Many serious cooks find a good cast iron pan a kitchen staple. It can be used to perfectly brown potatoes, cook cinnamon rolls, or even roast a whole chicken.
Cast iron pans can be used on the stove top, in the oven, or over a campfire. Cast iron has a high volumetric heat capacity, which means that once it heats up, it stays hot. This gives a good sear for your meat and allows for better cooking—not just the surface of the food that is in contact with the pan. A good cast iron pan will last your lifetime and beyond.
Seasoning a cast iron pan is the key to long-lasting cast iron success. Any cooking oil or fat can be used to season cast iron. Oil baked onto the iron repeatedly creates a polymerized oil surface, where the oil breaks down and bonds to the surface of the metal. This gives well-seasoned cast iron pans a surface that prevents sticking and protects the metal from corrosion or rusting from moisture in cooking foods or humidity in the air.
Seasoning can be done several ways. The most common method to season pans is in the oven. Pre-heat to 400F and after first using a paper towel to coat all sides of the pan with oil, place the pan upside down in the oven for an hour (use a piece of aluminum foil on the rack under the pan to catch any drips).
Let the pan cool, then rub another light coat of oil on all sides before storing. If the oil feels sticky, then it hasn’t properly seasoned, so return it to the hot oven and let it bake a bit more.
Another method to season a pan is by repeatedly oiling and heating it on the stovetop until it is smoking hot (then let it cool before heating it again). Cooking in the pan will continue to add to the seasoning, and eventually the pan will have a dark glossy finish.
Tips for using your cast iron pan
- If you are using secondhand cast iron pans, or your pan is rusty from lack of use, use about a half a cup of table salt and scrub until you get to the raw cast iron. Wash the pan well, and then season it as described above.
- Cast iron cooks best when it is allowed to pre-heat before adding food. Because cast iron retains heat so well, you can use a lower temperature setting for cooking.
- Cast iron conducts heat well, so use a handle mitt to keep from burning your hands.
- Clean the pan after each use by washing it with warm water and mild soap. Do not let a cast iron pan soak–if you have stuck-on gunk, either use a pan scraper or heat a little water in the bottom of the pan to loosen the gunk before washing.
- After washing, towel dry the pan (don’t air dry or it may rust). Heat the skillet over a burner on high heat to remove the rest of the moisture, then add a little (half teaspoon or so) cooking oil and rub all sides of the pan with a paper towel while the pan is still warm.
- Avoid long-simmered acidic foods, such as tomato sauce, in cast iron. The acid can deglaze the seasoning on the pan if it is in contact for too long. A short simmer won’t harm anything.
- The best way to keep your pan well seasoned is to use it a lot! Sear, fry, and bake away!
Try this: Cast Iron Skillet Pan Pizza
- Quick Pizza Dough (You can also find pre-made pizza dough at most grocery stores if you want a shortcut)
• 1 (1/4 ounce) package active dry yeast
• 1 teaspoon sugar
• 1 cup lukewarm water
• 2 1/2 cups flour
• 2 tablespoons olive oil
• 1 teaspoon salt
- 2-3 ounces of tomato or marinara sauce
- 2-3 cups grated mozzarella cheese
- Toppings of your choice
- Pre-heat the cast iron pan in the oven to 525 degrees F.
- In a medium bowl, dissolve yeast and sugar in warm water. Let stand about 10 minutes.
- Stir in flour, salt, and oil. Beat until smooth. Let dough rest for 5 minutes.
- Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and pat or roll into a round.
- Remove the pan from the oven and lightly oil it, then sprinkle with cornmeal.
- Transfer crust to the pan and pat so it is snug (be careful not to burn your fingers).
- Spread with tomato sauce, cheese, and desired toppings.
- Bake in for 15 to 20 minutes, or until golden brown.
- Let baked pizza cool for 5 minutes before serving.