Cooking in Cast Iron
This is part 3 of a series of posts about cast iron cookware
Missed the other posts?
Why I Cook with Cast Iron and Cast Iron Cleaning, Restoration, and Care
Cooking With Cast Iron
You may think that it is the same as cooking with your regular non stick pans, but there are some subtle differences that can change the way you cook.
Tips so you don’t burn your food
I think the first big difference (besides the weight) is how it heats. When I was first learning to cook my dad taught me to preheat the pan. When I was older and not using cast iron I found that preheating the same way would burn my pan.
- Always preheat the pan. Iron is not more conductive, but it does hold heat well. Once the pan is hot, it will stay hot longer.
- Once you get the pan at the heat you want, turn the heat down a little. If you don’t your food will start to burn as you go on.
- When your food is almost done, go ahead and turn the heat off. The heat in the pan should finish it off.
- You don’t need to keep it on heat to keep your food warm, just put the lid on.
Until you are comfortable with cast iron, keep a close eye on it. It’s easy to over cook your food. My boyfriend likes to cook dinner early and let it sit on the back burner on the lowest temp. I keep telling him not to do this in the cast iron because it gets too hot. Yesterday he made chili and let it sit to get the best flavors. An hour after he set it to low and left it alone, I found it boiling and half of the amount. (He is only recently learning about cast iron.)
This is my son, for his 15th Birthday he received his great-great-grandmother’s #9 Skillet! This was the first time he cooked in it! The pan is at least 100 years old.
Tips so you don’t burn yourself
Cast iron is heavy, and it gets hot. Chances are you will burn yourself at least once. The hope is that you don’t burn yourself badly.
- Always use a dry towel or pot holder when you grab the handles. Even if it is not hot yet, assume it is. (I am going to make handle covers soon, and will share the results.)
- Like other pans, keep the handles to the side, and not sticking out.
- Cook on the lowest heat needed to cook your food. Since cast iron holds heat better, the lower heat will cause a higher temp in the pan over time.
- Careful adding liquids to the pan. The heat could cause splashing and steam. If it’s oil splashing that can be VERY dangerous.
- Don’t leave spoons or spatulas in the pan. They heat up and you will burn yourself when you pick them up.
- When pouring something out be careful of the steam. Since it is so heavy use both hands, but this puts you at a higher risk for steam burns. Your best bet is to let things cool some, and pour slowly.
My son dreams of being a chef someday, and he loves his cast iron. Recently has helped me restore pans even.
Over all Cooking Tips
- You don’t have to worry about scratching up your pans like aluminium and non stick pans. So feel free to use a fork to stir your food. Always use metal or wood when cooking with cast iron. If you try to use plastic or silicon, it could melt and then introduce toxic things to your food. Once the pan is cool you can use them as serving utensils still.
- Don’t use Soap on your pans. If you feel you have to, it won’t do too much damage. If it is a new season, yes it could do more damage, but a good season is hard to remove. Every now and then you can use soap but it is best to avoid it.
- To clean you pans get wet, and scrub out with steel wool, rinse, heat and oil. Sometimes food will be harder to get off, and you can heat the pan up a little and scrub it. I find cast iron is best cleaned when warm. When you heat it to dry, you will kill off any unwanted bacteria.
- NEVER put your pans in the dishwasher…I don’t even want to see the damage after that.
- ALWAYS heat dry your pans. It is the best way to be sure the pan is dry. If it’s not, it will rust, and you will have to fix it again.
- Cast Iron is good on the stove top, in the oven, or even over a camp fire. You can fry in it, bake in it, or even cook a soup. If you use my boil out method for seasoning your pans this works best if you plan on cooking a variety of things. I once tried to make potato soup in a pan seasoned with just oil (not boiled) and it gave my soup a horrid film on that ruined the flavor. I suggest to always use a boil out for dutch ovens.
- Anything can be cooked in cast iron, but always keep an eye on your food. The darker color and weight will effect baking. If you are making breads in it, be sure to adjust the cooking time.
- Don’t waste money on scrapers, or special cleaning things. Most of them don’t work or ruin the season on the pan. Just get super cheap steal wool and use water, oil, heat, and elbow grease. Paper towels (Or paperless towels) are pretty helpful too so you can apply the oil and get the last food residues off.
- Kids can use cast iron, I did, but always watch them closely and explain the dangers to them. Don’t teach them to fear it, but a healthy respect for these pans is needed.
- Until you have that perfect non stick season on your pan, be sure to use plenty of oils. It is best to stick with better quality oils or animal fat oils. Cheap vegetable oils will form a nasty mess on your pans that is hard to clean. I learned that in my 20’s when I was trying to cut back on meats and save money. I now swear by bacon grease or real butter.
- You will get a little smoke from time to time. Don’t stress. As long as the food looks good, just turn on the oven fan and open a window. Turning the temp down will help some too. It will almost ALWAYS smoke when you clean it.
Learn to love your Cast Iron!
The best thing you can do, is just start using your cast iron. The more you use it, the better it gets, and after a while everything will be second nature. Don’t let yourself get easily discouraged.