Cast Iron Cookery

I found an old cast iron skillet at a junk shop the other day. Brought her home, cleaned her up and seasoned her, and she’s a beaut. It’s inspired me to do a small series on cast iron– how to cook in it, and how to take care of it– so that you never have to buy another damn teflon pan again. Anyone interested?

I am a huge fan of cast iron. I’ve been cooking in it for 15 years. I love the fact of it’s permanence. You can get an old cast iron from your grandmother, and pass it on to your grandchildren. Never worse for wear. I am even fond of it’s heft in a weird way. Cast iron is solid, man. The seasoning may come and go, but the pan itself endures all.

I love the way you don’t have to worry about your cast iron pans. Take care of them, yes. Jealously guard them from well-meaning but ill-informed dinner guests? No. I hate the way teflon encourages stress in the kitchen. My dad always used teflon pans. He was pretty much the only person allowed to use or wash them, and they got stored on a high shelf behind a closed door. After a nice dinner party he’d have to jump up with alarm when someone approached the pile of dirty dishes.

And if you’re not stressed out about your teflon, you should be. Teflon is theoretically safe, so long as it is never heated too hot,  washed with an abrasive scrubbie, or touched by metal of any kind, which will de-laminate the coating. As a side note, if ever you decide your bucket of freshly dug razor clams would be good sauteed with some garlic butter, do not attempt this in your new teflon pan. Ahem. Even well washed clams harbor bits of sand that will rip the shit out of teflon.

So, you’re convinced? Ready to cast off the shaggy teflon nonsense and cast on some cast iron? Alright!

Cast iron skillets can often be found at thrift stores, garage sales, or your grandmother’s basement. They don’t have to look pretty to be good pans. I once recovered a complete rust bucket found in the grass by an old campsite. A little work, as we shall see in the next post, but it resulted in a fabulous pan and a heavy dose of satisfaction. I have a friend who swears she got a “bad” cast iron, that just won’t season, so it’s possible that such a thing exists. So far, I’ve purchased or recovered almost a dozen cast iron pans and haven’t had any bad ones. The brand doesn’t seem to matter. They all work just as well as their seasoning.

New cast iron is actually pretty cheap, compared to other quality kitchen equipment. If you want to buy new, you can probably find a selection at your local grocery or hardware store. Online, Lehman’s Non Electric Supply sells an extensive collection, including my first cast iron, a combination of a 3 quart dutch oven and a lid that is also a shallow skillet on it’s own. I highly recommend this if you’re looking to buy new. It’s a perfect combo. Covers all your bases for only $40.

Are you all fired up? Buy, beg, borrow or steal yourself a skillet or two, and follow along with the next two posts:

Rescuing and Seasoning Cast Iron

Cast Iron for the Rest of Us

11 thoughts on “Cast Iron Cookery

  1. Perfect timing! I have three cast iron pans and I love them, I’ve been meaning to clean them up…but I don’t really know how to properly clean and season them. Fill me in!

  2. i was severely disappointed that our in every other way wonderful new rental house has one of those stupid glass stovetops that are unsafe for cast iron. i dunno if it’s cuz cast iron’s too heavy, or holds heat to well, but cast iron is not allowed. says so in the manual. and the thought of cracking a glass surface like that gives me the heebie-jeebies.

  3. I’ve been eyeing off a cast iron dutch oven at my local camping store for a while …it would be perfect for woodfired oven cooking, unlike the ridiculously expensive (not teflon but still non-stick[?!!]) pan I had previously bought. And one thing I’ve alllllwayyys wanted but never got around to getting was a skillet (?) with raised bars to give that wonderful lined look on steak! Show me your scrounged pans!! :)

  4. yes! My parents always had cast iron… when i moved out it was the obvious choice for me. I love them… i roast chickens in my big pan… bake pies and crumbles in them etc. and just last week i found a muffin tray at the thrift store just gotta get it seasoned before i try it out… so id love to hear what you do!

    I have to agree with your ode to books as well…. I think wall to wall books is BEAUTIFUL!!! hubby and i have plans for a home we want to build one day… the majority of it keeps changing the only thing that stays is the library… with ladders with wheels and big comfy chairs… ahhhh

    :)

  5. Oooh, yes please. This has come at a good time for me too. Wanting to get hold of a skillet for cornbread and would love to know how to look after the ridged pan I already have but have left in the garage as I can’t seem to make it work for me. Ahem.

  6. We use two cast iron skillets at our house also. I have to use two hands to lift the big one. Looking forward to this series on cast iron cooking.

    Julie

  7. Clay said just this am we needed to reseason r cast iron. They stick something fierce. Found the whole set on the street after Katrina. Lucky!!

  8. oh my gosh, we got rid of all non-stick about 5 yrs ago. I will never go back. Only one cast iron though, but I can use it to cook an entire meal. Teflon, they still make that?

  9. Oh I gotta couple that are in NEED of a good seasoning! I’ve been meaning to try the Cooks Illustrated way with flax oil. What is your method?

    1. this post was the first of three, with full explanation of how i season. i put links in this one to the other two last night, did you not see them? hmm.

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