“Inexpensive, nonstick, and practically indestructible, a cast-iron skillet rocks at almost any type of cooking.”
– Joanna Pruess, Fine Cooking
Since we’re moving again in a few months (sigh), we’re keeping nonessentials boxed up. For the kitchen, that means relying mostly on multipurpose cookware.
I grew up in the South and, perhaps as a result, my favorite multipurpose cookware is cast iron. We have three sizes of skillets, a griddle, a Dutch oven, and a “chicken fryer” (which, for you non-Southerners out there, looks like this:
“Well seasoned, it is nearly as nonstick as any manufactured nonstick surface….Cast iron is practically free compared with other high-quality pots and pans….In addition, it lasts nearly forever.”
– Mark Bittman, New York Times
What do I love about cast iron? For one thing, it can go in the oven and on the stovetop. We use it for soups and stews, for frying, for tortillas and pancakes, for cornbread – even yeast breads (if you haven’t tried it yet, make no-knead bread in a cast iron Dutch oven – beautiful crust).
Once it’s seasoned, it’s nonstick – with no Teflon fumes to kill your pet birds (or possibly make you sick). In fact, cast iron can be good for your health. Cooking in cast iron can help treat or prevent anemia by increasing the iron content of foods.
“[V]ersatile cast iron goes from stovetop to oven to grill with such ease that you can bake a gooey upside-down cake in it as well as fry unbelievably crisp catfish.”
Of course, cast iron isn’t perfect. One downside is that it’s heavy. Very heavy. While that’s good for cooking, it’s bad if you drop it on your foot (ask me how I know). It also means that, if you have a disability that affects your ability to lift, it’s probably not the cookware for you.
There are a lot of myths out there about cast iron, though. It’s hard to take care of. You can’t use soap to clean it. You can’t cook acidic foods in it. Serious Eats recently debunked these myths (and others) in The Truth About Cast Iron Pans.
“A well-seasoned cast-iron skillet can be a griddle…, a deep fat fryer…, a roasting pan…, a pizza stone…, a gratin dish…, a flameproof pie plate…, and, of course, a sauté pan….”
– Jeffrey Steingarten, Vogue
Cast iron does need slightly more maintenance than other types of pans do, but not much. Instead of leaving the cast iron to air-dry, we pop back it on the stove for a few moments after washing to make sure it’s fully dry.
If you regularly cook acidic foods without cooking greasier things in between, you may have some slight damage to the seasoning layer, so once your newly dry pan cools off a little, rub a little oil into the pan. And that’s it. Pretty easy.