Cast Iron Cookware: Not Just for the Campfire
People have used cast iron cookware for ages. This week, in blogs about cooking while camping, we talked a lot about cast iron skillets, Dutch ovens, and grill pans. But cast iron cookware has a place in your household kitchen, as well—and you don’t have to settle for basic black (though, I admit, there is an attraction to that for me).
Even in this modern age of high-tech kitchenware, a solid cast iron skillet is still one of the most versatile and economical choices for everyday cooking. It’s an ideal alternative to non-stick pans with many added benefits.
Why is cast iron so useful? Two of the reasons have to be the way heat is evenly distributed over the surface of the pan and the natural non-stick coating of well-seasoned cast iron cookware. Many professional chefs prefer cast iron to modern non-stick pans: they require minimal maintenance and are long-lasting. Cast iron cookware also has excellent heat retention properties. The entire pan will eventually become hot, including the iron handle or handles. Manufacturers recommend chefs use oven mitts to handle the cookware.
A seasoned skillet is a happy skillet
What was that part about “well-seasoned”? Before you begin using a new or refurbished cast iron skillet, it must be prepared for use through a process called seasoning. It’s not especially difficult, but it does need to done right and often to maintain the natural non-stick qualities of the pan.
Take a close look at a well-used cast iron skillet. If you notice a black layer on the cooking surface of the skillet, then that’s a good indication it is well seasoned.
Cast iron seasoning is the practice of applying a very thin coating of oil to the cookware, then using heat to seal the coat and create a natural non-stick surface. The oil creates a thin, level surface that prevents food from sticking to microscopic bumps and ridges. Seasoning allows you to use little to no additional oil when cooking with the pan. This results in healthier, low-fat meals. Many chefs consider cast iron cookware to be the best choice for achieving even browning. Here’s how to season your cookware at home:
- Use paper towel or clean cloth to rub a small amount of vegetable oil on the inside of the skillet.
- Place the skillet upside down in a 450 degree oven for 30 minutes with some aluminum foil below it to capture any excess oil.
- Allow the pan to cool slowly in the oven before removing.
- Repeat up to four times for best results.
Caution: Avoid using soap or placing seasoned cast iron in the dishwasher. Soap breaks down oil, which will remove the seasoning. This will allow water to rest on the metal, resulting in rust and cracking that can render the skillet unusable. Hot water, salt, and a sponge are all a cast iron skillet needs to be cleaned—plus a fresh coat of oil after it has been dried.
Cast iron is strong and can take a lot of heat. This makes it equally suitable for any kind of stove top range, oven-baking, and, as we’ve seen, over a campfire. With proper care, it is unlikely to wear down. Washed and seasoned regularly, cast iron will last for decades.
More than skillets and Dutch ovens
When people first think of cast iron cookware, they often picture a skillet and a cowboy hunkered down over a campfire. But cast iron is used for much more than skillets—or the other camping standard, a Dutch oven. Here are some other unique kitchen tools made of cast iron:
- Lodge Pro-Logic Cast Iron Wok: 14″ pre-seasoned cast iron wok has a perfectly rounded interior with a flat exterior bottom for use on all types of cook tops.
- BroilKing Professional Portable Cast Iron Range: When you need an extra burner, this commercial-quality counter top range is big on quick heating yet small on space.
- Lodge Logic Double Burner Griddle: This griddle spans two burners on your stove and offers two cooking functions: grill steaks, chops, and burgers on the ridged side and pancakes and sandwiches on the smooth surface.
- Lodge Logic Professional Pizza Pan: This pizza pan produces a golden crust every time and is also great for roasted vegetables, pork chops, chicken, and beef.
- Le Creuset Square Grill Pan with Panini Press: Sear and grill meat, fish and vegetables indoors, seal in juices and create browned-to-perfection grill marks with this grill pan and press.
- Le Creuset Gourmet Fondue Set: Start this smoothly enameled cast iron fondue pot on the stove for fast heating, then transfer to stand with burner while dining.
Summer is the prime time to go camping! But what about meals? What special tools or methods of cooking to you need to use your campfire for more than just a gathering place? Check out these blogs on Cooking in Camp from CHEFS Mix:
- Cooking In Camp: Campfire Cooking Like A Pro
- Cooking in Camp: Food on the Trail
- Cooking in Camp: Campfire Methods
- Cast Iron Cookware: Not Just for the Campfire
Your turn: Have you used cast iron cookware? Share your experience.