Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Simple Things I Love #2: My Cast Iron Pans

There's a lot of talk these days about using safer, more environmentally friendly pans. There have been a lot of new lines of cookware come out in the past few years that are being marketed as "green" choices. I happen to think that the best pans are the ones that have been around for over 100 years: Cast iron.

Considering I've been cooking since I was old enough to hold a wooden spoon, it took me a while to become a cast iron convert. I didn't grow up with cast iron cookware, and I didn't know anyone else who used cast iron pans, either. For a while, I was intrigued by the idea of cast iron, yet intimidated by it because everything I read gave me the impression they were hard to care for.

I actually bought my first cast iron pan over 20 years ago (the smallest one with the wooden handle in the photo). I think I paid $5 for it at IKEA (as far as I can tell, they don't sell these anymore). This was before we even got married! I do remember using it a bit, and taking it on camping trips, but for some reason it eventually got stuck in the back of the cupboard and gathered dust for a decade or so. Thankfully, I never got rid of it during either of our pre-move purges.

Fast forward to a couple summers ago when I picked up the mid-size pan (bottom right in the photo) at a yard sale for $5. It is definitely an older, well seasoned pan and I was excited to find it. I really wanted to start using cast iron pans on a regular basis, but again for some strange reason I felt a bit intimidated.

Thankfully I got over it and have now been using both of the pans pictured on a daily basis for a couple of years. We added the largest pan in the photo about 6 months ago - I bought that one new for just under $30 at a Canadian Tire 65% off sale (gotta love those!). Of the three pans, it's my least favourite. You'll notice it doesn't look as glossy as the other two, which both have the wonderful dark patina of a well-seasoned pan. The newer one doesn't have as smooth of a surface and I'm finding it hard to get it well seasoned. Still, I'll take it over any of the ceramic-coated pans I've owned, hands-down.

So, why do I love these pans so much?

They are very safe to cook with: No nasty coatings, and you can even increase the iron content of your foods by cooking in cast iron!

They will take whatever you can dish out: You can use metal utensils when cooking, and scrape away at them hard if you get something stuck on them.

They will last several generations: Lodge, one of the best-known makers of cast iron cookware, has been making cast iron pans since 1896 and apparently some of the original pieces are still in use today. Considering as how my other fry pans typically lasted 2-3 years at the most with daily use, that is simply amazing!

They produce great results: The combination of my gas stove and cast iron pans means I can get some seriously crispy crunchy coatings when I'm pan frying. The nice thick bottoms mean foods don't get easily burnt or scorched (which can definitely happen when using flimsy cookware over a gas flame!)

They are easy to clean and care for: This point is ironic as it's what held me back from discovering the wonders of cast iron for so long. Really, it is no big deal at all to look after these pans. Ideally, you shouldn't use soapy water on them, as that will wear down the seasoning, but I do use a bit now and then when a pan is really nasty. Some people recommend re-seasoning them with oil after every use, but I don't find that to be necessary at all - probably because most of our meals start with a couple tablespoons of either butter or olive oil in the pan :) Once you've been using your pans for a while, you'll know when they need a bit of a reboot - I find mine only need it once a month at the most. Yes, my large pan above *does* need some reseasoning action! I have found coconut oil works really well for seasoning my pans, other people have different opinions about what works best! Some basic instructions on how to care for and season your cast iron pan can be found here. Even if your pan becomes a rusted-out mess (or you find one at a yard sale in that condition), it can still be saved! See this tutorial on how to clean up a rusty pan.

Despite how much I love my cast iron pans, I'm willing to admit they have two drawbacks:

1. They are HEAVY! It's difficult to lift my largest pan with one hand if I'm trying to drain fat out of it, or tip out the last portion of a skillet meal.

2. The handles get HOT - so you need to use an oven mitt while cooking (the wooden handle on my small pan eliminates this problem).

I think these two minor drawbacks are far outweighed by all their benefits. We now cook exclusively with these 3 pans and I've said goodbye to those ceramic pans. I like thinking about the possibility of my kids or grandkids someday cooking food for their families in these exact pans (yeah, I'm a romantic, what can I say?)

Are you a cast iron aficionado? Or curious about giving them a try now?

(And no, this post is not sponsored in any way by Lodge or anyone else - I just love my cast iron!)

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  1. I love my cast iron for blackened salmon on the grill once a week. And of course cornbread. Need to use them more often. Thanks for the push!

    1. Glad I inspired you to break them out more often, Lynda!


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