Ready for rugged use, cast iron cookware is an all-purpose choice for kitchen duty. Once heated, it cooks either fast or slow and it cleans up quickly under running water with just a little scrubbing. Hefty by nature, larger pieces require a little man-handling on the stovetop or in the oven. When a camping trip calls, these pieces are workhorses over a fire for great outdoor meals. Cast iron will last through generations and can take the abuse of a busy family while impressing guests when the time comes to commandeer kitchen spaces.
Plain and Enameled Cast Iron
Deciding between plain and enameled cast iron depends on cooking needs, budget and size requirements. Enameled versions tend to be higher in cost and can chip if not treated with some care. However, they are also best for cooking acidic foods such as tomatoes. Plain cast iron remains the most in demand. It requires an oil rub after each use and an occasional re-seasoning to prevent rust. Original, plain cast iron pots and skillets may feature slightly raised rings on the bottoms, making them harder to use on flat-surface stovetops. Completely flat bottoms will get the job done on any type of surface. Just be careful about placement as their weight can cause scratches and, if dropped, breakage.
Cast Iron Advantages
The advantages of using cast iron are many. In addition to a long life, the material evenly conducts heat exceptionally well over gas flames or a heating element. That makes deeper pots excellent choices for soups and stews, as they require less babysitting. Using a larger griddle that covers two burners is no problem. Heat spreads outward to prevent cold spots with room to let bacon sizzle, hash browns crisp and eggs cook to everyone’s preferences. Tougher cuts of meat will turn tender with a little loving care inside cast iron. Well-seasoned cast iron provides its own non-stick coating, which means less cleanup time. Pieces also move from burners straight into the oven to finish off meats and other dishes.
Small, medium and large skillets are a must-have for any cook. In addition, a variety of saucepans and pots will round out a collection. Muffin pans will make easy work of cornbread and other baked treats. A Dutch oven is the ultimate in large-scale cooking. For avid campers, an oven with feet will sit perfectly over hot coals in a fire pit.
Reasons to Avoid Cast Iron
Frying, simmering, boiling and baking. Almost all foods are quick and easy to prepare in cast iron. However, a few exceptions do exist and every cook should keep a wider range of cookware choices on hand. Adding cold or frozen foods to cast iron can cause it to crack. Because the material is porous, it can also transfer flavors from an earlier cooked meal to the next. Plain boiling water is best saved for other types of pots. Even well-seasoned pieces can impart a little iron into foods.
Cleanup and Maintenance
Cleanup for plain cast iron is perhaps the easiest part of all. Rinse thoroughly with hot water, scrubbing away any stuck-on particles. Wipe dry and place on a hot burner for a final quick heat. Remove and let cool.
Today’s standard cast iron cookware arrives pre-seasoned, often with an extra oily coating that acts as a preservative in transit. For a cheaper alternative, older pieces are still easy to find at garage or estate sales. They may show rust but, if they are in good shape, can usually be revitalized with a deep seasoning and baking in the oven.
While outfitting an entire kitchen collection in enameled or cast iron cookware is not practical, it is nice to have one, two or more favorite pieces. A deep pot, a skillet or two and a Dutch oven are all popular starter choices.