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Cast Iron for Cooking

December 11, 2013

Credit: Margaret Boyles
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I have five pieces of cast-iron cookware: two frying pans, a flat skillet, a biscuit pan, and a popover pan.

I love looking at them and cooking with them. What’s not to love? 

The price was right (two handed down from my mom, two from the “free mall” at the town dump, and one from a thrift store).

  • All five pieces were old, well-used, and relatively well-seasoned—black with a rich patina—when I got them. The seasoning self-maintains itself with regular use of the cookware.
  • They bear the heft and weight of history (and feel like it, too). The Chinese developed cast-iron foundries 2500 years ago, and probably the first iron cooking utensils. The cast-iron kettles, cauldrons, spiders, and Dutch ovens of my Colonial ancestors produced much of the cuisine we call American.
  • They look good on my wood-fired kitchen stove, a stove of Amish design, which is plain, simple, and black, with a cast-iron cooking surface.
  • They conduct, distribute, and retain heat well, and cook at a lower temperature than pots and pans made from other materials..
  • They contain no wooden or plastic parts, important when cooking on a woodstove, which I do throughout the colder months. They also go from stovetop to oven with no melting, cracking, or warping.
  • They’re versatile: I can use them for various egg dishes, vegetables, stir-fries, flatbreads, English muffins and baking-powder biscuits.
  • Properly seasoned, they offer a non-toxic, (almost) non-stick cooking surface.
  • They’ll last forever.

Recently I wondered if a couple of my cast iron pieces might benefit from a complete re-conditioning. When I started searching the Web for information, I discovered that cast-iron cookware and cooking with it is something of a cult. Who knew?

People collect it, both vintage and modern pieces, and designate their collections to specific heirs. They argue over which brands are best and which size and shape of iron cookware best serves a particular recipe. There are whole books written about how to cook with it, and hundreds of online articles and spirited discussions about the best way to season it , and about whether it’s even safe to use

Cast iron does leach some (relatively non-absorbable iron) into the food as it cooks, although apparently less from older, well-seasoned items than from newer ones. This can be beneficial for folks who suffer from iron deficiency.

There is a condition called hemochromatosis, usually inherited, in which the body absorbs and stores too much iron, with toxic consequences. People with this condition, readily diagnosed by blood tests, are advised not to cook with cast iron.

After decades of cooking with cast iron (not to mention regular blood testing), I don’t worry much about getting an iron overdose from it. It’s a matter of balance. I will say I don’t cook tomatoes or fruit dishes in my iron cookware (it imparts a metallic taste to the food), and I don’t deep-fry any foods, so I don’t worry about concerns with deep frying.

I will admit, hefting hot, heavy iron pans is tough on my increasingly arthritic thumbs and wrists. But I’ve just discovered the virtues of compression wrist-support gloves. Perfect!

 

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Margaret Boyles lives in a wood-heated house in central New Hampshire. She grows vegetables, eats weeds, keeps chickens, swims in a backyard pond in summer, snowshoes in the surrounding woods in winter, and commutes by bike whenever possible.

Comments

There are some things that

By Gregory T. Sarafin

There are some things that only cast iron will properly cook. Years ago I invested in a set of stainless cookware at a cost of about $200 a pot. They cannot cook a steak, fry chicken, make venison bourgnione or accomplish any of the specialized tasks that cast iron can. In addition, what other cookware can go from stovetop to oven to broiler or to camp?

Cast iron! From my childhood

By Roy Ivey

Cast iron! From my childhood to now, I use cast iron. My wife and I have around 25 pieces of all shapes and sizes. I cook on nothing but. We are trying to inspire our 6 children to use cast iron also but they just don't get it yet. I love all my pieces..some for cornbread, some for apples, even an old dutch oven and bean pot! Most are made in the USA but one or two are from overseas. Thank you for your article.

We have been collecting for

By cynthia roundtree

We have been collecting for about 10 years now and have probally 50 pieces. We only have about 4-5 that we use to cook with but we took the rest and hung them on the wall around the mantle of the fireplace in our kitchen, we love it and get lots of comments. We recently found a old parlor stove that turned out to be an 1918 old hot water heater.

I have several pieces also

By Jo Riker

I have several pieces also and LOVE them. My grams cooked with them but alas as I was a foster child she raised I did not get them when she passed. Instead they were tossed in the trash! I am enemic and I also enjoy the health benefits! I find food tastes so much better. The fact that they will outlive me is great too as I am tired off tossing crappy pots out in the garbage.

I would love to have the cast

By Brenda D

I would love to have the cast iron cookware. I have one piece, a square skillet, that we make cornbread in. Nothing beats it for making cornbread!
I couldn't find anyplace to register for the contest, so am sending this to you. I appreciate the chance to win your treasured iron cookware!!

Thanks

I have several pieces of my

By Faye Thornton

I have several pieces of my grandmothers iron cookware, which I have handed down to my son. He absolutely loves the pieces and would like to add to his collection. He especially would like a wood burning cook stove. (reasonably priced) We live in a warm climate, non the less, it would excitement to the cooking area.

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