Everything You Need to Know About Cast Iron Cookware

Last Updated on June 2, 2024 by David Michael

Cooking is an art, and having the right tools can make all the difference. One of the most popular and versatile tools in any kitchen is cast iron cookware. Cast iron cookware has been around for centuries and is known for its durability and even heat distribution. Here we will cover everything you need to know about cast iron cookware, from its history to how to properly care for it.

Table of Contents

The history of cast iron cookware
Why use cast iron cookware?
Types of cast iron cookware
Seasoning your cast iron cookware
How to clean cast iron cookware
How to store cast iron cookware
Tips for cooking with cast iron cookware
How to revive old cast iron cookware
Common mistakes to avoid when using cast iron cookware
Cast iron cookware versus other materials
Cast iron cookware and health benefits
How to choose the right size cast iron cookware
How to use cast iron cookware on different cooking surfaces
How to cook different types of food in cast iron cookware
Conclusion

The History of Cast Iron Cookware

Cast iron cookware has a rich and fascinating history that spans centuries and continents. The Chinese can be credited with pioneering the use of cast iron cookware during the Han Dynasty, which lasted from 206 BCE to 220 CE. The use of cast iron spread across Asia, and by the time it made its way to Europe, it was already a well-established method of cooking.

During the Middle Ages, cast iron cookware became increasingly popular in Europe, and the art of casting iron became a highly skilled craft. In the United States, it was not until the 18th century that cast iron cookware became popular. In fact, the first cast iron foundry in America, Saugus Iron Works, was not established until 1645, in Lynn, Massachusetts. From its humble beginnings, cast iron cookware has become an iconic symbol of traditional cooking, with a legacy that has endured for centuries.

Why Use Cast Iron Cookware?

Cast iron cookware has many benefits, which is why it is so popular. Cast iron cookware is durable and can last for generations. It is also an excellent conductor of heat, which makes it ideal for cooking. Cast iron cookware is also versatile and can be used on a variety of cooking surfaces, including stovetops, ovens, and grills.

Types of Cast Iron Cookware

There are many types of cast iron cookware, including skillets, Dutch ovens, grill pans, and woks. Skillets are the most popular type of cast iron cookware and can be used for a variety of cooking tasks, including frying, sautéing, and baking. Dutch ovens are ideal for slow-cooking stews, soups, and casseroles. Grill pans are perfect for grilling meats and vegetables, and woks are great for stir-frying.

Seasoning Your Cast Iron Cookware

What is Seasoning?

One of the most crucial steps in maintaining cast iron cookware is seasoning. Seasoning helps to create a non-stick surface on the cookware and prevents it from rusting.

How to Season Your Cast Iron Cookware

To season your cast iron cookware, you need to apply a thin layer of oil to the surface and then heat it in the oven. This process will polymerize the oil, creating a non-stick surface that is easy to clean and maintain. You should season your cast iron cookware regularly to keep it in excellent condition.

1. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit and adjust the oven racks to the two lowest positions.
2. To prepare the cast iron piece for seasoning, first wash it in hot, soapy water using a stiff brush to remove any stuck-on food. If you notice any surface rust, use fine steel wool to remove it. Rinse the piece thoroughly and towel-dry it immediately. If you are only adding to the seasoning, simply rinse it in water and dry it thoroughly.
3. Using a paper towel, lightly coat every surface of the cast iron piece, including the underside of lids and handles, with oil or shortening.
4. Place a large sheet of aluminum foil on the lowest oven rack and set the cast iron piece upside down on the rack above it. If there is a lid, set it beside the piece. Bake for 1 hour.
5. After the baking is complete, turn off the oven and keep the oven door closed. Allow the cast iron piece to cool completely to let the seasoning slowly cool and form a hard finish. The seasoning will initially have a dark champagne color, but it will darken over time with use and more seasoning.
6. It’s recommended to season a cast iron piece that has never been seasoned before at least twice before using it.

What Oil Should You use to Season Cast Iron Cookware?

I’ve used everything from vegetable oils, coconut oil, shortening, and even lard. They all formed a great finish. A trend has developed that uses flax seed oil for the most durable finish. America’s Test Kitchen tried it out – see their findings at The Ultimate Way to Season Cast Iron

How to Clean Cast Iron Cookware

Cleaning your cast iron cookware is essential to keep it in good condition. If you don’t clean it correctly, food residue can build up, making it challenging to cook with and creating a breeding ground for bacteria.

To clean your cast iron cookware, rinse it with hot water. Use a stiff brush to remove any stuck on food. If needed, use a small amount of kosher salt to help remove stubborn stuck-on food. Avoid using soap or a dishwasher, as they can remove the seasoning from the cookware. 

There are specially designed stainless steel scrubbers that look a bit like chain mail that are really great for scrubbing stuck and burnt food from your cookware.

Dry your cookware thoroughly after washing to prevent rust. I like to put my cast iron on a low flame to dry them completely. 

While the cast iron is still warm lighty apply a very thin layer of shortening using a paper towel. Using shortening will prevent any off flavors from developing that can happen with vegetable oils and long storage periods.

How to Store Cast Iron Cookware

Proper storage is essential to maintain the quality of your cast iron cookware. If you store it improperly, it can rust, and the seasoning can deteriorate.

To store your cast iron cookware, you should make sure it’s completely dry before putting it away. You can store it in a dry place, such as a cupboard or pantry, or hang it on a wall.

 It’s best to store your cookware with a paper towel or cloth to prevent moisture from accumulating. Place a paper towel between the lid and bottom of your cast iron to allow air to circulate.

Tips for Cooking with Cast Iron Cookware

When cooking with cast iron cookware, there are a few tips to keep in mind to ensure your food turns out perfectly every time. First, preheat the cookware before adding any food. This helps to create a non-stick surface and ensures even cooking. Second, use a high smoke point oil, such as vegetable oil or canola oil, when cooking with cast iron. Third, avoid using metal utensils on the cookware, as they can scratch the seasoning. Fourth, never put cold liquid into hot cast iron cookware, as it can cause the cookware to crack.

How to Revive Old Cast Iron Cookware

If your cast iron cookware is looking a little worse for wear, don’t worry! It is possible to revive old cast iron cookware. First, use a stiff brush to remove any rust or food particles. Next, apply a layer of vegetable oil to the cookware and place it in a 350°F oven for 1 hour. Let the cookware cool before removing it from the oven. Repeat this process until the cookware is fully re-seasoned.

Common Mistakes to Avoid When Using Cast Iron Cookware

While cast iron cookware is versatile and easy to use, there are a few common mistakes that can damage the cookware or affect the taste of your food. First, avoid using soap or harsh detergents when cleaning cast iron cookware, as they can damage the seasoning. Second, never soak cast iron cookware in water, as it can cause rusting. Third, avoid using acidic foods, such as tomatoes or vinegar, in cast iron cookware, as they can damage the seasoning. Fourth, do not overheat cast iron cookware, as it can cause warping or cracking.

Cast Iron Cookware Versus Other Materials

Cast iron cookware is not the only type of cookware available. There are many other materials, including stainless steel, aluminum, and non-stick. While each material has its benefits, cast iron cookware is unique in its ability to distribute heat evenly and create a non-stick surface without the use of chemicals.

Cast Iron Cookware and Health

Cast iron cookware has several health benefits. First, it develops  a natural non-stick surface, which means you do not need to use as much oil or butter when cooking. This can help reduce the amount of fat in your diet.

How to Choose the Right Size Cast Iron Cookware

When choosing cast iron cookware, it is important to consider the size. Skillets are available in a variety of sizes, from 6 inches to 15 inches. Dutch ovens are available in sizes ranging from 3 quarts to 7 quarts. Consider how many people you will be cooking for and what types of dishes you will be making when choosing the size of your cast iron cookware.

How to Use Cast Iron Cookware on Different Cooking Surfaces

Cast iron cookware can be used on a variety of cooking surfaces, including gas, electric, and induction stovetops, as well as ovens and grills. However, it is important to note that cast iron cookware can scratch glass or ceramic stovetops, so use caution when using it on these surfaces. I have also had seasoned cast iron stain a light colored ceramic cooktop. I recommend using enameled cast iron on glass, ceramic and induction cooktops.

How to Cook Different Types of Food in Cast Iron Cookware

Cast iron cookware can be used to cook a variety of dishes, from eggs and bacon to stews and casseroles. When cooking with cast iron, it is important to adjust the heat as needed to prevent burning or uneven cooking. Additionally, some foods, such as acidic or high moisture dishes, may require additional seasoning or care to prevent damage to the cookware.

Conclusion

Cast iron cookware is a versatile and durable option for any kitchen. With proper care and use, it can last for generations and provide delicious, evenly cooked meals. Whether you’re a seasoned cast iron chef or just starting out, there is always something new to learn about this timeless cooking material.

FAQs

1. Is cast iron cookware safe to use?
Yes, cast iron cookware is safe to use as long as it is properly seasoned and maintained.

2. Can I use soap to clean my cast iron cookware?
It is generally recommended to avoid using soap or harsh detergents when cleaning cast iron cookware, as they can damage the seasoning.

3. Can I use cast iron cookware on a glass stovetop?
Yes, cast iron cookware can be used on a glass stovetop, but use caution as it can scratch the surface.

4. What size cast iron cookware should I choose?
The size of your cast iron cookware should depend on how many people you will be cooking for and what types of dishes you will be making.

5. How do I revive old cast iron cookware?
To revive old cast iron cookware, use a stiff brush to remove any rust or food particles, then apply a layer of vegetable oil and bake in a 350°F oven for 1 hour. Repeat until fully restored.

For our recommendations of cast iron cookware, please check out our post Best Cast Iron Cookware.
You may also be interested in our selections of Best Enameled Cast Iron Cookware.

Please see our other cookware guides:
The Ultimate Guide to Hard Anodized Cookware
Ultimate Guide to Stainless Steel Cookware

Enameled Cast Iron Cookware: A Complete Guide
Copper Pans 101: A Comprehensive Guide to Copper Cookware
Carbon Steel Cookware: A Comprehensive Guide

Be sure to check out our post Cookware – The Kitchen Cornerstone for quick access to all of our cookware posts.

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