Chances are, you have a cast iron dutch oven and a couple of cast iron skillets among your preparedness gear. You’ve chosen it, most likely, due to its ability to use it over an open fire and it’s durability and ruggedness. However, if you’re not cooking with your cast iron every day, why not?
Do you think dutch ovens and cast iron skillets are your only choices? Far from it! Some of these, especially #6 and #9, can even be appreciated by college students and recent grads.
- Grill pan, complete with ribbed bottom for grilling meat
- Reversible two-burner grill /griddle, perfect for pancakes or meat
- Tortilla press
- Grill press, great to use with a grill pan
- Pizza pan (reheats delivery pizza better than in a microwave)
- Loaf pan
- Sauce pot
- Mini-skillet, perfect for a single egg (or buy the slightly larger square one for grilled cheese)
- Muffin pan
With care, and perhaps even without care, cast iron cookware will last nearly forever, ensuring you can pass it down to your children or grandchildren. It cooks well, on both gas or electric stoves and it’s okay to use metal utensils when cooking. When’s the last time you were able to do that with modern, non-stick cookware?
Seasoning Cast Iron
Even though your grandparents probably used their cast iron everyday, it has fallen out of favor in contemporary times mainly due to its heaviness and the increasing phobia to germs. Since you don’t wash cast iron with soap, many people are uncomfortable with simply rinsing out the pan. Others are leery of the seasoning process, where a thin layer of fat is burned into the iron. In truth, seasoned cast iron is probably far better for you than non-stick pans, so popular today.
To repeat: DO NOT wash cast iron with soap. Ever. If you do, you will have to re-season it.
The first thing to keep in mind is, like any iron, cast iron can rust. Whether you have a new skillet from Lodge, or an Griswold heirloom, all cast iron rusts when not taken care of properly. (Lodge cast iron is still proudly Made in the USA.)
In order to keep it from rusting, it needs to be seasoned well and kept seasoned. There are several ways to do this, and in a home environment, it’s pretty easy. If you were using it outside on an extended basis, it would need greater care, as it would be exposed to the harshness of the weather (rain, humidity, temperature changes which cause condensation, etc.).
Seasoning cast iron involves coating with a layer of fat or shortening and heating until it blackens and smokes. If you’re starting with an unseasoned pan, you’ll want to coat the entire pan with a light coating of oil or grease and put into a 400 degree oven for about an hour. You can even use Crisco shortening, which I find works very well for seasoning. Expect a lot of smoke when you season in the oven, so plan accordingly.
Similar to cast iron is seasoned steel. Seasoned steel is used and cared for just like cast iron. The advantage, though, is it isn’t as heavy. It might seem odd, at first, as it looks different from cast iron, but it performs similarly. While not as thick as the iron pans, the steel is denser and will evenly distribute heat. They seem to cool off more quickly, too.
Cleaning Seasoned Cast Iron
When used everyday, the care for your cast iron is fairly simple. After cooking, using hot water, a brush and NO soap, scrub out the pan. Don’t be afraid to scrub any food stuck to the pan, as any seasoned coating worn off is easily replaced.
Once cleaned, you can dry it with a towel or put the pan back on the stove and heat up the pan, which causes the water to evaporate. It also opens the pores of the iron and is an ideal time to give it a light coat of oil, grease, or shortening. Once coated, continue heating until there’s a good amount of smoke occurring. The smoke lets you know the fat is turning into carbon, which is the “season” in seasoning.
This “light-duty” seasoning is usually all that’s needed with everyday home use. You don’t need to season the pan every time you use it, though you could if you wanted to. We find that seasoning the pan every 2nd, 3rd or 4th time used is generally enough to keep a good seasoning on it.
Occasionally, do a deep seasoning on the pan to keep it well seasoned, either in the oven or on the stove-top. This involves heating the pan for longer and applying two or three coats of Crisco, and letting come to a good smoke.
When many people use cast iron at first, they hate it. They complain of food sticking and an awful experience to clean. Knowing how to care for and protect your cast iron will make you a believer in its longevity and the ease of use.
A well-seasoned pan has a nearly non-stick surface, but an unseasoned pan can be a nightmare to cook with. On a more positive side, you can acquire a lot of cast iron this way, via garage sales or simply by taking it off their hands.
In my household, we use cast iron and seasoned steel for nearly all of our cooking, and I talked about our experiences in a recent podcast. If interested, you can listen to my podcast “Cast Iron, Seasoned Steel, and a Starvation Study” or one of these podcasts:
By using cast iron with your everyday cooking, you are not only getting more iron and less chemicals in your diet, but you’re also learning how to cook with time-tested cooking gear.