Disclaimer: this post talks about raw cast iron cookware — the kind you season — and not enameled cast iron.
Cast iron has really made a comeback. And with good reason.
These pots and pans can be used on the stove, oven, BBQ, and if you feel like hauling them to a campsite, you can even use them over and around the campfire. They are virtually indestructible and get better as they age. Here’s a few things to know when choosing, using, and caring for cast iron.
Choosing cast iron
Have you heard of light cast iron? It might not be cast iron.
Cast iron is heavier than its stainless steel counterpart. Some companies make cast iron that’s light weight. In some cases, it’s thinner. In some cases, it’s actually a blend of cast iron and (usually) aluminium. Either way, go with a traditional cast iron. If your great-grandmother was strong enough to use it to cook with, you probably are too.
Some companies provide complimentary seasoning. This is a great option because it saves you the time it takes to create an initial seasoning. This one from Lodge Cast Iron is made in America and uses a vegetable-based seasoning.
What is cast iron seasoning?
When we talk cast iron, seasoning doesn’t mean salt, pepper and a dash of cumin. It is a built-up layer of cooking oil.
Not just any cooking oil will do. You have to pick something that doesn’t go rancid quickly. While olive oil is great for a lot of things, it doesn’t sit well when exposed to air. Use something like canola or sunflower oil.
Without the layer of seasoning, cast iron will rust.
If your pan has rust spots on it, don’t throw it out! You can fix it.
The thing that intimidates most people about cast iron is the care. Once you get the basics down, it’s really quite simple. Check out my post on seasoning care.
Cooking on high heat
If you think using your cast iron pan on high heat is ok. It’s not.
I told you to put a layer of oil on your pan. Now how do you store cast iron?
The best way is with cork trivets. When stacking, place one underneath the pan, and one inside the pan.
The oil from the pan absorbs into the cork and keeps it moisturized. The cork is thick enough to prevent the oil from transferring to whatever is above or below it.
If you don’t have enough cork trivets, you can use dishtowels, butcher paper, parchment paper or wax paper. Just remember to wait until your cast iron has completely cooled before storing it.
Does cast iron work on my stove?
Cast iron can even work on an induction stove. Not sure if you have an induction stove? Then you probably don’t.
Induction uses a magnetic field instead of heat. If a pan responds to this magnetic field, small electric currents run through the metal heating the pan. You would probably know if you had induction because not all pans work with induction stoves.
Cast iron works with great with gas and electric (coil) stoves and can even work on some glass and ceramic cook tops. Some cast iron pans have three-dimensional logos on the bottom that don’t allow for even placement on glass or ceramic stoves. This means they might not trigger the sensor that allows the stove to start heating.
“But, Cookware Love, I have been told not to use cast iron on my glass-top stove!”
There’s two reasons for this:
Cast iron pans are seasoned. If the bottom of the pan (the part that touches the stove) is heavily seasoned, residual oil can transfer to the stove. Since the heat is on, it can fuse to the oil to the stove and it might not be removable.
Solution: avoid seasoning the outside of your pan.
Cast iron pans get hot — even the handles. If you grab a hot handle, your body will tell you to let go which might lead to dropping a heavy pan on a breakable surface. Moving the heavy pan on top of the stove can also permanently scratch the surface.
The solution: place it gently before you turn on the stove, and don’t move it until it has cooled down.
Note: if you are at all uncomfortable using cast iron on your glass or ceramic stove, don’t do it. Although I know plenty of people who have used cast iron their “sensitive cooking surfaces,” it’s not worth the risk.