So much for a mystery. Since you know where I’m going with this, I’ll get right to the bullet points.
Cast Iron Cookware does:
- have better thermal capacity than most other cookware metals, including copper, aluminum and stainless steel;
- conduct heat 5 times better than stainless steel;
- have non-stick properties to that of the leading ‘non-stick’ cookware; and does
- last forever (if properly cared for)
Cast Iron Cookware is also:
- heavier than most other cookware;
- not nearly as attractive as the stuff you bought at Bed, Bath & Beyond; and
- subject to rust — for cooks who don’t exercise some routine
Debunking the myths
Cast Iron and hot spots — It’s true. Cast iron skillets do not disperse heat as evenly as their copper or aluminum counterparts. Why is this not really relevant? Because good cooks know their pans. Besides, the cheaper the cast iron, the more likely you are to have ‘hot spots.’ At least in my experience. (I’ve not experienced this phenomenon with Lodge brand — made in the USA.)
Soap — I don’t use it on my cast iron. I simply empty the pan, add some water and bring to a boil. This loosens the food particles and offers some sterilization (without chemicals, mind you). Wipe with a paper towel. Leave over a hot burner for a minute or two. Add a little oil. It’s as clean as the Paula Deen cookware that comes from your dishwasher. — Can you use soap? Sure. Just make sure to add a little oil to help re-season the pan.
Extra Iron in the diet? — It depends on the source. But, the most reliable sources (American Dietetic Association and Journal of Food Science, among others) claim that such is true. All this means to you, really, is that all of your cells will really appreciate you for the oxygen that you helped provide them. But, you also might want to keep a can of oil nearby, just in case your joints begin to rust like the Tin Man.
Tomatoes and cast iron don’t mix — I’ve heard this for years. While my cast iron skillet rarely sees acidic foods, my cast iron Dutch ovens have cooked many pots of chili, spaghetti sauce and lasagna — recipes with acidic ingredients. If anything, the acid helped add a little more iron to my diet. As for the Dutch oven? No noticeable effects whatsoever.
Seasoning & Re-seasoning
Have a new pan? If it’s not preseasoned from the factory (such as many pans are these days), turn on your oven to 350ºF. Rub a generous amount of vegetable oil all over the pan. Place in oven for about an hour. — Your house will be smoky, so open a window and turn on the exhaust fan. Let it cool in the oven. That’s it.
So, someone left your cast iron skillet in the sink with water? Well, after you smack them around a little for breaking a major cast iron rule, just use some steel wool to remove the rust. Dry the pan completely (a stove top burner works well); then follow the directions for seasoning.
Alternative seasoning method: I learned this method as a Boy Scout and it works like a dream (without a smoky house). Break in your new unseasoned cast iron skillet by deep-frying in it. Make sure you rub a little oil on the outside of the pan once you’re done cooking.
Cooking in cast iron
Learning to cook in cast iron is really no different from learning with any other pan. Get to know it. Understand that it doesn’t lose heat very quickly, unlike its shiny counterparts. Learn where the hot spots are (if you own a decent cast iron skillet — such as one made by Lodge — you might not even notice hot spots). Fry in it. Sear in it. Bake some cornbread or a pineapple upside down cake in it. Love it, because it will probably be around much longer than you are.
Cast iron ain’t just for skillets! In fact, I own a handful of cast iron Dutch ovens for outdoor use. They are seasoned and treated in much the same way as the stuff you use on the stove top. But, they also have cast iron lids that might need a light coating of oil after cooking (since you use charcoal on the top and bottom of pan to ‘bake’ your meal).
If you’ve never tried this method of cooking, treat yourself to a 4-qt model — available at your local outdoor store for about $50 (for Lodge brand with legs and a handle). Also, get yourself a set of pliers for removing the hot lid after cooking.
There’s one thing you should never do with a cast iron Dutch oven: line it with aluminum foil. I’ve seen it done a million times and those people should be ashamed. It’s like going to a foreign country and eating at a McDonald’s … or casting pearls before swine.
The following recipe is one that really satisfies on a camping trip — and at home, as I realized a few weeks ago when our kitchen floor was jackhammered to replace a pipe below the foundation. It’s also really fun.
Dutch Oven Lasagna
2 lbs — Ground beef, browned and drained
23 oz jar — Your favorite spaghetti/marinara sauce
3 cups — Shredded Mozzarella
2 cups — Ricotta
1/2 cup — Grated Parmesan
2 — Eggs
1 TB – Italian seasoning (or 1/2 TB each of dried Basil & Oregano)
14 oz can — Artichoke hearts, drained and quartered
1 cup — Water
8 oz — Sliced fresh mushrooms
2 cups — Fresh spinach
About 15 lasagna noodles (I use the oven ready, but it’s not necessary)
Start about 24 pieces of charcoal in a charcoal starter. In about 10 minutes, they’ll be ready to cook with.
Combine 2 cups Mozzarella, Ricotta, Parmesan, eggs and seasoning. Set aside. Combine ground beef and spaghetti sauce. Set aside.
Layer the bottom of the Dutch oven with lasagna noodles. Spread about one-fourth of the meat/sauce mixture over noodles. Spread about one-third of the cheese mixture over meat. Top with a handful of mushrooms, spinach and artichoke hearts. Repeat until you have three full layers. Finish the top layer with remaining meat/sauce mixture, spinach. Season with additional Italian seasoning, if desired. Pour water around the outer edge of the assembled lasagna.
Place lid on Dutch oven. Disperse 12 charcoal briquettes beneath the vessel. Scatter another 12 briquettes on the lid. Bake for about 45 minutes. Top with remaining cup of Mozzarella and bake for another 15 minutes.
Serves a family of 5, with enough for the neighbors.