I was just getting a glass of water and looked down into my sink. There was my old cast iron skillet that I’ve been using faithfully for decades. I was neglecting it a bit as it was filled with water, but not really. It’s well-seasoned and can stand up to just about anything. I’ve been using cast iron skillets for over 25 years, and it’s never let me down. As I was looking at the little skillet I thought about how great these pans were and felt the need to evangelize their use because it will make your life so much easier when it comes to kitchen clean-up. And if there’s anything my readers need is something to ease the burdens just a bit.
People just don’t know about cast-iron. Long ago most families switched over to those shiny, pretty stainless steel and copper cookware sets. We gave up that heavy, textured-metal, black cooking tool that seemed so antiquated. And indeed they were a cultural relic. People had been using cast iron for cooking since the 15th century. When we made that transition to stainless steel, though, we unknowingly made our cooking lives fundamentally harder. The lightweight metal pans may have been easier to pick-up, but are fundamentally much harder to clean, don’t cook as well, and cost us a lot more in the end.
The most important reason to have a cast iron skillet is it will make your cleanup life much easier. Think about it, when your fry things it’s almost always a huge mess, with burnt grease and stuck-on food all over. Every bit of that that obviously needs to be removed and the pan to be 100% grease free so as not to get ruined. Conversely, cast iron loves grease. It’s what keeps it in-tact. It’s what helps it to be the incredible cooking tool that it is. And it’s already black, so you don’t have to scrub every inch of it clean because that’s not even the point with these pans. Scrubbing all the grease off will in fact ruin these pans. Cooking sauces in these deep-sided pans will also reduce your clean-up load substantially. The entire pan is non-stick when properly seasoned and anything stuck on comes off in a breeze.
The second reason that you need a cast iron skillet is that it is fundamentally better cookware. Unlike a stainless steel pan that gets such a huge temperature variation between right under the heat source and the surrounding metal, cast iron absorbs it and distribute it better. It allows your food to cook more evenly, without scorching spots and it reduces issues with burning. Cast iron holds the heat better, so even after you’re finished cooking, if you throw a lid on it, your food will stay warm for a long time.
The final reason you need a cast iron skillet is that you will save yourself money over the course of your cooking lifetime. A 12” skillet will cost somewhere between $20 and $40. Any stainless steel skillet worth buying will cost you at least $50, but realistically upwards of $150. And unless you impeccably keep up with the intense cleaning requirements, over time the quality of the skillet will go down and it will inevitably need replacing several times. A well-seasoned cast iron skillet will last throughout your lifetime.
I have found that often people are scared of cast iron because they are so hard to care for. Quite the contrary. Once you know how to clean and dry them, as I said before they are substantially less work. The wisdom of how to care for this amazing cookware has been lost to most and only the myths remain. People believe that they cannot touch water and that they require some highly-detailed sophistication to keep them from being ruined. They are heavy, which can be difficult for anyone who cannot life. But there’s no avoiding that, unfortunately. The smaller skillets don’t weigh much at all though and are still very useful tools.
Here’s how to take care of your skillet to ensure that it will be the best cookware you’ve ever owned. First of all, season your pan well! To season your pan means to build up a thick, carbonized layer of grease/oil that will act as a non-stick coating. Seasoning is the key. From Southern Living Magazine, here are the steps to season the pan properly when you first get it:
- Scrub skillet well in hot soapy water.
- Dry thoroughly.
- Spread a thin layer of melted shortening or vegetable oil over the skillet.
- Place it upside down on a middle oven rack at 375°. (Place foil on a lower rack to catch drips.)
- Bake 1 hour; let cool in the oven.
I do this twice, sometimes three times with a new pan, depending on how well the first one or two take. You want the pan to be glossy and smooth with the oil evenly distributed. This seasoning may need to be repeated every few years until it’s built-up a thick layer of carbonized oil that will protect it from just about anything.
How you clean the pan will determine whether or not it will be the amazing tool I’ve been raving on about, or it will get rusty and impossible to use. You may use water, but avoid soap. I use very hot water and a soft cloth. It does not need to be grease-free. It does not need to be completely clean like a stainless steel pan. It just needs to have all the chunks of food out and the vast majority of the grease. After cleaning wipe out with a paper towel or dry cloth. Put it on low on your burner for a few minutes to heat off any moisture remaining and that’s it. Some people will then wipe the inside with another thin layer of clean oil, but I don’t do that anymore. It might be a good idea when it’s new and not yet fully-seasoned however.
Adding purchasing a cast-iron skillet to your New Year’s Resolutions will not exactly be your most ambitious or exciting goal, but could be one of the easiest and most convenient changes you’ll make this year.
Happy Cooking!! And Happy New Year.