Unlike chemically treated skillets, cast iron can be preheated without the potential of releasing harmful fumes. It also works just as well in the oven as it does on the stove. Cast iron is an ideal choice for frying pans and skillets because of its even heat distribution; well-made cast iron does not suffer from hot spots. Cast iron holds its temperature extremely well, an important factor when shallow or deep frying.
What scares many people off is that one cannot just buy a cast iron skillet and immediately start cooking; the iron would be interacting with the food, and spoiling the taste. Seasoning cast iron with a protective layer of animal fat or vegetable oil to get it ready and to prevent rusting must be done first.
Seasoning cast iron is easy to do; the best method for seasoning cast iron is first to wash it thoroughly, and then after carefully drying it, coat it with a thin layer of vegetable oil. No excess oil should be on the pan when seasoning cast iron. Cooking the pan for an hour in a 350-degree oven should do the trick; also remember to let it cool slowly in the oven. One will find many variations on seasoning cast iron, but the principles are the same. After seasoning cast iron cookware, it will become as non-stick as any Teflon-coated frying pan, and with far more flavor and character. If seasoning cast iron sounds tricky, “pre-seasoned” cookware is available, though they still must have cared for the same way.
Properly maintaining the layer of seasoning is a little trickier, though still not complicated. Often, a simple wipe with a paper towel is enough to clean the pan after seasoning cast iron cookware. Running it under boiling or near-boiling water works for heavier cleaning needs. Contrary to what some will say, a mild soap can be used to clean the cast iron. If the pan is not frequently used, it may be necessary to hand-wash it, but it should never be placed in a dishwasher. Seasoning cast iron cookware can be done again if needed. Care should be taken to avoid contaminating the surface with soap, lest soap taste ruins one’s next meal.
Aside from frying pans and skillets, cast iron is also ideal for dutch ovens. The process of seasoning cast iron dutch ovens is identical any other piece of cookware, though some will recommend an additional two or three layers of oil for best results. Just as importantly, air must be allowed to circulate inside the oven while in storage; i.e. do not put the lid on when putting it away. Otherwise, the protective layer of oil will turn rancid, necessitating a massive cleaning and re-seasoning
With a little familiarity, seasoning cast iron becomes second-nature. Cast iron is not only easier to maintain than more smooth cooking surfaces, but it is also superior to them. Thus cast iron cookware is enjoying a renaissance among both professional chefs and amateurs simply looking for a tastier meal.
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