Cast Iron Cookware, The Case For and Against

An introduction

The use of cast-iron for cooking goes back over 2500 years albeit in Europe countries such as the UK have only used it for about 1000 years after it became popular when folk realised that complete pots with handles could be made using molten metal poured into moulds made out of sand. Originally these pots came with three legs as they were to be used on the open fire.

The Benefits of using cast iron cookware

Cast iron cookware offers many exceptional cooking benefits; hence so many cooks swear by it.
It is a near perfect heat conductor, heating evenly and consistently;
It can withstand very high temperatures, which makes it great for searing and frying
These pots allow precise and sustained cooking temperatures;
When cooking with these pots and skillets heat is spread evenly throughout the pot; there are no hot spots; this makes iron pots great for slow cooking; and
Cured cast iron offers the perfect non-stick surface making it ideal for many dishes where using non stick is a must.

Cast iron offers many other more widely based benefits:

It lasts and lasts and lasts and makes a great heirloom;
It is relatively inexpensive to buy but when seen in the context of its extraordinary longevity it’s incredibly cheap;
It can be used to cook in so many styles hence so many cooks swear by it; for example for use when cooking Jambalaya dishes, stews, soups, cornbread, tortillas and fajitas; and such is its versatility it can be used for frying, searing, baking, deep frying grilling;
It comes in many shapes and sizes and different formats; be they; griddles, grills, woks, Jambalaya pots, deep fryers, frying pans and Dutch ovens
It can go from stove to oven;
It won’t warp, its tough as old boots and is really easy to clean;
Health benefits arise for those with a deficiency of iron in their blood. A small amount of iron is leached into the food when cooking providing a rely valuable benefit;
Cooking with this cookware is far more fun than with most other cookware; and
When well seasoned cast iron cookware works non stick requiring no additional oil whatsoever so its great for healthy cooking.

The disadvantages of cast iron cookware

For those with excess iron in their blood the leaching of iron from the cookware can be bad;
For those suffering from the inherited metabolic disorder hemochromatosis that affects around one million Americans it should be avoided. Indeed if you have any family with the disease, ask your physician about the transferring saturation test, which tests for iron excess in the blood;
The food sticks! But if it does this simply means that you haven’t seasoned your cast iron properly because cast iron is naturally and totally non stick when correctly seasoned
If you suffer from joint or stomach pain, fatigue, heart palpitations or impotence, check with your physician.
You can’t put iron in the dish washer; but otherwise cleaning it is a breeze
It is not recommended that you boil water using cast iron cookware;
Its not recommended for glass top stoves as it can scratch the surface when moved around;
It has to be seasoned and if cooking with certain acidic food stuffs such as when cooking using tomato based sauces it’s surface can be affected and need redoing from time to time

Seasoning cast iron cookware

It must be seasoned to protect the metal from rusting and to provide a non-stick surface. This is a straightforward process which once done shouldn’t need redoing. There are many good articles explaining this process but in summary it comprises of a simple 3 step process:

Cleaning the cast iron cookware back to its original surface;
Applying a layer of fat all over [typically fats high in saturated fats such as: Crisco, Palm oil, Coconut oil and lard]; then,
Heating up the ‘fat covered cookware’ to a high temperature causing the fat to bond to theiron.

Thereafter ongoing seasoning occurs as your cooking deposits evermore fat on top of the cured surface, giving it that lovely non stick dark glossy hue that characterises well-seasoned well-aged cast iron cookware.

If your  cookware develops rust spots, scour the rusty areas with steel wool, until all traces of rust are gone then wash, dry and once again repeat seasoning process.

Cleaning the cookware

A lot of nonsense is talked about cleaning cast iron cookware; but the basics are straightforward:

Do not soak them or scrub them with scourers or anything metal;
Avoid strong cleaning products;
Wash with mild soap and water and dry with a paper towel then
Re-apply a thin layer of fat.

Never store food in the cast iron pan as the acid in the food will breakdown the seasoning and take on a metallic flavor

Types of cast iron

There are many brands of plain and enameled cast iron coming from around the world. Our advice at the Outdoor Cooking Equipment Store is go for the traditional black iron as the price differential, given the limited additional benefits of enamelled iron does not warrant paying so much more.

Enamelled pots also do not offer the benefits of standard cast iron such as the ability to withstand searing heat, the leaching of dietary iron and it never enjoys that beautiful black hue.

What  to buy and how to choose

There are many brands from which to choose. We recommend the Bayou Classic brand as the quality is truly exceptional judged against competing brands. When selecting which cookware to go for consider the following:

It should have a fine, smooth surface making it ideal for seasoning.
Do not buy cookware that is pitted, uneven, rough or that has any chips or cracks;
High quality cast iron cookware is evenly grey all over and is made in one piece;
Do all you can to get hold of grandmother’s old cast iron cookware as long as it doesn’t have a cracks or chips it will continue to last and last