Cast iron skillets are the cheap treasures of knowledgeable cooks. Properly cared for, or even carelessly kept, a cast iron pan will outlast anything else you buy for the kitchen and survive for generations as a culinary heirloom. The skillets cost a fraction of the price for other high quality cookware, and a simple seasoning process turns them into nonstick, easy-care kitchen essentials.
Cast iron does not give off toxic fumes when heated, as some nonstick coated pans do. It does not have a coating to chip and come off in food where it can be ingested. A seasoned cast iron skillet develops a nonstick finish, and all that will leach into your food is a trace amount of iron, which is actually a nutritional plus for most people.
A skillet that browns food needs to be preheated, and many recipes call for transferring a pan from the stove top to the oven to finish cooking a dish. Cast iron skillets can handle the switch with no damage to the pan or loss of heat in the middle of cooking. Cast iron skillets hold heat well and distribute it evenly so your gourmet creation isn't spoiled by "hot spots" or burned on one side and half raw on the other. Stainless steel and aluminum pans do not distribute heat as well as cast iron.
Easy to Season
Seasoning a cast iron skillet is so simple almost anyone can do it. Wash and dry your new pan. Heat it gently on the stove top while you turn the oven to 350 degrees F. Spread a tablespoon or more of corn oil or a thin film of solid shortening over the entire inside of the skillet. Heat the skillet in the oven for one hour and then turn off the oven and let the pan cool. That's it. The pan is now seasoned.
Simple Care and Cleaning
A cast iron skillet is pretty easy to clean and can often just be wiped out after cooking. Don't use harsh soaps or scrubs or put it in the dishwasher. Mild soap and water and a thorough drying will take care of most cooking residue. If you accidentally burn something in the pan, pour boiling water into it -- or boil water in it -- and scrub the encrusted food with a stiff-bristled brush or soft scouring pad, not steel wool. Rinse and dry. Always dry the skillet to prevent rust. If you should get a rust spot, although unlikely, sand it away with fine sandpaper and re-season the pan.
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