What does one need to know to cook with cast iron cookware? Why would you choose it / not choose it over other options?
Benefits and Disadvantages?
IMHO, nothing in the world cooks some foods better than cast iron. But it has fallen out of favor mostly because it is so heavy. Drop a skillet on your tile floor or porcelain sink and you have a disaster. If your grip slips on a heavy dutch oven you could get badly burned. The dutch ovens weigh a ton and are especially awkward to lift up out of the ovenÂfor a woman anyway.
They also need a little more care than stainless. Every time I use my skillet I wash it quickly, dry it and re-oil immediately. Some people don't wash them with soap and water but Mom always did and I do too.
A lot of us grew up with them but for someone just starting out wanting new cookware, cast iron would not be something I would recommend. Others might feel differently.
Sorry, Bean Counter, but soap should never touch cast iron.
The cure in cast iron is made of grease. Soap's job is to dissolve grease. So every time you use soap you merely are removing that beautiful cure you worked so hard to get.
Liz, we've discussed cast iron here several times, and you might want to do a search for those threads. But in the meantime, here's an article you might find useful.
Here is a link that might be useful: Care & Feeding of Cast Iron
gardenlad, I've read that recently. I learned to cook from my mom and she always washed hers. She cooked almost every day with at least 3 sizes of cast iron frypans and a dutch oven. I followed her example. It's been my experience that if the pan is seasoned properly, you can't hurt it easily. I wouldn't set one in hot dishwater and let it soak , but I wouldn't cook with a unwashed pan either. I'll try to remember to take a photo of my old pan. It has a finish like polished onyx, beautiful. Anyway, warning to anyone reading this post, most people do NOT wash cast iron in soap and water--but I do.
I always wash my well-seasoned (30+ years) pans with soap too. It doesn't remove an old seasoned finish.
The linked article was very interesting too!
My parents had a cast iron skillet, and they used soap and water to clean it. For years I complained that some foods (especially eggs) tasted "soapy." They thought I was nuts... until I found out years later that soap should never be used on cast iron.
Cure your cast iron cookware, and never use soap.
Another thing you should never do with cast iron is season it with oil. You can cook with oil, of course, but solid shortening or solid animal fat (bacon grease, lard) are the preferred fats for seasoning.
The good thing is, you'll only make the mistake of using oil to season cast iron once. After you've had to clean off the sticky, nasty mess oil makes on CI, you won't do that again--LOL! (and yes, I DO know what I'm talking about).
A good suggestion--do your seasoning on your backyard grill. Saves having the mess, smoke and smell in the house, and does a good job. And if you ever do need to clean off the old seasoning or rust from a pan, pop it in the oven when you run the self-cleaning cycle.
Ok....here's a drawback.
A pan that dissolves into your food? That is not appealing on any level. Let me quote from the article referenced below. "Besides distributing heat evenly so that food cooks uniformly, and lasting for years, cast iron is good for you! It actually adds iron to your diet..." That's because the iron from the pan itself dissolves into your food.
NASTY!!!! and it tastes nasty too! Foods that have a high tomato content taste metalic when cooked in iron pots. That's not a seasoning I want added to my food!!!
That's why you never cook acidic foods in cast iron, unless its porcelain-lined. Acidic foods should be cooked in only non-reactive pans: aluminum, stainless, porcelain, glass.
Whoa, Leel! Where did you get the idea that aluminum was non-reactive? In fact is it one of the most reactive metals around.
Besides which, the slight amount of iron that gets transferred to the food is considered good for you. So say virtually all the health authorities.
Sorry about that aluminum, gardenlad. Got it confused with the story on Alzheimer's. However, it is quite true that acidic foods cooked in cast iron do acquire an off taste. And, yes, the iron taken on in food generally is good for you, its just the taste that's off in acids.
FWIW I use coconut oil to season cast iron. Seems to work fine for me.
Some men have a genetic predisposition to absorb iron too efficiently; they develop a disease called hemochromatosis. That's one group of people who shouldn't use cast iron pots (unless the pots are lined like Le Creuset).
Cast iron's real forte is holding enough heat to sear meat well. Because it holds heat, it's also good for holding things at a steady temp for a long time. You can sear meats in the bottom of an iron pot, add liquid and cook it slow and steady for hours. That's why so many braising enthusiasts are nuts for their Le Creuset dutch ovens.
An exhaustive comparison of the cooking qualities of various materials, including cast iron, can be found at the link. Check it out to compare cast iron with other materials.
Here is a link that might be useful: cooking materials