Cast Iron Skillets
Why Cook with Cast Iron?
Cast iron used to be common in the kitchen. These days you see more Teflon. Trouble is, Teflon wears out in a relatively short period, even if you take good care of it.
Cast iron, on the other hand, can be handed down from generation to generation. I should know. One of my cast iron skillets belonged to my grandmother. It's my favorite.
Did you know that cooking in cast iron can actually increase the iron content of your food? This is particularly true of acidic foods, but it can help with others as well.
Is Cast Iron Hard to Care For?
Caring for your cast iron can sound a little intimidating. It's not quite as simple as caring for your regular pots and pans. You do have to give it a little more thought.
Fortunately, not too much.
Rule number one is to clean it promptly, especially if you have acidic foods in there. These won't harm it as such, but you will have to reseason your skillet if the acid sits for too long.
You also can't let water sit in it for too long, for the rather obvious reason that cast iron rusts. Once again, this is not a complete disaster, as all you have to do is take some steel wool to scrub off the rust, then reseason your skillet.
That's pretty much the only time you should use steel wool on cast iron, by the way.
Some people use salt to scrub their cast iron. It works quite well, but nothing really replaces soap and water. Just reseason as necessary.
It's strongly recommended that you heat your cast iron skillet to dry it. A towel can do a pretty good job, but it will still leave some dampness which can lead to rust. It's pretty easy to put the skillet back on the burner or oven still warm from cooking, and let the heat take care of the water.
Coat very lightly with a neutral cooking oil, and put away.
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How Do You Season Cast Iron?
Most cast iron you buy now is preseasoned, so this is not a step you will probably have to work on right away. But don't be surprised if you have to do this occasionally.
Once your skillet is thoroughly cleaned with soap and water, heat your oven to 350 degrees F. Heat the skillet on the stovetop to dry it completely.
Apply vegetable or coconut oil to the entire skillet with a paper towel.
Layer the bottom of the oven or the lower shelf with aluminum foil to catch any drippings. Place the skillet upside down in the oven and leave on for at least an hour. Turn off and leave the skillet in the oven until cool.
Cast Iron Skillets on Amazon
Cast Iron Seasoning Video
What's Best About Cooking with Cast Iron?
I've already mentioned some benefits of cooking with cast iron, such as it not wearing out and that it adds a bit of iron to your diet. But there are more benefits.
1. Cast iron is extremely affordable. You can get great cast iron skillets, cast iron dutch ovens and more from antique shops, or just buy them new. Either way you're likely to get a great piece of cookware.
2. Cast iron can be used on the stove top or in the oven.
For some recipes, this is really handy. Start out browning your meat on the stove, then add more ingredients and put it in the oven. Very easy and it can save on cleanup.
Just be sure that you don't buy any cast iron with parts that can't go in the oven. Sometimes the handle type will limit you.
3. Cast iron can be beautiful.
Sure, it's black if you buy the basic cast iron. There's a certain appeal to that for some people, but if you don't like it, go for enameled cast iron. Beautiful colors are available, and you still get some of the advantages of cooking with cast iron.
However, you will generally lose the advantage of getting more iron in your diet when you cook in enameled cast iron, since the iron will not actually come in contact with your food if the enamel is on the inside of the skillet as well as the outside.
One Dish Cooking with Cast Iron
One of the great things about cast iron cookware is that it can be used on the stove top and the oven. That can make for less mess as you cook.
Your typical one dish meal includes your vegetables, meat and/or grain all in one dish. Most of them are fairly simple to make. The crockpot is a common way to make one dish meals, but your cast iron cookware can do it too.
For example, consider this shepherd's pie recipe:
1 lb lean ground beef
1 cup beef broth
2 bay leaves
dash thyme leaves
1 cup sliced carrots
1 sliced onion
1 cup frozen peas
1 cup frozen corn
1/2 cup beef broth
1-1/4 tbsp flour
2-3 cups mashed potatoes
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
Brown ground beef in large skillet. Drain excess grease. Add 1 cup broth, pepper, bay leaves and thyme. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes.
Add carrots and onions. Cover and simmer until carrots are slightly tender. Add peas and corn and continue to simmer until all vegetables are cooked.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
Combine 1/2 cup broth and flour. Mix until smooth.
Add to beef and vegetables. Simmer until slightly thickened.
Place beef mixture in bottom of casserole dish. Top with mashed potatoes and sprinkle with mozzarella cheese. Bake 10 minutes.
When I make this recipe, I use my large cast iron skillet and put it into the oven instead of the casserole dish. It works great. If I need something deeper, then a cast iron dutch oven will do the job. The mashed potatoes can be made either from flakes in a bowl, or by microwaving potatoes and mashing them in a bowl. Strictly speaking, I suppose that's a second dish, but it's one that just goes in the dishwasher like the knives and cheese grater, so it doesn't really add to the mess much.