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Cooking With Cast Iron Cookware
The type of cast iron that you chose will greatly affect what you can and cant do with it. In this article we explore the difference between bare cast iron, enamel or ceramic coated cast iron cookware.
Cast iron is a very heavy, very brittle and hard alloy of iron and carbon.
The process of creating the cast iron cookware is a complicated one that took our ancestors while to get to grips with in terms of creating usable tools with.
If you would like to find out more about this process then I suggest you pay a visit this Wikipedia page on cast iron to find out more.
This is where it gets interesting. Cast iron is very dense as a metal (that is why its so darn heavy!!) and because of its various properties cast iron will hold heat for longer, it has very high volumetric heat capacity. It is because of this that people love cooking with steaks with skillets for example.Cast iron is not particularly good at transmitting heat (like aluminum is) but because of this heat holding property, it makes for a great cooking tool.
The way that you cook with cast iron is different to the conventional cookware that you have and for those who do use it, many become “cast iron enthusiasts” because of the amazing results that they get. ( Many are willing to pay $300 -$400 for Le Creuset
You can read more on my post on Cast iron skillets and Griddles here.
You can buy cast iron products that are bare or you can get ones that covered with a coat of enamel.
There are factors that will need to be considered for both options I have made a list below of the main points I also have this article on Staub vs le Creuset vs Lodge
- Bare cast iron will need to be seasoned – Cast iron cookware will need to be seasoned. This takes a little bit of effort in the beginning and requires some maintenance during the life of the product (will more likely outlive you !). I have found that this has quickly become part of the “cooking ritual” and is really no extra work and helps me appreciate the cooking process a little bit more.
- Better suited for the outdoors – There are many that use cast iron cookware for camping, products like cast iron Skillets and dutch ovens . Bare cast iron is brilliant for camping because of its versatility and robustness. You just have to do a little search on Google to see how many enthusiasts out there love their cast iron cookware when it comes to camping.
- They are more robust- Following on fro my last point, bare cast iron is a lot more robust than the enameled coated version. I should just point out at this point that if you look after either of these types( bare of enameled) and they are of a reasonable quality you are good to go for a very long time.
- Are generally cheaper then enamel coated – The enamel coating will require an extra process in the manufacturing process and so make the cookware more expensive. To get a good enamel coating requires attention to detail and manual work in the factory which means it costs more.
- Are harder to clean and maintain – There is some maintenance when using bare cast iron while with the enamel coat you can treat this as any other cookware in terms of washing and not having to worry about drying.
You can use metal utensils with bare cast iron – Cast iron is very tough, you don’t need to worry about things like what type of utensil you are using as this will not damage the seasoning or the pan/pot.
- Are very easy to maintain – The enamel coat means there is no potential to rust and can be treated like any other pot or pan in the kitchen. You will usually find that it is the casserole dishes and the dutch ovens that are coated.
- Are more suited for the kitchen – Cast iron that has an enamel coating on it will not really travel well and so is better suited for the kitchen. The outdoors has a lot of potentials to damage the coating.
- Look much better – For me, this is one of the most important reasons why I want the coating. Le Creuset has nailed it with the bright colors. Simply Put, enamel coated cast iron cookware just looks cool.
- Generally are more expensive – Because there is a lot that goes into making the enamel coating it makes the cookware more expensive. The good news is that while you might stump up to $300 for Le Creuset, the like of lodge are much more affordable and have a good reputation.
Nonstick “out of the box” – There is no maintenance when it comes to enamel coated cookware, you buy it, unpack it give it a clean and you are good to go. For those who are busy or who don’t want extra work but love the cooking properties of cast iron, the enamel coating provides all the benefits of cast iron without the fuss.
- Care needed to maintain the enamel coating – While it is tough the enamel coating can chip if not looked after. banging pots around in the cupboard (as I have learned the hard way) can lead to tears. Really it just needs a little consideration and some careful handling to make them last for the long haul. I would also avoid the dishwasher with these as this can dull the coat.
- Cooking with the right utensils to avoid scratching – With Enamel coating you really have to make sure that you are using wooden or plastic utensils – Never metal as this will scratch the coating inside and make it look ugly,
- Although it takes longer to heat up than other types of cookware (like aluminum, copper and nonstick cookware).
it will hold the heat longer and spread this more evenly.
- A well-seasoned cast iron pan becomes a natural nonstick, but unlike traditional nonstick, you can pretty much use whatever utensils that you want to.
- Lasts forever – with a little bit of care it is quite possible that your cast iron cookware will outlive you
easy to clean.
- Cast iron is chemical free unlike other types of nonstick pots and pans.
- You can use it on an induction cooktop
What are the disadvantages of cast iron?
- Weight – can crack glass top ovens and is very heavy to lift especially if you any form of injury in your arms.
- Cast iron is not the most efficient heat conductors and needs quite a bit of heat to get it going.
- Cast iron can crack when exposed to extreme temperature changes.
- You have to maintain the seasoning on your product.
- Cast iron is brittle and will crack very easily under the right conditions.
On doing the research on cast iron one of the things that have come up again and again is that not all cast iron products are created equal , this is more so when looking for a product that has an enamel coating and you should read the reviews before you make a purchase to see what others have been saying about the product that you are about to buy.
When you have bought a product I would advise that you check it out properly for any possible defaults before you start using it.
The research I have done has shown me that the the most expensive brands like Le creuset is not always the best buy for you money, they are better quality but the reality is that there are brands like lodge that produce products that are very good at a fraction of the price.
Cast iron can be difficult to maintain – This is really not true, while there might be a bit o work to initially get them seasoned, cast iron is tough, in fact so tough that with a little care it is likely that your pot or pan will outlive you. The film of seasoning will last and is robust. what is the worst thing that can happen if you damage this? that’s is right just season it again.
Cast iron heats up evenly – No it does not is the simple answer to this one. So why then is it good for searing steaks? the answer lies in the fact that cast iron has a very high volumetric heat capacity, which basically means that once it heats up it stays hot for a long time. Cast iron also has another trick up its sleeve, high emissivity. this means that it emits a lot of heat fast, cooking food on its surface as well as a good deal above it making it perfect for things like pan roasting.
You should only use nonstick utensils, not metal when cooking with cast iron – Again this is not true, as I have said before the seasoning cover is very tough and it is unlikely that you will scratch it off when you are cooking with steel utensils. Of course like all cookware you should treat it with respect and look after it, that way you can give to your kids as a super cheap wedding present.
A well-seasoned cast iron pan is as non-stick as any non-stick pan out there – While seasoning does make the cast iron “nonstick” it is not quite as good as some of the chemical based alternatives like Teflon. A little preheating and making sure that the item is well seasoned you should have no problems really.
You should never cook tomatoes and other acidic foods in cast iron – the trick to this are that you should be using a well-seasoned pan to cook acidic food. The other important thing to remember is that the seasoning coat is not vulnerable to acidic food but the potential areas where this is not done properly might have a problem. My take on this is that it is up to you if you want to cook acidic food.
You should not wash your cast iron cookware with soap – Because the thin layer of oil on the cast iron is actually polymerized it will not be affected by soap at all. This means that you can scrub away till your heart is content and your cast iron is clean. Try using the scoring side of the sponge – nothing metal based though to clean and remove stubborn food. Bottom line if you are a good attentive cook you won’t be burning your food and having to scrape it out afterward – I am just saying.
Cooking in cast iron will give you your daily amount of nutritional iron – while it is true that you might get some iron from cooking with cast iron it is probably not a good idea to bank on it when it comes to getting your quota of iron. If you need iron in your diet there are better ways of getting it. it is important to remember that there are lots of factors that will affect this.
Bare cast iron if left unprotected will begin to rust(even more so if it left with any water on it.).Cast iron is unstable and will oxidize quickly leaving the all too familiar red rust which will spoil any food that is cooked with this in the pan or pot.
If bare cast iron is seasoned correctly it has a film of oil on it that seals it from exposure to rusting allowing you to cook without the problem of rusting. Seasoning cast iron cookware will also give it non stick properties, something that is highly valued buy cast iron enthusiasts.
The seasoning process can be done in slightly different (depending on the enthusiast) ways and using different oils, but all of these processes will help create this seasoning that will protect and give your cast iron a nonstick finish.
When it comes to cleaning, you can use hot water and soap – no problem there as the seasoning is actually a layer of polymerized oil and so will not wash off like normal oils. you should however not leave cast iron to soak in water an this would invite rust. Try washing the pan or pot while it is still a little warm so that everything comes off it with ease. You can use coarse salt to help get rid of stubborn burnt on food.
Once it is washed, it is a good idea to dry it properly and then add a fine coating of vegetable oil to the surface to help protect it.
About the author
Understanding the science behind cooking helps me to figure out which tools are best suited for a particular job.
I like to help people better understand exactly what it is that they need when it comes to buying for the kitchen.
Making the right choice is easier when you know what it is you need to get.