I became a convert to the cast iron way of life about 5 years ago when I found a 10” Griswold pan in the basement of my parent’s house. Long forgotten from my father’s college days, it still had its shiny seasoning coating the bottom without a speck of rust. I took it home, excited to find an alternative to non-stick Teflon pans, which research has shown may cause ill health effects from the chemicals in the coating.
Five years later, that Griswold is the pan I cook with 95% of the time. Aside from a saucepan to boil water, or a stockpot to make soup in, I use my cast iron for everything. As a permanent fixture on my stove top, I don’t even bother putting it away in the cabinet. I use it every morning to cook my eggs, and every evening to sauté vegetables or brown meat. And the best part is I barely have to clean it.
Cast iron pans build up a ‘seasoning’ that creates a non-stick surface without the use of chemical coatings. This seasoning comes from the oil and microscopic food bits that get cooked into the bottom of the pan every time you use it, so the more you use the pan, the better seasoning it will have. That seasoning also adds flavor to the food, giving your meals a uniqueness only your pan can create. Cast irons retain heat better than most other pans, so you can get a cleaner sear on your meat and the food will stay hotter longer. Best of all, cast iron pans will boost your iron intake – so if you are iron deficient, an athlete, or happen to be of the female sex, a cast iron pan can help you get that little bit extra iron your body needs.
Cast iron pans can have a bad rap for rusting easily or being hard to clean, but they are much easier to maintain and clean than a normal pan with just a couple easy steps:
Use it every day….or at least A LOT. The more you use it, the better the seasoning, and the less likely it will rust.
Once you are done cooking, remove the food from the pan and give it a quick rinse immediately. I only rinse it with water and use a soft scrub brush if there are any stuck-on pieces of food, but I never use soap.
Put it back on the stove and let it dry naturally. As I mentioned above, cast irons retain their heat for a long time, so the pan will still be hot enough to dry off the leftover water particles on the pan.
If you didn’t manage to wash out the pan when it still retained residual heat, then place it over a burner on medium heat for a minute until the water has evaporated. Just make sure you keep an eye on it and don’t forget that it is there!!
NEVER put the cast iron in your dishwasher or leave in a drying rack to dry. This is how rust accumulates.
So, if I’ve convinced you about how amazing cooking with a cast iron pan can be, then there are a couple ways to add one into your cooking repertoire. If you are amazingly lucky like me and happen to find a perfectly seasoned pan in your parent’s basement, then GET COOKING!! But if not, thrift stores and second-hand stores can be an excellent place to find one. They may be rusty or not in great condition, but one of the benefits of cast iron is that its durable and hardy and can be brought back into tip-top shape in no time. Here is a link on how to resuscitate a rusty cast iron and re-season it: http://www.lodgemfg.com/use-and-care/refurbish-your-finish. Or you can purchase a new one, which will come pre-seasoned and ready to go. Lodge makes excellent pans that you easily find online or in many retail stores.