Cast-iron skillets have potential to become stellar kitchen performers
Good design endures. Take the venerable cast-iron skillet: Even in today's weird alien-technology cookware market, it's still an exemplary performer, impossible to destroy and cheap, cheap, cheap!...
Good design endures. Take the venerable cast-iron skillet: Even in today's weird alien-technology cookware market, it's still an exemplary performer, impossible to destroy and cheap, cheap, cheap!
I like that the best ones are still made in the centuries-old manner of pouring molten iron into sand molds right here in the good ol' USA -- cue the rocket's red glare.
There's nothing you can't cook in cast iron, although some simpletons might quibble about acidic spaghetti sauce turning dark due to leaching iron. Ridiculous. Everyone needs more iron in their diet, so quit whining and start cooking. But to my mind, the best foods for cast iron are fried (chicken, fish or whatever), pan-seared (steaks and burgers) or baked (pancakes and cornbread).
Why is cast iron so great? Practically-perfect heat conduction and retention: no hot or cold spots, just the right constant cooking temperature all around. Plus, cast iron goes from stovetop to oven without warping or melted handles. No special utensils required, either. I once used a flat-head screwdriver to flip a steak, no problem, no kidding.
But there are downsides. Cast-iron cookware doesn't have heat-deflecting handles, so you need a good supply of potholders and the God-given good sense to use them.
Cast-iron cookware must be seasoned and maintained properly, which I'll get to in a moment (trust me, it's less mysterious than it sounds). And a 12-inch skillet weighs about 7 pounds, so you need good wrist tendons to throw this thing around.
But if your little white-haired granny could wield one of these babies atop her wood-fired kitchen stove, so can you.
So what's all this mystique about seasoning? It's just the natural process of creating nonstick cookware by filling up the metal pores with oil and carbon. Most new cast-iron skillets come pre-seasoned, but performance improves the more you cook, so don't expect miracles the first few times you make sunny-side eggs. In fact, one night I got a dozen eggs and made them two at a time, all in a row, lightly re-oiling the pan each time.
Will cleaning remove the seasoning? Yes, but only if you scrub vigorously with a metal cleansing pad. Just wash in hot, soapy water and use a nonmetal scouring pad instead. Having said that, you can expect to re-season your pan from time to time, especially if the surface starts looking dull and patchy. Most guides to care suggest wiping a bit of vegetable oil around the surface with a paper towel, then sticking it in the oven for about 10 minutes at 300 degrees. But frankly, this sometimes gives me a bit of a sticky, gummy surface, which means I'm using too much oil or too much heat or both. It's easier to give the thing a few swirls of vegetable oil on the stovetop, heat it up to warm, then repeat about three or four times and you're good to go.
Other than that, it's indestructible and will last several lifetimes. So get busy and start seasoning your cast-iron skillet and promise it to your kids. And if you teach them how to make this cornbread recipe, you'll have a gift that will keep on giving well into the 22nd century ... if not beyond.