Cast iron skillets are an essential item in many kitchens. Prized for their durability and superior cooking quality, they can last for many years if given the proper care and maintenance. There are two types of cast iron skillets; the more expensive kind is coated with a protective enamel and the other is bare.
About Cast Iron Cookware
Cast iron cookware is durable, lasting generations and is one of the few types of cookware that improves the more you use it. Cast iron skillets range in size, but all are ideal for frying and searing. Cast iron has excellent heat retention and cooks food evenly, so you don't end up with burnt or undercooked spots. You can use cast iron skillets on the stovetop and in the oven but they should not be placed in the dishwasher. If not cared for properly, the cast iron can also rust.
Bare, or raw cast iron skillets, are uncoated and need to be seasoned before use. The bare iron will react with certain ingredients, particularly those with high acidity such as tomatoes, which results in a metallic taste to the food you cook in the skillet. This type of cast iron skillet is often passed down because it lasts for years if properly maintained. After it has been seasoned, bare cast iron should be cleaned in cold water by hand using a scouring pad. It rusts easily so it must be dried before you put it away.
Seasoning Cast Iron
Seasoning a cast iron skillet means you make a coating on the cooking surface. This is done by baking multiple coats of oil on the pan. Seasoning protects bare cast iron skillets from rust and gives you a non-stick surface for cooking. To season a skillet, rub a thin coat of vegetable oil, such as canola or sunflower oil, on it. Wipe the excess off with paper towel until it has no oil left on the surface and looks dry. Then place the pan upside down with a sheet of foil beneath it in the oven. Heat at 450 to 500 degrees Fahrenheit for 30 minutes. Let the pan cool and repeat the process at least three times. Seasoning makes the oil fill the pores of the cast iron. This makes a previously pitted surface smooth and the oil-filled pores are impervious to water, so the pan will not rust. The pan will be discolored initially but after a few uses it will turn black.
Enameled Cast Iron
Enameled cast iron skillets are coated with protective enamel and are not reactive with certain foods. The advantage of enameled pans over bare cast iron is that you can cook almost any food in them. The protective coating prevents acidic foods from contacting the iron directly and eliminates the metallic taste that is sometimes present with bare cast iron. Enameled cast iron skillets aren't as durable as bare, however, because the enamel is easily chipped or scratched and your protective finish is ruined. Use wooden, plastic or silicone utensils only in enameled skillets and never use a scouring pad to clean them.
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