Robby's Tips for Cooking with Cast Iron
by Robby Richardson
Cast iron cookware can be one of the most versatile tools that you have in your kitchen. Seasoned properly, it is as close to non-stick cookware as you can get. It is almost indestructible (many vintage cast iron pieces are currently being used by a third or fourth generation), and if it does ever fall into disrepair, it is fairly easy to bring back to life. I know that some people are hesitant to use cast iron because they have heard that it is hard to take care of, but with a little knowledge and some simple principles (see Caring for Your Cast Iron Cookware), keeping your cast iron in top shape is not really difficult at all.
There are some things that are helpful to remember when cooking with cast iron. The following is my tips and tidbits as a well-seasoned cook.
Nothing beats using a well-seasoned pan.
Cast iron is that rare breed of cookware that actually improves with use. As you build up a good layer of seasoning on your cast iron cookware, it becomes easier and more consistent to use. Do a good job of seasoning a new piece of cast iron, apply a little oil after every use, and your cast iron cookware will improve with age (just like you).
Preheat your cast iron before adding food.
Even a well seasoned pan will stick if you add cold food to a cold pan. Put your cast iron on the stove top and let it come up to temperature over medium heat. Then adjust the temperature to what is required for what you are cooking, add a small amount of oil and let it briefly preheat, then add your food and look forward to a delicious treat.
The one exception that I have found to preheating your cast iron is cooking bacon in a cast iron skillet. I have found that if I add the bacon to a cold skillet, then let the fat render gently as the skillet heats up over medium heat, the bacon cooks more evenly (doesn’t curl up from exposure to higher heat). Plus, I've found there is less splattering.
You can cook with lower temperatures.
Cast iron is very good at extremely high temperatures, and a screaming hot cast iron skillet will put an amazing sear on a piece of meat. But, most things scorch at extremely high temperatures. Cast iron holds and transfers heat very efficiently, and I have found that cooking at medium to medium high heat has most often brought me the best results.
Experiment to find just the right temperature for whatever you’re cooking. Take good notes and adjust the recipe accordingly. In a couple of tries, you will find the perfect temperature for cooking your favorite dish.
Don’t crowd your food in the cookware, and don’t move your food too quickly.
Cooking in cast iron has worked best for me when I don’t try to crowd too much into the skillet. If you are cooking multiple items, give each some room to “breathe.”
Also, one of the easiest mistakes to make is to move or flip your food before it is ready. When one side of your meat is properly browned (or caramelized), it will release and flip easily. If you try to move it too quickly, you will often leave behind part of what you are cooking. This same principle applies to cooking on a grill as well.
Take advantage of the versatility of cast iron.
Very few pieces of cookware can move as easily between stovetop and oven as cast iron. The beauty is that cast iron can be just as useful on the grill or campfire as they are in the kitchen. It is very sturdy and can not only stand up to, but also excel in many different cooking environments. Just remember that the same heat retention properties that make it a great piece of cookware also make it very hot to handle. Make sure that you use proper protection for your hands (a silicone cooking glove or a silicone handle work very well).
Not only will your cast iron cookware improve with each use, but your understanding of and appreciation for this amazing tool will grow each time you use it. So, let's get cooking!