Chefs love cast iron’s durability and its ability to evenly retain heat. What’s old is new again. Cast iron comes in all sizes from pans that hold a single fried egg to 20-inch giants that weigh 25 pounds and take up two burners. You can pick up a cast iron pan for $25 to $300. I like 10-inch skillets for everyday cooking, which are between four to six pounds and can comfortably accommodate a pack of chicken thighs. Remember that a bigger pan is a heavier pan, which limits how easily you can maneuver it as you cook.
Make sure to season your cast iron pan. Use a paper towel to rub your pan all over with a very light coat of neutral oil like grapeseed or vegetable oil and then place in a 500-degree oven for an hour. You want your pan to have a matte dark finish. Remove from the oven and let cool. Rub another very light coat of oil all over before storing. The very best thing that you can do to maintain that new seasoning is to get cooking. Each time you cook a steak or chicken thighs, the fat adds another coat to the pan’s surface, which will create a glassy finish over time. Re-season when your pan starts to look dry and dull or if you can’t remember the last time you cooked in it. Always rub you pan down with a thin coat of neutral oil before storing.
Just because you can cook it in cast iron doesn’t mean that you should! There are some foods that you definitely should not cook in your cast iron. Fish is not something that I would cook in cast iron unless I want to infuse next day’s pancakes with the essence of fish. Tomato sauce’s high acidity reacts with cast iron, which creates an unpleasant metallic flavor. I’d skip cooking scrambled eggs in cast iron unless I want to be on dish duty for an hour or two after breakfast.
Wash your pan! Yes, you do need to wash your pan. Each time you cook with cast iron a few burnt and crusty food bits inevitably seem to stick to the pan. If you don’t scrub it clean between uses, those bits will fossilize under subsequent layers of seasoning, which create an irregular surface that will never become truly nonstick (the opposite of what you want). Wash your pan with hot water and a drop of dish soap while it’s still warm. Take care not to let the pan soak in water. Wipe down the pan and then set it over a low flame for a few minutes to fully dry. Rub all over with a very light coat of neutral oil before storing (just like you would after seasoning it). These steps are crucial for keeping your pan in fighting form against Public Enemy Number One – RUST! If you ever do have spot rust just use and old toothbrush dipped in distilled vinegar to scrub it off, let it dry, and then rub in a drop of oil. If you make a regular habit of cleaning your cast iron you’ll have a faithful companion for life.
“Work With What You Got!”
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