One of the most useful items in the kitchen is arguably the cast-iron skillet – the same type that your grandmother used. Or if you’re lucky, maybe you have your grandmother’s skillet handed down to you from your mother. Cast-iron cookware has been around for a few centuries and was used back when most cooking was done in a fireplace hearth.
During the 1960s and 1970s, cast iron fell out of favor as Teflon-coated, nonstick cookware gained in popularity. In recent years, as Americans have embraced the slow food movement, eating healthier, and cooking at home for economical purposes, cast iron cookware has enjoyed a resurgence in use.
In addition, concerns over the chemicals used in the creation of nonstick cookware have also added to cast iron’s newfound popularity. The chemical used to bond the nonstick coating to the pan or bakeware is perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), also known as C-8. The Environmental Protection Agency labeled PFOA as a likely carcinogen and asked American manufacturers of nonstick cookware to eliminate its usage in cookware production by 2015. Nonstick coatings can release unknown chemicals into cooked food when food is overcooked and burned.
If we buy and use quality products in our cooking practices, we can avoid throwing away old kitchen pans and utensils and instead cook with those that gain value each year. For example, an investment in a quality kitchen knife that can be sharpened again and again becomes like a well-known extension of your hand. Using a cast-iron skillet is also a sustainable cooking practice.
Cast iron is a material we know and trust for its durability and reliability. Many professional chefs prefer cast iron for its heat retention and distribution properties, which allows for precise control of cooking temperatures. Another benefit of cooking with cast iron is that it releases iron into our bodies as a health benefit when we cook with it.
Cast-iron cookware comes in a variety of styles, from corn bread pans shaped like small ears of corn to griddles to Dutch ovens. Classic cast-iron skillets can be found in just about any size and shape.
A new cast iron skillet can become a culinary heirloom to pass down after years of memorable dishes. Cast iron does require some special care to keep it in good shape and lasting a lifetime, but the care is very simple:
- After cooking, clean your skillet with a stiff nylon brush and hot water.
- Using soap is not necessary or recommended.
- Never soak or let soapy water sit in the pan for any length of time.
- Harsh cleaning solutions or detergents should never be used.
- Scour any rusty spots with steel wool.
- Avoid putting a hot skillet into cold water, which can cause the metal to warp or crack.
“Seasoning” is an important process in preparing and maintaining a cast-iron pan. To season or re-season, place cast-iron pans on a heated burner for a minute or two so that there is no moisture. While the pan is still hot on the burner, lightly oil the inside of the pan with a vegetable oil. Leave the pan on the burner for a few moments. Remove and wipe off the excess oil.
Lastly, cast iron can also be used to cook foods in the oven. A frittata makes an easy brunch for a lazy Sunday morning. Simply sauté some onions and mushrooms (any ingredients in the fridge will work); combine with whisked eggs, tomatoes, and shredded cheese. Pour ingredients into an oiled cast-iron pan and arrange some bacon strips on top. Bake at 350 degrees for 20–30 minutes and voila! Sunday brunch.