I have been cooking with cast iron pans for more than a decade. My 10-inch cast iron pan is one of the most important cooking tools in my kitchen. Cast iron pans have lots of benefits for home cooks: they are sturdy, energy efficient, and makes an awesome, toxin-free non-stick surface. Below I will share share my reasons why I choose cast iron, and then I’ll share my best cast iron tips.
Cast Iron is Energy Efficient
First and foremost, cast iron is incredibly useful for those of us (all of us?!) that want to reduce energy usage. Cast iron pans heat up more slowly, but once warm, cast iron holds and distributes heat evenly. Cast iron also stays hotter, longer, than stainless steel or other types of pans. Usually, you can cook on a lower heat in cast iron, which means that the stovetop isn’t running as hot, and I don’t need to leave the cooking food on it for as long—both great ways to reduce energy usage in your home. I often turn off the burner and let the residual heat finalize the dish. 2. Cast iron is affordable!
These sturdy pans are less expensive than other options in the stores, and there’s literally no way to damage or dent these things (though, the pans can damage other things, like tile floors or anything that’s breakable). If cared for, cast iron pans will also stand the test of time and last… forever! The most common brand to find here in the US is Lodge brand; these come pre-seasoned and ready to go. If you want to splurge you can invest in Le Crueset enameled cast iron pans, which do not need to be seasons as the enamel protects the cast iron inside.
Over the years many people have told me that cast iron seems too hard to cook with, but this doesn’t have to be the cast. I cook all types of foods and dishes in my cast iron with success. If you follow the below tips for cooking with cast iron, you will be ready for cooking success.
Tip #1. Season your cast iron pan well, and often.
Cast iron only works if it’s seasoned well, which means it needs to be oiled after each use. Most new cast irons will come pre-seasoned, but it still needs to be cared for after each use.
Heat the over low heat until nice and warm. Add some good high heat oil (see my recommendations below). When the pan is warm, rub the oil into the pan evenly using a paper towel or pastry brush. Turn off the heat and let the oil absorb into the pan. You might want to do this a few times to build an even and solid patina, that sheen of smooth iron that will occur when the pan is properly seasoned. You can also do this in the oven, but I think it’s easier on the stovetop.The most important tip is to not use soap—ever! This will remove any seasoning that has been built up on the pan. This patina is what ensures the cast iron remains non-stick.
If your pan is looking a bit rusty you can use a scrubber sponge with no soap or a dish brush with stiff bristles. Before cooking, definitely remove any visible rust (don’t forget the sides and bottom). Rinse well the pan well, and then put it on the stovetop and follow the above directions.
Tip #2. Use proper oils
Cast iron pans get hot, so it’s important to use high-heat cooking oils. High-heat oils like avocado oil, sunflower oil, and ghee are the best options for cast iron because they can withstand higher heat than olive or coconut. Olive oil and coconut oil are my overall favorite oils to work with, but their smoke point is too low and often ends up smoking if the cast iron gets too warm.
Tip #3. Heat and Cook Properly in a Cast Iron
Once you season the pan well, you can cook in it just like in any other pan. Warm the skillet on the stove until hot to the touch, then add a bit of high-heat oil. Swirl to coat the pan, then begin cooking. After years or seasoning and use, I use my cast iron to cook everything: tempeh, tofu, grains, and veggies.
Tip # 4. How to clean your cast iron properly
Let the pan cool completely after cooking. NEVER place a hot pan into cool water, as it can cause irreparable warping and potentially scald you when the water gets too hot. Scrub any stuck food off with a scrubby without soap or using a stiff-bristled brush. Use only water and the scrubby only to ensure that your nice patina stays intact; if some food gets stuck, soak for a few hours, but don’t soak overnight as it can rust above the water line. If you can, turn the pans upside down to dry fully. I store my pans in the oven, so I let it dry fully on the rack between uses.