Cast Iron: the ORIGINAL non-stick pan!

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I’ve written about my love for the Cast Iron Skillet before, but I think it’s time for a refresher.

We need to spread the word about this super-awesome magic no-stick throwback multi-purpose skillet sensation. (That’s its “street name.”)

The Cast Iron is uber-cool for so many reasons – even a few beyond the apply-heat-then-eat realm. It’s awesome for smacking ne’er-do-well home invaders in the noggin. (Didn’t Harry get hit with a cast iron in Home Alone I? Or was that an actual iron?)

When you cook with it, food takes on a heavenly glow.

 

It’s a total status symbol, if you own the vintage ones. Owning a Wagner or a Griswold shows that you truly know yo’ retro.

A few other reasons the Cast Iron is Cool:

It cooks evenly and sits flat. (Enough said. And enough with balancing the pan lid below the pan handle to make it teeter-free.)

No gnarly non-stick chemicals. Remember the Teflon drama of years gone by? The fact is, we don’t know how many of these “non stick” lab-created coatings are actually safe, especially after months, even years, of applying heat to them. And let’s be honest: the only real reason to use a conventional non-stick pan is to avoid using rich, nutritious, stable fats like coconut oil, tallow, or ghee for cooking. Non-stick pans are nothing but a symptom of fat-phobia.

Fat, friends, is the ORIGINAL non-stick coating. (Tweet that!)

It can take some major abuse. If you’re like me, you know that every single kitchen utensil is going to make contact with the floor about eighteen thousand times. It’s going to get stacked, hacked and attacked. Food will burn and scrapers will be used. The cast iron can survive that and more – there’s not a thing you can do that’ll damage its utility, and there’s nothing a little re-seasoning can’t fix. That’s why they last for generations! The more you use it, the better it gets.

It can go anywhere. It can go from the stove to the oven and back. (Don’t. Touch. The. Handle. USE A MITT. Because…ow.) You can use it over the campfire or on the backyard grill.


You can roast, saute, and bake in it. You can rock your world and everyone else’s with your sweet skillet skills.

Now, here’s the challenge: seasoning that bad boy. And it’s REALLY NOT SO COMPLICATED! Cast iron pans must be “seasoned,” which is just an old-school way to say “you have to make it non-stick all by your kitchen-genius self.” It’s actually quite easy.

(You can also buy pre-seasoned cast iron pans, but according to this post, these pans may be coated with a (mysterious) wax that I’m not so sure is trustworthy. The same is NOT true of the old-school ones. Another point for vintage cookware!)

Note: I still use my PRE-SEASONED Lodge skillets (below) but I’m watching a few eBay auctions for some sweet vintage skillets.

This article has great insight on what else is different between the new and the old.

Now, here’s the fun part: seasoning is a bit of an art (or, at least, a lesson in chemistry). While I know plenty of folks – including me – who have had a great experience seasoning just by using the darn thing and cooking with fats like home-rendered lard, there is a whole geeked-out underworld of cast iron enthusiasts who can give the ins-and-outs of the chemistry of seasoning – turns out, it’s a process of polymerization. Sounds scary. And it kind of is. But not really. (Just read the links.)

While I originally set out to make this post an all-about-seasoning extravaganza, I think the work has been done for me. Fabulous and intriguing resources here, here and here.

Don’t be scurred about the encouragement to season with vegetable oil as those posts suggest. You don’t have to do it that way – it’s just a bit of geeky chemistry. Cast iron has been in use much longer than the vegetable oil industry has been around, so it’s CLEAR that folks have been seasoning without soybean, Canola and flax oil for many years. Any stable, traditional fat you’ve got will do!

Don’t forget to go here for the how-to of seasoning your skillet. Short version: coat the empty skillet and bake it HOT. Voila.

Tell me what YOU know about cast iron! What are your memories, tips and experiences? Share them with our community in the comments!

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What I’m reading: (Not all “Paleo,” but a fun read with modifiable, unique recipes.)
Cooking in Cast Iron: Yesterday’s Flavors for Today’s Kitchen

 


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Comments

  1. I recently purchased a cast iron griddle that goes on top of my stove. I love it and hope to get a couple cast iron skillets soon. My question is, what type of spatulas should I use to flip food on the griddle? I currently use a metal spatula which probably scrapes some of the surface and I melted a plastic one when I used it. Any suggestions would be great.

    • Hi, Noel – I had the same problem when I started cooking with cast iron a few months ago. I melted a nylon spatula that was supposed to be heat safe to 400+ degrees. I couldn’t find a wooden spatula that would work for things like pancakes, so I went back to my metal ones. I haven’t had any trouble or noticed anything flaking off on my food. I am just careful to lift the edge of the food and try to get under it that way so that I’m not actually scraping the spatula against the pan. I also use a lot of coconut oil to fry things like pancakes and salmon patties so that I don’t have to do any scraping to get them to come loose. This is working great for me! For anything that doesn’t need to be flipped, I just use a wooden spoon. I hope this helps!

    • I use a metal flipping spatula for many things. But honestly, there are times I use a random spoon and my fingers to flip things. Something about cooking in cast iron makes me feel fearless!

  2. Jennifer says:

    Metal spatulas are perfect for cast iron. Once it’s seasoned there is a layer on the pan that protects it from scraping.

  3. what an awesome post! thanks for doing all the hunting for us :)

  4. hi Liz,
    great post! Growing up we cooked with cast iron and wooden spoons all the time… but that stopped when the ‘CW’ started in with all the ‘fat is bad for your heart’. Just a few weeks ago I took/ was given all the old assorted cast iron from back in the day from my parents (so glad they saved them! and after reading the post checked the stamps on the bottom and one has a readable ‘griswold’,yay!) LOVE them!
    My only ?/ problem has been that since using them my teeth have stained a eerie grayish color!? so, i quit cast iron for a week or so and concentrated on scrubbing teeth with baking soda. the stains have lessened, but still concerned with them staining with continued use.
    Any thoughts/ tips to prevent/ remove the staining- I’m missing my cast iron.
    (fyi i currently use orawellness and baking soda combo to brush my teeth with my sonicare)
    Thanks

  5. I freakin’ love my cast iron! All but two of my pans came from my mother-in-law. My cast iron grill pan came from the store, and the griddle pan came from a local antique shop. The best $12 I’ve ever spent!

  6. Elizabeth says:

    I am a huge fan of cast iron. While I have a full set of revere ware and several pieces of Le Creuset (upscale cast iron!) my very favorite pan is a tiny Lodge pan that belonged to my grandmother. It is the absolute perfect size for frying an egg or two. I use it every single day and just wipe it out when I am done. It is perfectly seasoned and I LOVE it. Have a bunch of other vintage Lodge, and some new, but that tiny pan is in heavy rotation.

  7. We have a cast iron frying pan that was a gift and we have never used it. It’s been in the cupboard for about 15 years and has a bit of a rusty coating on it now. Can I bring this thing to life? How would I go about seasoning the pan so that it becomes non-stick? I think it was probably from a camping supplies store, it’s got a wooden handle and is about 10″ diameter.

  8. Can you guys talk about cast iron in your next podcast please? I submitted an official request. I also got nosy. :)

  9. Jennifer says:

    Hello Liz, what you recommend for non-toxic baking ware? Glass?

    • Hey Jennifer! You can actually bake a lot of stuff in the Cast Iron! There are even cast iron baking pans out there. I would say glass, although I’ve heard that some glass seems to be “cut” with other substances, like modern Pyrex. I often line my baking supplies in parchment paper.

  10. Jennifer says:

    Thanks for the reply! As for the cast iron, do you usually wash it with mild soapy water and then rub in some oil (if so, what type of oil), according to the instructions? My cast iron came in the mail today but I am unsure how to use it!

    • If I absolutely have to scrub it, that is what I’ve done – although I’ve been scolded for it! I know I’ve done a good job seasoning when all it needs is to be wiped out. Don’t worry – these guys can take some serious abuse and many “do-overs” until you get it right! You may just have to open a few windows and keep a fan by the smoke detector when you re-season after a screw-up.

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