Cast Iron Cookware is perhaps the best-kept secret of the culinary world. Considering how it is considered to be the ultimate precision cooking tool, it’s surprising how few household opt for Teflon or other cookware over the amazing benefits of using cast iron.
The primary reason people everywhere will tell you that they do not use it is because everything sticks miracle sheets to it. What they do not know is that if food is sticking to your cookware, then it is not “seasoned” or “cured” properly. A well-seasoned cast iron pan will allow food to glide right off of it and never stick.
They are truly versatile in that they can be used stovetop, put right in the oven, or even used right over a campfire. They conduct heat evenly and consistently, and in spite of the initial cost, they will last you a lifetime if cared for properly. Furthermore, well-cured cast iron never needs oil, if you should choose not to use any, making it the ideal way to cook fat-free!
Always pre-heat your pan. Do the water test: if water rolls around and sizzles when you put a drop in the pan, it’s ready for cooking. (If the water disappears, it’s too hot; if the water stands there, it’s too cold.) For this reason, make sure to never pour a large amount of cold water into cast iron cookware when it’s heated properly as the cold water can cause it to break. In fact, the one thing it is not good for is boiling water for this reason, and also because some believe boiling removes the oily patina you create by seasoning. If you absolutely need to use it for this purpose, boil the liquid in a separate pan and pour into your pot when completely hot.
It is a relatively easy process to season your cookware, and if done right, need not be done too often. Basically, seasoning will create the perfect non-stick surface, and eliminate your need for oil usage. First, use neutral oil like any vegetable oil or vegetable shortening (which is the preferred method) and rub in a light coating all over the pan. Then, place the pan upside down in the oven (protecting the bottom of the oven from dripping oils with aluminum foil or a cookie sheet) and heat for 30-60 minutes in a 500 degree oven. Once finished, let it sit in there overnight until it cools off completely and repeat the same process several times. Repeat, also, with each pan, pot, or skillet in your set. This process fills in the usually ragged surface with oil and smoothes it out and creates the ultimate non-stick surface.
To maintain this cure, it’s recommended that unless you use your cast iron cookware on a daily basis, wash lightly out with water and neutral dishwashing soap to get rid of most of the oil. Heat the pan back up for a minute, and make sure it is completely dry, put a tiny bit of oil in the pan and rub it in with a paper towel. Let it continue on the burner for an additional minute or two, then remove, wipe off excess oil from the cast iron cookware and store uncovered. This should keep the cookware sufficiently cured at all times.
Using cookware that is not seasoned can often lead to strange tastes, particularly that of metal; it can also turn your food black if left in the pan for too long. Cast iron can rust, but all you need to do is remove with a steel brush. If you find any odd remnants like “goo” in your pan, you most likely over-oiled your pan during seasoning. Scrape it all off, give it a good washing, dry completely and season again for a brand new pan. Most important of all, good cast iron cookwares usually has handles made of cast iron, and ABSOLUTELY require potholders. People used to Teflon pans may forget this fact.