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Now don’t get me wrong, cast iron is cumbersome and heavy – and challenging to wash and maintain -but there is something really nice about cooking up an amazing meal with cast iron.
A well-seasoned cast iron skillet is a must in any homestead kitchen. Once you understand how to keep your cookware seasoned, it’s actually really easy to maintain year-round.
Having a variety of cast iron dishes is also of benefit. I have a small pot medium pot and large casserole pot, and 4 different sized pans. I bought half the pans from the thrift store, and half brand new, so my investment into cast iron was not expensive at all.
If you’re new to using cast iron or you’re thinking about adding or switching to cast iron cookware, here are a few of the benefits of cooking with cast iron, and why it’s absolutely worth the investment.
The history of cast iron cooking
Cast iron cooking has a long history dating back to ancient China, but it became popular in Europe during the 16th century. Cast iron cookware was widely used in the 19th and early 20th centuries in the United States and remains a popular choice today for its durability and even heat distribution.
During World War II, the United States government encouraged the production of cast iron cookware as a way to conserve valuable resources such as aluminum and steel.
Today, there are many artisanal cast iron cookware companies that produce high-quality pieces that are not only functional but also aesthetically pleasing.
With its long history and many uses, cast iron cookware remains a beloved and essential tool in many kitchens. Whether you’re a professional chef or a home cook, there’s nothing quite like the even heat distribution and unbeatable sear that only cast iron can provide.
What are the benefits of using cast iron in your kitchen?
Cast iron cookware has been around for centuries and for good reason. It’s a versatile and durable cookware that can make your cooking experience more enjoyable and efficient. Here are some benefits of using cast iron in your kitchen:
- Even heating: Cast iron distributes heat evenly and retains it for a long time, making it ideal for cooking.
- Versatility: Cast iron can be used on the stovetop, in the oven, and even over a campfire.
- Durability: Cast iron is incredibly durable and can last for generations if properly cared for.
- Natural non-stick surface: With proper seasoning and maintenance, cast iron develops a natural non-stick surface, making it easy to cook with and clean.
- Nutritional benefits: Cooking with cast iron can add trace amounts of iron to your food, which can be beneficial for those who are iron deficient.
- Cost-effective: Cast iron cookware is relatively inexpensive and can be a great investment in your kitchen.
- Adds flavor: Cooking with cast iron can add a unique flavor to your food that cannot be achieved with other types of cookware.
- Versatile shapes and sizes: Cast iron cookware comes in a wide range of shapes and sizes, which makes it perfect for cooking all kinds of dishes, from soups and stews to stir-fries and baked goods.
- Retains heat: Cast iron’s ability to retain heat makes it ideal for searing and browning meats, as well as for deep frying and sautéing.
- Easy to clean: Contrary to popular belief, cast iron cookware is easy to clean and maintain. Simply rinse with hot water and dry thoroughly. Avoid using soap, which can strip the seasoning.
- Non-reactive: Cast iron is non-reactive, which means it won’t leach harmful chemicals into your food like some other types of cookware can.
- Enhances presentation: Cast iron cookware can be used as a serving dish, which adds a rustic charm to your table setting.
How to season a cast iron pan
To season a cast iron pan, start by preheating your oven to 200°c. Next, wash the pan with warm, soapy water and dry it thoroughly. Apply a thin layer of vegetable oil or melted shortening to the pan, making sure to coat the entire surface, including the handle. Place the pan upside down on the middle rack of your oven and bake for one hour. Allow the pan to cool in the oven before removing it. Your cast iron pan is now seasoned and ready for use.
I’ve since made my own little pucks for seasoning my pans made with beeswax, grapeseed oil and sunflower oil. I use these to apply a thin layer of protection to the pan which I find works a little bit longer before needing to re-season.
I usually cook with bacon fat, lard or tallow so I try to keep really fatty oils and cook-ups in the pan for the first few times after the season and have found that this just makes it so much easier and extends the times needed before the skillet needs attention again.
I do have an in-depth blog post outlining cast iron seasoning which you can read here: How to season cast iron pans
How to maintain a cast iron pan
Once your pan is seasoned, cleaning and maintaining your pan is relatively easy as most of your washing is more of a light rinse.
It is best to use non abrasive scrubbers if you do happen to have grime that isn’t just washing off easily. I use the Scrub Daddy sponges as they are made with a polymer material that doesn’t damage cast iron and can be used wet or dry.
In addition, the following should be considered to help you maintain your cast iron pan:
- Avoid soaking your cast iron pan in water for extended periods of time, as this can lead to rust and damage the seasoning.
- If your pan does develop rust, you can remove it by scrubbing it with steel wool and then re-seasoning the pan.
- When applying oil to your pan, use a high-smoke point oil like vegetable oil or flaxseed oil. Be sure to apply only a thin layer, as too much oil can become sticky and attract food particles.
- Don’t be afraid to use your cast iron pan frequently! The more you use it, the better seasoned it will become.
- If you’re storing your cast iron pan for an extended period of time, consider placing a paper towel or cloth between the pan and the lid to allow for air circulation and prevent moisture buildup.
How to incorporate cast iron dishes into your kitchen
These days, there are lots of fancy companies getting in on the cast iron excitement. You can buy very high end cast iron – but let me tell you – it doesn’t cook your meal any better than a cheaper alternative
The best way to start your foray into cast iron cookware is checking your thrift stores. A lot of people can’t be bothered with the maintenance and heaviness of a cast iron skillet, so you can often find bargain at the thrift store. My most expensive grill skillet cost $5 and I picked it up at a thrift store in Bundaberg when we were last there.
Further to that, you may find camping cast iron that people have dumped because its rusty. Fear not. This call all be cleaned and re-seasoned with a bit of elbow grease and patience.
If you’re nervous about venturing into cast iron cooking due to the cost of having to buy new pots, the advantage is that you can find them in good knick for very cheap. If you’re not a thrifter and want to buy new, often Kmart or Big W have cheaper options – but don’t be alarmed by Big W’s La Creuset!
Now that we’ve covered all that off, have I convinced you to make the switch to cast iron yet? Let me know in the comments below, and until next time! Happy homesteading!