I am frugal, and I cannot afford to replace the knives we have when they start to go dull. I am also clumsy and I run a much greater risk of losing an appendage if my knives are dull. It is true that sharp knives are safer than dull ones.
Every knife dulls. It does not matter what they say about it; some will keep the original edge longer than others, but the fact remains that every knife dulls.
I have to say that I love cast iron and use it for just about everything.
It seems to play well with my thrifty nature in that if properly cared for it can be given to my great-grandchildren. Other than being durable, it is in its own way, beautiful. I love how it hangs on the rack in our kitchen.
“Anything that holds food and transfers heat can be considered cookware. . . . ideally [cookware] would heat up quickly, distribute the heat evenly, retain the heat well, and respond quickly to changes in temperature. Unfortunately, no such material exists” (Joachim & Schloss, p. 160).
American made cast iron is such a rich tradition that traces back to the very roots of Yankee ingenuity. Take for example our favorite hand crank appliances made by Chop Rite Two in Pennsylvania. These truly are built like family heirlooms that can be used for generations, not to mention that all spare parts are available for sale separately. As a personal policy, whenever I see cast iron at a thrift store, it generally is coming home with us. Take this recent score, a cast iron pot with lid which will certainly be used over the campfire this summer.
Whether it comes to pan frying, deep fat frying, campfire cooking, baking, braising or broiling—a good cast iron pan just cannot be beat. So this week we decided to add one more to the fleet, and bought a new Lodge brand pan (also made in America).
While I have always been satisfied with the way that cast iron performs when it is heated up, getting it to that temperature can take longer and there is a good reason for that. “cast iron is only a fair heat conductor (about four times slower than aluminum), but it retains heat well and has a high melting point, making it excellent for high-heat cooking” (Joachim & Schloss, p. 162).
First off, the question of how to clean cast iron comes up quite a bit. For an initial cleaning (right home from the store) I will use dish soap and water. The Lodge cast iron products come already seasoned, but I still want to clean off any yucky stuff picked up in transit or while on display.
For daily use I typically just wipe out the pan and hang it up until it is used again, avoiding using soap at all—and never put it in the dishwasher. This can be done largely because we cook with saturated fats or olive oil (although typically not for high heat cooking). For stuck on food bits, you can try coarse salt or citric acid, or a cup or so of beer simmering in the bottom of the pan does wonders but the definitive treatment on cast iron can be found here in a great article by Paul Wheaton. Also, here is a great video post from Jocelyn Campbell on how to restart a cast iron pan:
Now let us talk about how to season a cast iron item. I typically like to do it by cooking with saturated fats, like bacon for example. As it turned out, the kids were also grooving on BLT’s for lunch, so it was a win-win all the way around.
Over time, the cast iron skillet will build up a “seasoning” that coats and protects the pan in a way that no non-stick coating ever could as well as help to transfer heat more evenly throughout the pan. A good seasoning layer does take time to develop.
One faster method involves coating the cast iron pan with oil, and baking it upside down in an oven at 350°F for two hours (over a baking sheet because it will drip), recoating the cast iron every 30 minutes with fresh oil.
Now, I normally agree with everything that Joachim and Schloss say in their great book, The Science of Good Food—except perhaps on this point where they say to use highly unsaturated oils like canola, corn or vegetable (soy) to coat the cast iron. With that last part I would explicitly disagree as those oils are dangerous in the body over time, and saturated fats like those in animal products are far superior.
Cast iron is pretty forgiving and so after I cook something like bacon or lard and I am trying to season the pan for its first couple of runs, I will just cover the cast iron skillet and set it aside. Remember, saturated fats are highly stable so unless you cooked something really wonky in there, it will be fine. You can even cover the cast iron pan and put it in the fridge if that suits. The key is to keep the oil in contact with the pan for awhile. The repeated heat cycles is what helps to impregnate the cast iron with the oil; “when the oil heats with the metal, it polymerizes, or forms a dense plastic-like layer that keeps out oxygen and prevents rusting” (Joachim & Schloss, p. 160).
If you have a question about cast iron your want to leave a comment about how it worked for you we would love to hear it.