – you can bake things like cornbread, brownies, bread rolls, cakes, pies, and even pan pizza on a cast-iron skillet. In fact, it can generally substitute a pizza stone because it’s so effective at holding on to heat. It will puff up the pizza dough and brown it so nicely from all sides for a delicious, crispy crust that resembles the kind of pizza you’d get at Pizza Hut. It provides the perfect browning and crispy texture for all kinds of baking, including a loaf of bread. If you’re yet to make doughy, olive oil-soaked focaccia in a properly seasoned cast iron skillet, then be prepared for a revelation.
Cast Iron Grill Pan
- Grilling meat – with a cast iron grill pan, you don’t have to fire up the barbecue to grill up some meat. It’s able to produce juicy results thanks to its superior heat retention quality. It also creates tantalizing char grill marks just like a BBQ. It’s perfect for grilling, steaks, burgers, chicken, salmon, or tuna. The natural non-stick properties, especially of seasoned raw cast iron grill pans make grilling meat super easy. The meat stays intact, no bits and pieces are lost to the BBQ pit. The ridges on these pans also allow all the grease to drain away from your meat and elevate it such that it doesn’t sit on the grease, so you get to enjoy a healthy meal with less oil.
Cast Iron Griddles and Barbecue Plates
- Sautering – you can sauté onions perfectly on the flat cooking surface of a cast iron griddle as it’s able to get extremely hot.
- Frying – pancakes, breakfast meats, burgers, sausages, French toast, eggs, and hash browns are all foods that you can make on a cast iron griddle. The slightly raised edges keep oil, butter, and the other ingredients mostly contained. Moreover, the shallow edges allow for easy maneuvering of spatulas or other cooking utensils when flipping your pancakes or fried eggs. It’s great for serving entrees too as the cast iron will keep contents warm throughout the whole meal.
- Searing and grilling – intended for placement over ranges or stove burners, cast iron barbecue plates are perfect for making Korean barbecue, grilled tortillas, flatbread, or roasting vegetables. The ridges on their surfaces produce an appealing grilled texture.
Cast Iron Shallow Casserole Dish
- Casserole – instead of prepping a casserole on a stove, then you transfer it to a baking dish, add a topping, and bake, you can do that whole process in a single cast-iron casserole dish. It’s perfect for making a baked macaroni and cheese casserole or pepperoni pizza casserole. This cast iron cookware is ideal also for cooking pot pie, bread pudding, baked pasta, baked stuffed shells, and even something advanced like whipping up paella.
- Braising meat and vegetables – braising meats like lamb shanks and short ribs is incredibly easy with a cast iron shallow casserole. You can also try delicious, braised fennel, squash, and other vegetables. It can transform tough cuts of meat and hardy vegetables into fork-tender, flavorful dishes with a nice, thick rich sauce.
- Stews and soup – with sloped sides that are deeper than a skillet, cast-iron casserole dishes are large and have plenty of depth for stews, sauces, and soup. Slow cooking chili, curry, or stew yields amazing results as the cast iron is able to provide steady, even heat throughout its surface.
- One-pot meals – the wide base of cast iron shallow casseroles makes them ideal for making one-pot meals like focaccia and biscuits, as well as cakes, cobblers, and giant skillet cookies.
Cast Iron Dutch Ovens
- Baking bread – Dutch ovens are oven-safe, hence ideal for baking bread. They conduct heat evenly allowing for consistent baking. Plus, they feature heavy, tight-fitting lids that ensure excellent heat retention while trapping all the steam released by the bread as it cooks. The steam creates a crackly, golden crust (the kind that home bakers lust after) and a perfectly round shape. It’s even possible to make great sourdough bread using a Dutch oven.
- Roasting meat – one of the best uses of Dutch ovens is cooking delectable one-pot roasts. Thanks to its size, you can perfectly roast large legs of lamb, beef chuck, or even a whole chicken in it. The best way to really bring out the flavor is also preparing a bed of vegetables for roasting. You layer the vegetables on the sides and bottom of the Dutch oven such that they encase the meat, allowing everything to roast together.
- Braise meat – cast-iron Dutch ovens are as well great for braising (low and slow cooking in the oven) because of their heft, which helps with both heat retention and distribution. It keeps heat consistent during cooking hence you can easily leave the pot alone for long hours without fussing with the stove.
- Soups and stews: Dutch ovens can be used for moist cooking methods too, like making soups and stews. They intensify the flavors of stews and soups, allowing you to turn them into one-pot meals. You just add your ingredients in the order of how long they’ll need to cook, like starting with hardy vegetables such as carrots, potatoes, onions, and then adding delicate greens, cheeses, or pasta towards the end.
- Boiling/simmering – using your favorite broths, oils, spices, and herbs, you can prepare wonderful pasta dishes in a cast-iron Dutch oven. In fact, the size makes it perfect for creating large pasta dishes for your family and friends. You can use it to cook grains or starchy vegetables like beans and potatoes, or even for simmering hot dips such as buffalo chicken and artichoke, and spinach.
- Steaming rice – it’s quick and easy to steam rice in a Dutch oven and it will stay hot to warm slightly longer than stainless steel, copper, aluminum, and other types of cookware. With the right skills, the rice can turn out perfect and fluffy each time. You can even steam the rice and turn it into fried rice or other rice dishes you want using the same Dutch oven. It will stay warm for serving for quite a while.
- Hot air cooking – popcorn is well prepared in a Dutch oven because of the great heat retention and a heavy lid. It cooks very fast.
Things to avoid when using cast iron cookware
Since cast iron cookware appears to be so substantial, it’s easy to forget that it can get damaged. Taking just some few precautions can go a long way to ensuring years of valuable service and enjoyment. In light of that, here are things to avoid when using cast iron cookware.
- Avoid soaking it – cast iron is extremely durable, but it’s still subject to oxidation or rusting, that’s why it’s seasoned to prevent the formation of rust. The other way to avoid rusting is not soaking your cast iron cookware in hot water or leaving it in the sink overnight. It might be a favorable way of cleaning the cookware but the prolonged water exposure reduces the effectiveness of the seasoning in inhibiting rust. It guarantees the ultimate formation of rust.
- Avoid boiling water in it – boiling water in cast iron cookware can negatively impact the seasoning you may desire to build upon. The hot water and the process basically can attack the seasoning, exposing the iron to oxidation and at the same time allowing the leaching of the iron into the water. You should not use the cast iron cookware to boil hot water unless it’s enameled coated or lined with ceramic, like most cast iron teapots.
- Avoid overly acidic foods – cast iron isn’t good for cooking highly acidic foods that include ingredients like tomatoes, lemon, red wine, and vinegar (or sauces that contain them). These acidic foods tend to eat out the seasoned oil thereby leaving the cast iron bare. Besides that, cast iron is a fairly reactive metal hence it can react to the acids in the meal, leaching high amounts of dietary iron into them and also giving them a metallic taste. If you can’t avoid the acidic foods, use enameled cast iron instead or you can cook them only occasionally and limit how long they are exposed to the cookware.
- Avoid cooking smelly dishes – having a porous surface, cast iron cookware catches the smell of whatever food you cook with it, plus it can be quite reluctant letting go of the smell for multiple uses after. While that’s not really a problem when browning steak in butter, smelly foods like fish (salmon or whitefish) and garlic can become an issue. They can seep in and linger.
- Avoid deep frying – cast iron cookware shouldn’t be used for deep frying because iron can accelerate the oxidation process of fat and in turn cause it to become rancid.
- Don’t store food in the cookware – remove cooked food from the cast iron as soon as possible. Allowing it to sit for a while every time after cooking is bad for the cookware and bad for the food. It can gradually deplete the seasoning and also alter the color and taste of your food.
- Avoid sudden, extreme temperature changes – since cast iron cookware retains heat for long, even after it’s removed from the heat source, you may be tempted to place it in cold water in order to cool it down. No matter how impatient you are, avoid doing this because it can cause cracks, even very tiny ones that are enough to structurally damage the cookware. It’s the same case if you heat the cookware too quickly at high temperatures. It can cause thermal shock to it. The sudden change in temperature can end up cracking the surface. So, let it cool completely before washing it or heat it gradually, starting from low or medium heat at first and then moving to high heat.
- Avoid seasoning or cleaning in an oven’s self-cleaning cycle – there are those that believe that more heat is more effective when cleaning or seasoning a cast iron skillet or pan. That’s not the case. Superheating cast iron in the high temperatures of an oven’s self-cleaning cycle can structurally weaken it, cause it to suffer heat damage, and even lower its performance and lifespan. Heating up to 450°F for around 30 minutes to an hour is generally sufficient for seasoning any cast iron cookware.
- Avoid dropping the cookware on hard surfaces – despite being robust and durable, cast iron can still suffer damage from physical force. It’s subject to trauma from various physical forces including dropping it on a concrete or other hard surface.
How to care for cast iron cookware
Even if you meticulously take all precautions, sometimes bad things can just happen to your good cast iron cookware. Here’s how to handle or prevent some of these situations.
One of the ways to care for cast iron cookware is to regularly rub it with a bit of oil, particularly if it appears dry or if you use it to cook acidic foods. This will help maintain the integrity of the cookware’s seasoning.
If the cast iron has lost its sheen or its non-stick properties are wearing off, then you can repeat the seasoning process as we described above. It may also be a good idea to re-season the cookware after aggressively cleaning or scrubbing it in soapy water because the seasoning might have been scratched off.
A little bit of rust isn’t hard to remove. Effectively cleaning and re-seasoning the rusted spots should restore the pan or skillet to a like-new condition. If the whole pan is rusted though, you’ll need to re-season the entire piece. You need first to scrub and clean the cookware using a stainless steel brush pad, ensuring all the rust gets removed as needed, and then simply repeat the seasoning process highlighted above.
There are also several other methods of restoring both lightly and deeply rusted cast iron cookware.
1. Soaking in vinegar and water solution
For surface rust, you can soak the piece in a 50/50 water and vinegar solution. This is extremely effective and you can do it in a sink or a plastic tub. The entire piece has to be submerged for about a half-hour or so. From there, you just remove and scrub it with a steel scrubbing pad or steel wool. Depending on the amount of rust on the cookware, you may need to repeat this process several times. The cookware shouldn’t soak in the solution for more than 45 minutes per session. Once it’s free of rust, you should wash, rinse, dry, and season it again.
2. Lemon juice and coarse salt paste
A paste made of coarse salt and lemon juice can be quite an effective method for removing deeply embedded rust. You just scrub the rusted surface properly with the paste and let it sit before repeating again. You then rinse and dry once the cookware has been restored and season it.
3. Molasses and water
This is another method for naturally removing rust, although it’s time-consuming. You soak the cookware in a solution that consists of nine parts water and one part molasses and let it sit for about 7 to 10 days. The solution suspends oxidation. When the rust is removed from the cast iron cookware, you have to quickly re-season it or at least treat it by wiping down its entire surface with oil. You have to ensure the whole surface has no rust, and it’s clean and dry prior to re-seasoning and storing.
4. Techniques for severely rusted cookware
There are a couple of other techniques for removing rust from cast iron like sandblasting, using Naval Jelly, or electrolysis. Sandblasting is very effective at removing heavy rust but you need to take the cookware to a machine shop. The method uses sand or nutshells and compressed air to strip the cast iron cookware clean. It’s a totally safe method and won’t damage the cast iron cookware. Electrolysis is another highly effective method for removing heavy rust from cast iron cookware. This method is completely safe but requires caution.
However, these three techniques (sandblasting, using Naval Jelly, and electrolysis) are not recommended for the average user because they can be hazardous. They could easily end up causing damage to your cast iron cookware if you’re not well familiar with them and can also result in personal injury.
Scaling happens when the seasoning on the cookware sloughs off in large flakes. It usually occurs when you tend to heat the cookware too often without adding any extra oil to it. Once scaling starts, there’s really no going back. The only way to remedy it is to re-season the cookware from the start. Regularly oiling the cookware after each use and avoiding overheating it can also help prevent scaling.
In general, although maintaining cast iron cookware is slightly different from caring for copper, aluminum, or steel cookware, it’s no more difficult to maintain. Provided you oil it after use and season it occasionally and avoid the things we’ve mentioned above, cast iron will withstand wear and tear far better than other cookware materials and not require extensive care.
Cleaning cast iron cookware
Cleaning cast iron cookware is easy when you have the right tools, which are mainly water and a brush. Here is what the basic cleanup looks like.
- For starters, allow the cookware to cool down just enough to handle. It’s easiest to clean while it’s still warm because the stuck-on foods are still soft.
- Use heavy-duty paper towels to remove excel oil and bits of food
- Give your cookware a good rinse with warm water and then use a non-abrasive brush, sponge, or other scrubbing tools to further remove stuck-on food particles.
- For really stuck-on foods or black specks, you can use a more firm brush with short bristles (approximately an inch or less) to gently scrub them off.
- Should a stubborn bit remain or if extra abrasion is needed, then you can pour a bit of kosher salt and a few tablespoons of oil (like canola oil) into the cookware and gently scrub it using a paper towel until it comes clean. Rinse and wipe clean.
- Once clean, simply let it air dry or use a paper towel to dry it. You can also place it on the stovetop, range, or in the oven and set low-medium heat and let it heat for 1 to 3 minutes to completely remove any traces of water (which helps prevent rusting). Don’t leave the cookware unattended on the stovetop or in the oven.
- Once it’s clean and dry, you can rub it with a little bit of oil (canola works best in my experience) and let it rest a bit before storing it. Ensure the oil is applied and buffed in evenly so that it won’t create burned or shiny spots during the next use.
Note: Don’t ever put your cast iron cookware in the dishwasher or leave it soaked in the sink. Prolonged exposure to water will lead to rusting.
Is it okay to use soap on cast iron? No. It’s not good practice as dish soap is made to remove oil hence it will deplete the seasoning allowing moisture to penetrate the bare iron surface and cause rust.
On occasion, in case you cooked food like raw meat and you want to ensure there’s no residual bacteria, then you may use water and a bit of mild soap to clean it. However, for everyday cooking, it’s not recommended.
Storing cast iron cookware
Storing cast iron cookware is actually not much different from storing other cookware. However, since different metals tend to impact each other, it’s best to store your cast iron cookware separately.
You also want to be cautious when storing them due to their substantial weight. You want to store them where they are easily reachable. Many may feel more comfortable storing them in a low kitchen cabinet. This can prevent damage not only to the cookware but also to the flooring and your foot should a piece accidentally slide from your hand and drop when removing or storing it. Due to the size and weight, some people also prefer storing their cast iron cookware in an unused oven.
If you’re storing on hooks, ensure that the hangars are solidly and securely anchored into the wall or the ceiling. On the other hand, if you are nesting your pans and pots then stack the smaller pieces on top of larger pieces and make sure to place a paper towel or a cloth between each in order to prevent scratching of the surfaces and also to wick away any moisture.
In general, where you store cast iron cookware is less important than how you exactly store it. First off, you should ensure it’s always bone dry before storing, stacking, or hanging it. Secondly, ensure you store it in a cool, dry place so as to prevent rust.
You can apply a very thin coat of oil too if you choose. Many fans of cast iron cookware prefer to buff in a thin coat of canola oil into their pan or pot when storing. This is a good idea as it helps prevent oxidation or rusting, especially when the cast iron cookware is not used frequently or in an area with very high humidity.
Advantages of cast iron over other metals in making cookware
Cast Iron vs. Stainless Steel – although stainless steel comes at a higher price than cast iron, it’s marginally less durable. Cast iron is tough, heavy, and robust hence very durable. It can last decades with proper care. Stainless is strong but not durable as such. However, it’s more lightweight and easier to handle, plus it doesn’t need high maintenance like cast iron. The average thermal conductivity of stainless steel cookware is poor though (14.4 W/m K compare to 52 W/m K of cast iron). Nonetheless, some stainless steel pans and pots have a copper or aluminum core which significantly improves their thermal conductivity, more than that of cast iron. They also heat more evenly, are less prone to hotspots and you can cook acidic foods in them.
Cast Iron vs. Aluminum – aluminum cookware has superior thermal conductivity (at 237 W/m K) than cast iron cookware. However, on its own, aluminum cookware is not very strong. It’s weak than even stainless steel hence not quite durable and it’s susceptible to warping. Moreover, it can leach toxins into foods.
Cast Iron vs. Copper – copper is a totally different metal compared to cast iron. Whereas cast iron is robust, heavy, highly durable, and takes longer to heat up, copper is agile, lightweight, and super reactive to heat. It heats up almost instantly when put on a cooktop and has magnificent heat distribution. It heats faster and uniformly than any other metal across the board. However, it lacks both the high-temperature performance and durability that cast iron offers, plus it’s far more expensive. Cast iron also has excellent heat retention than it or any other metal.
Cast Iron vs. Carbon Steel – carbon steel has a poor shelf life than cast iron, it’s lightweight, and doesn’t retain heat well or offer the same high-heat performance that cast iron cookware has. Its thermal conductivity is also nearly similar to that of cast iron (51 W/m K). However, it offers far better non-stick qualities throughout its lifespan compared to cast iron (usually requires occasional seasoning) or other metals. It’s almost as good as Teflon pans and pots, but less harmful and more durable in terms of the non-stick property.
Cast Iron vs. Ceramic – ceramic pots and pans are quite robust and heavy like cast iron cookware but only marginally durable. They are also very poor at conducting heat (actually worse than cast iron). However, once they get hot they retain heat for a prolonged period of time just like cast iron cookware. Perhaps, the only area they have a great upper hand against cast iron is that they provide the only a 100% toxin-free cooking surface. They can be used to prepare almost all types of food. Also, unlike cast iron, they don’t require seasoning. Pans and pots made of ceramic often provide a smooth, nonstick cooking experience. They can be quite expensive than cast iron cookware though.
Potential deal breakers
Like any other cookware, cast iron has its drawbacks that some may consider potential deal-breakers and others not. They include:
1. It’s heavy
While the exact weight may vary by piece and brand, generally, cast iron cookware is often twice as heavy as stainless steel cookware and even way heavier compared to copper or aluminum cookware.
We did some research and looked at over 20 different stainless steel and cast iron skillets and discovered that most standard 12-inch cast-iron skillets usually weigh around 8 pounds on average, whereas standard stainless steel skillets of the same size weigh just about 4 pounds. In other words, a large cast-iron skillet would take two hands to move around for most cooks, especially when it’s full.
Cast iron itself isn’t really heavier than stainless steel, but most cast-iron cookware has thick walls to improve durability. In contrast, stainless steel has greater ductility hence it doesn’t need such thick walls, so stainless steel cookware tends to be much lighter. It’s easier to manipulate as you can toss food, flip burgers, slide around sauces, and move pans and skillets easily between a cooktop and an oven.
However, cast iron pans or pots don’t have this sleek maneuverability. Once you place it on a stovetop, then that’s where it will likely stay – moving it will require two sturdy hands and oven mitts, especially when you consider the weight of the pan or pot plus the food.
2. It’s slower to heat up
The thick design of cast iron cookware means that it takes pretty long to heat up the entire surface compared to other cookware, like stainless steel. You’ve probably experienced this yourself if you ever cooked with a cast iron pan at home. Regardless of the type of stove you cook on, copper, aluminum, and even stainless steel non-stick cookware will heat up almost instantly, whereas cast iron cookware can take a good 3 to 4 minutes before it gets really hot.
Moreover, cast iron pots and pans are usually less responsive to heat adjustments hence not ideal for cooking foods that require frequent changes in temperatures.
Does it matter where cast iron cookware is made?
Not really would be the answer to this question but given that there’s always a lot of concern, especially when it comes to Chinese products and heavy metals, knowing where your cast iron cookware is made is important.
China is no doubt the world’s manufacturing center for many industries but it has a somewhat infamous reputation for producing low-quality products that come at a more affordable price, and cookware is no exception. Although not always, cookware made in China is lower-quality and cheaper than cookware made in America, Europe, and other many countries around the globe.
There’ve been cases where cast iron pans and pots made in China are sold as actually “seasoned cast iron” yet they are coated with some sort of FDA-approved bake on paint for the seasoning, instead of vegetable oil. As such, the coating (black stuff) tends to chip off because it’s paint.
That said though, made in China doesn’t necessarily have to mean poor quality. Yes, their cookware may be more affordable and not really as high-quality as those from the better cookware producers, but you can still find some good Chinese cast iron pans and pots.
Besides, there are brands that often outsource their cast iron cookware manufacturing to factories in China, which are still produced to their strict quality standards. Lodge is a good example. All their foundry seasoned cast iron products are manufactured in America while all their enameled cast iron products are manufactured in China, but in line with their strict quality standards, plus they are overseen by an American 3rd party inspection company.
Generally, when it comes to properly seasoned cast iron cookware, hardly any company outsources its manufacturing in China. Nonetheless, it’s good to research the brand you are considering to find out where they manufacture their cast iron cookware. The best cast iron cookware brands come from the United States and France, and nearly all of them manufacture their seasoned cast iron cookware in their respective countries.
Best brands for cast iron cookware
There are many reputable cast iron cookware brands around the world and you can easily get confused about which one to go for. To give you a head start, we’ve listed below some of the best brands that you can check out.
Lodge (USA): originating from the US, Lodge is a cookware brand that’s widely preferred by most people for its affordable price point. As one of the main pioneers in manufacturing cast iron cookware, the company has been around for decades since back then when it was known as Blacklock. It’s actually the largest producer of cast iron skillets in America. Lodge pans are of good quality, affordable, and an excellent choice for many aspiring kitchen masters. Their skillets come in lots of different sizes and shapes, plus are widely available. To keep the quality of their products, all Lodge’s pans come pre-seasoned hence you can use them right out of the box once you rinse them.
Le Creuset (France): Le Creuset was founded in 1925. It is famous for its beautiful and colorful line of enameled cast iron cookware. The company’s first cast iron cookware was the French Oven and up to now, it is still one of their best sellers. This French company manufactures some of the best quality cast iron skillets in the globe, and buyers pay the price. They have enamel coating both inside and out. The enamel coating offers a non-stick action immediately you get it hence no need to season, ever.
Staub (French): also based in France, Staub combines modern technology and traditional craftsmanship in manufacturing its cookware. The company specializes in high-quality ceramic and cast iron cookware for both professional and home cooks. Their products are used all over the world and can be found in commercial and residential kitchens.
Chasseur (France): this is another French company that’s quite popular for producing enameled cast iron cookware. It is famous for its double-layer enamel featuring black edges meant to protect the cookware from rust and corrosion. Their cookware comes in a glossy or matte finish to ensemble your tastes and style. Each piece manufactured by Chasseur is hand-casted in individual sand molds. It then goes through a manual enameling process where strict quality control is observed. This stringent process ensures that the Chasseur cookware produced is one-of-a-kind.
Field (USA): All Field products are made in America. The company has its office headquarters based in New York City, whereas its production and fulfillment operations are carried out in its facilities in Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin. Its cast-iron cookwares are of really good quality. The company produces and sells lighter, smoother cast iron skillets reminiscent of some of the greatest vintage pans. As a matter of fact, Field pans are a bit lighter than those from other brands, so they are more comfortable for most users. However, they don’t come pre-seasoned hence you will need to season them before use.
FINEX (USA): FINEX is based in Portland, Oregon USA. It was established in 2012 by Mike Whitehead. The company is committed to manufacturing heirloom quality cast iron cookware that is designed with useful features and reimagined modern shape that is aimed at today’s cooks and kitchens. Their cast-iron pans and skillets simplify cooking with their distinctive angled design that features six pouring spouts (octagonal sides). They also come with quick-cooling ergonomic spring handles that are made of stainless steel. In addition, they have ultra-smooth polished cooking surfaces. The company also offers amazing five-quart cast iron Dutch ovens.
Stargazer (USA): Stargazer Cast Iron was established in 2015 by Peter Huntley, a professional kitchenware designer. The company is headquartered in Allentown, PA and makes all its cookware entirely in the United States (in Wisconsin, Ohio, and Pennsylvania). Their pans and skillets are affordable, and more balanced in their weight and heat conductivity. They are smooth to the touch too, featuring the company’s proprietary micro-textured surface finish which holds onto the seasoning pretty well. Their cookware comes in two finishes; seasoned and bare.