Published on September 26th, 2013 | by Andrea Bertoli3
How to Cook with Cast Iron Pans
First and foremost, cast iron is incredibly energy efficient. According to this article, cast-iron, aluminum and copper pans are the best heat conductors (compared to stainless steel or aluminum pans). Cast iron heats slowly but very evenly. Often you can use a lower heat, and turn the heat off before foods are totally done, and get great results.
For example, when I cook my stir-fried veggies, I cook the harder veggies first then remove the pan from the heat. I then add rice and/or greens to the cast iron, cover and let cook with the residual heat in the pan. No extra energy used! But cast iron can be used to cook perfect eggs, caramelize onions, grill tofu or make grain dishes, like the Millet ‘Fried’ Rice (above) and saucy dishes like the Tamarind Red Lentils (below).
Another reason to love cast iron pans? These things last forever! If you’ve not been gifted a cast iron pan from your grandparents or neighbors, they are also very affordable to purchase new. Regular cast iron pans (seen in the photos here) are very affordable and can be found at fancy cooking stores and even big box stores. Lodge brand is good and comes pre-seasoned for immediate use. But also check out thrift stores for older cast iron pans; you might just score a deal! Even if they are a bit rusty, it’s easy to fix by proper seasoning at home. Enameled cast iron pans are also long-lasting and gorgeous, but require a bit more investment. One day, I will have a set of Le Creuset, the fanciest brand out there!
But often people worry cooking with cast iron is difficult– but this couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, it’s often easier to use a cast iron pan that a stainless steel pan or other. Keep in mind that, as mentioned above, cast iron takes longer to heat up, but once it’s hot it stays hot for a long time. Here are some tips for how to cook with cast iron pans:
1. Season well: Cast iron only works if it’s seasoned well. Most new cast iron pans come pre-seasoned, so if you have a new pot or pan, skip ahead to step two. If your pan is looking a bit rusty, scrub with a scrubby sponge to remove all excess rust (don’t forget the sides!). Rinse well. Place pan on stovetop and heat over low heat until nice and warm. Add some good high heat oil (we recommend sunflower, sesame or organic canola oil for the cleanest oils) and rub into the pan evenly using a paper towel or pastry brush. Turn off the heat and let the oil absorb into the pan. You might want to do this a few times to ensure a even and solid patina, that sheen of smooth iron that will occur when the pan is properly seasoned. You can also do this in the oven, but I think it’s easier on the stovetop.
2. Use proper oils: Because cast iron pans get so hot, it’s important to use high-heat cooking oils. My recommendations are sunflower, sesame or organic canola or safflower oils. Olive oil and coconut oil are my overall favorite oils to work with, but their smoke point is too low and often ends up smoking out of the cast iron pan.
3. Heat and cook Properly: Once your pan is seasoned you can cook just like in any other pan. Heat until warm on the skillet, then add a bit of high-heat oil. Swirl to coat the pan, then begin cooking! Now that my pans are really well-seasoned (after over four years of use) I can cook anything: eggs, tofu, grains with very minimal sticking. If your pan is improperly seasoned it will still work, but it may stick slightly.
4. Clean properly: Once you are finished cooking, let your pan cool completely. NEVER place a hot pan into cool water, as it can cause irreparable warping. Scrub any stuck food off with a scrubby without soap! Use water and the scrubby only to ensure that your nice patina stays intact. Follow step one to after washing. NEVER leave your pans to soak for more than an hour, and NEVER leave them wet overnight– they will rust if left in contact with water and then you have to start over again!