Tuesday, February 8th, 2011
129

Here's Why You Need A Cast Iron Skillet

Surprisingly, I have met many people who do not know the difference between a cast iron skillet and any other normal frying pan. Are you one of them? It pains me to say this, but it must be said: That's ignorant on your part. It's like not knowing the difference between Michael Jordan and every other basketball player ever, which is just exceptionally ignorant. In both the case of the cast iron skillet vs. the regular frying pan and Michael Jordan vs. every other basketball player ever, you're unaware that both cast iron skillets and Michael Jordan are the best of all time in their respective fields.

So, I get it, you don't understand what's so great about a cast iron skillet (if you don't get what's so good about Michael Jordan, this is a link to his Wikipedia entry). Here's a quick primer.

1. It gets really hot and retains a lot of heat. Often when cooking meats, specifically steak, it's important that the first surface that your meat touches (TWSS) be insanely hot. Why? Because that way it creates a crust that seals in all of the juices and keeps your meat moist and delicious (TWSS!)! The cast iron skillet is critical to cooking a delicious steak, this is very important to remember. I'm sure if you are cooking vegetables (eye roll), it's just as good as for that.

2. Even distribution of heat. Along with heat retention, an even distribution of heat is also really important to the cooking process, ESPECIALLY if you're searing (as mentioned above), deep frying, or even baking. So make sure you're always preheating your cast iron skillet, and also not burning yourself, because you want a nice even (often high) heat to get your best results.

3. It's versatile. So we know you can cook a steak with a cast iron skillet, great. You know what else you can do? Bake an mf-ing pie! A PIE. Can you believe that? Isn't it insane that you can just throw this skillet in the oven right after you've been using it on the stove? If this doesn't impress you, then kudos on having a life so filled with wonder that the versatility of cooking utensils leaves you joyless and dead inside. Me, I'm not like that. I'm not like you. I enjoy life.

Obviously, life isn't perfect. We're all fallible. And like us, and unlike Michael Jordan, the cast iron skillet has some flaws. It's a little heavy (IT'S MADE OF CAST IRON, NOT FEATHERS). If you have difficulties with spatial relations, it's possible that you will burn yourself. But you know what? Maybe you deserve it. If you can't stand the heat of a cast iron skillet, then get out of the kitchen and stop trying to grab the handles of cast iron skillets that have been preheated without wearing some sort of protective hand thingie. But for those of you who are able to navigate your way around a stove, get yourself a cast iron skillet. I cannot overemphasize the richness it will bring to your life.

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129 Comments / Post A Comment

scroll_lock (#4,122)

They're great for beaning people in the skull, too. Makes a delightful "clanging" sound when massaging the cranium.

Multiphasic (#411)

Much like a Hyundai!

scroll_lock (#4,122)

And, like Hyundais- you have to remember to change the oil in them regularly.

BadUncle (#153)

The perfect soundtrack for Eating Raoul

petejayhawk (#1,249)

Clanging, yes, but not a clanger. That, we have learned, is something different entirely.

mjfrombuffalo (#2,561)

OK two stupid questions:
1) can you use them on glass cooktops, or are they too heavy for that?
2) what do you do when you've… um… "acquired" a set of cast iron pans covered in rust?

scroll_lock (#4,122)

2) You put them in the trunk of your Hyundai and drive off a cliff.

roboloki (#1,724)

1) yes you can, no they are not.
2) brillo that shit off then season the pans. you can do this by smearing lard on the cooking surface and placing in your oven at a medium/low heat for half an hour or so. let the pan cool and wipe the oily residue away with a towel (paper towels will leave little pieces behind). if you don't have an old and well worn cast iron pan i reccomend you season it after each use for the first dozen years or so.

Bittersweet (#765)

Cannot emphasize enough the importance of seasoning your cast iron pans, as brilliantly described by roboloki above. No need to do this with your Hyundai, though.

boyofdestiny (#1,243)

2) Try to use plain old steel wool without any kind of soapy additives. It's not a huge deal, but you're generally going to want to avoid soap on your cast iron.

Also, seasoning with lard? That is a bold choice!

Throw some kosher salt in before wiping out the lard as well.

scroll_lock (#4,122)

(Trying to reply and somehow got a lovely green thumb instead) I can't stand high maintenance skillets that make you think you're eating bacon grease from 1994.

jolie (#16)

@scroll_lock: YES ALSO THAT YES

Bittersweet (#765)

@scroll and jolie: so you prefer Teflon skillets that flake off and give you cancer?

A little extra iron isn't the worst thing in the world. But if you're buying new, don't try and save money by getting the unpolished versions, they rust worse and not even ten years is enough to smooth them out.

rudedog (#7,744)

I use them on my induction cooktop, which is glass. Never had a problem and induction+cast iron is a wonderful synergy.

To fix the rust thing, get a wire brush and scrub off the rust. Then ask the google about how to season your cast iron cookware.

SeanP (#4,058)

1) I use mine on a glass cooktop all the time. Also a cast iron dutch oven, which is even heavier.
2) Scrub them up really well so as to get all the loose rust off. Coat with a heavy coat of vegetable. Bake in a hot oven for a little while – not enough to make the oil smoke, but enough to get the pan quite hot. The oil will reduce any remaining red rust to magnetite, giving you that "seasoned" look.

To keep your pans from rusting, wash immediately after using, recoat with oil, and heat again (you can do it on the stovetop if you like). Heat on a medium flame until water stops sizzling out of the pan.

mjfrombuffalo (#2,561)

Thanks for the answers, y'all totally rock.

deepomega (#1,720)

I already own a cast iron skillet, but I think I will go out and buy ten more. Just in case.

scroll_lock (#4,122)

You can't have too many- what if friends drop by unexpectedly and you're caught short?

deepomega (#1,720)

Each friend deserves their own deep dish skillet french toast! I'd be a terrible host if I didn't do that for them!

Tulletilsynet (#333)

How can people not have cast-iron skillets? What do they make their cornbread in, Pyrex?

jolie (#16)

I've thrown out two cast iron skillets in this lifetime and I've still managed to live happily ever after. Fuck 'em, and pay no mind to this ridiculous sponsored peer pressure.

boyofdestiny (#1,243)

This comment was like three punches in the stomach.

wb (#2,214)

I'm never putting ice in my wine again. NEVER.

jolie (#16)

wb: Your loss
@Papa: I know. It's a controversial opinion but one I felt was worth sharing. There must be others out there who are suffering intimidation by the Cast Iron Mafia, and I want them to know that they are not alone! Seriously, I do just fine without.

!!!

Jolie, I am SHOCKED. Since we agree on nearly ALL cooking-related matters, I cannot believe we are having this FRACTURE.

I'm reassessing everything.

I don't even KNOW you anymore…

boyofdestiny (#1,243)

I understand that some people would chafe at pro–cast iron zealotry. I resist that kind of stuff all the time. But jolie, what caused you to throw out two cast iron pans? Had you used them to repel a rocket-propelled grenade or something?

jolie (#16)

One of them I threw out when I was moving. I had gotten the squicks about it because 1. an ex bought it for me and nearly blew me to bits when he seasoned it on his grill and 2. I stored it under my stove and a little mousey ran under there one night and yeah. The other one was gifted to me by a friend who couldn't cope with not being able to bleach it clean (he has problems). I tried to revive it but the black coated treatment stuff kept coming off in my food and again, squicks.

I dunno. I guess I just don't walk with the Lord on this one, guys.

pepper (#676)

If you can't deal with cast-iron-pan skeeviness, real or perceived, a cycle in the purifying fires of a self-cleaning oven will make it as new. Then reseason.

It's illogical, but the cherished patina on pans inherited from a grandmother reads as icky grossness on the identical pan picked up at a swap meet.

hockeymom (#143)

Why use cast iron when Sandra Lee has a perfectly good line of semi-cast iron skillets you can buy at the dollar store?

saythatscool (#101)

Jolie is correct. They have many flaws which outweigh the benefits.

KeithTalent (#2,014)

I like them in theory more than I do in practice. Much like nordic skiing and Pynchon.

Well, no, I DO hear you. I mean Martha Stewart gets so intense about cast iron that I'm like LEAVE ME ALONE WITH MY ALL-CLAD, WOMAN!

But then I always come back.

boyofdestiny (#1,243)

All the money I would have spent on $300 frying pans went to whiskey instead. Cast iron is the pan of the people.

petejayhawk (#1,249)

Shit, people. It's not like you have to use the cast iron for EVERYTHING if you have one. But they're good to have around.

Just in case.

One more reason to have a "thumbs down" button.

Mackenzie Kelly (#8,235)

Never buy new – yard sales and junk shops carry them by the dozen. they come in all sizes. A complete collection of matched makers go for big bucks ($500-$600).

Fuckin' A, you guys! Here's a perfectly good Lodge for under 10 bucks!

But also, the burgers that I made on my cast iron last night totally stuck to the pan. So I have to reseason. So I am now a bit :( on cast iron. Though I'm still totally with Choire on this one, Joles: !!!! Shaken to my CORE.

Mantooth! My Lodge breathren! I've only had my Lodge about a year and a half and I fucking love it. I bought the "preseasoned" one, which really just ensures your food does not stick to the pan as if it were affixed with crazy glue. I've done my seasoning due diligence and am starting to have a very nonstick pan! Consider me a convert. The fussy maintenance is even somewhat therapeutic.

SeanP (#4,058)

I'm with the jolie-bashers – cast iron is seriously nice. My experience with other pans is that they're too thin, and things end up burning.

wallsdonotfall (#6,378)

And they come in massive sizes for relatively cheap! Which means you can make enough motherfucking skillet apple pie for 12 people.

wb (#2,214)

You can use a cast iron pan to make dolsot bibimbap too.

garge (#736)

I hope I marry into a well-seasoned cast iron skillet, with that glorious animal blubber patina, because good luck trying to genuinely accomplish that on a vegetarian diet.

Bittersweet (#765)

I may anger the purists here, but no lard needed – you can also use canola or olive oil with similar results.

roboloki (#1,724)

it's true but please don't tell anyone i said so. i live in the deep south where it's acceptable to put lard in your coffee.

garge (#736)

But you know that awesome patina that builds up after you cook decades of greasy meat without ever washing it with soap, so that it performs like a nonstick pan? I have never been able to achieve even an approximation of this!

Doooooooon't use olive oil!! The smoking point is WAY too low. (I've even smoked out my kitchen using canola…)

SeanP (#4,058)

You can still get the awesome/greasy patina by frying up vegetable matter in oil… maybe not quite as easily as with bacon, but it would still work.

I love my cast iron skillet as much as the next dood, but that "sealing in the juices" business is just not real. There are other legitimate reasons to love a salty, peppery, crust on your steak, though. First among them, deliciousness.

Joey Camire (#6,325)

Truth. Crust tastes delicious, but you do lose the juices.

joeks (#5,805)

Yeah, that "searing to lock in the juices" stuff is a fake idea. Sure does sound nice, though.

rcbth (#9,778)

The "sealing in juices" thing is a myth. The real reason it's a good idea: flavor added via the Maillard reaction. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maillard_reaction

AND DO NOT DARE CLEAN IT WITH FUCKING SOAP!

Come on, Cho.

OH THANK YOU, this is key. DO NOT CLEAN YOUR SKILLET EVER BASICALLY.

saythatscool (#101)

Which is part of the problem of a cast iron skillet.

scroll_lock (#4,122)

@stc: Yeah, I chafe at having to Veet any skillet prior to using.

saythatscool (#101)

@scrolly: Such a dirty, pretty mouth.

scroll_lock (#4,122)

@stc: Fine meat demands a very hot skillet, is what.

gumplr (#66)

Here's a guide from a kitchen wunderkind that explains how to make an old cast iron skillet as good as new: http://thelocalspoon.com/2010/07/30/cast-iron-face-lift/

BadUncle (#153)

I clean my cast iron skillet with hot water and kosher rock salt.

PropSword (#2,870)

I boil a little water in mine, then scrub w/ a bristly brush under warm water. I like the salt idea!

SeanP (#4,058)

It's blashphemy, but I use soap on mine. Sometimes there's just no way to get food remnants out of it otherwise. I just rinse really well afterwards (normally there's still plenty of grease left, judging by the sheen on the rinse water), re-oil, heat up, wipe down, and done. The seasoning lasts just fine.

Yes to the kosher rock salt! No to soaping one that is less than 30 years old.

I hauled my grandmother's — (crosses self) — old cast iron skillet back here from the holidays.

It's been seasoning for 50+ years cooking Puerto Rican food.

IBentMyWookie (#133)

That link has sent me down a Clarence Rosario rabbit hole. I'm currently going through your Flickr account and by the time you go home there will be a hand-written note stuck on your front door with a dagger.

OK, who green-thumbed this?

IBentMyWookie (#133)

YOU SURE LIKE HOCKEY.

Well, DUH!

IBentMyWookie (#133)

I like what you're wearing today, Clarence.

jolie (#16)

*raises (green thumbed) hand*

IBentMyWookie (#133)

zOMG Jolie, we should choose outfits for him!

This old thing? I just threw it together in the dark this morning.

Leon (#6,596)

This is the best car commercial ever, since I don't have a drivers license and live in a city, but love to cook and act all superior about people who don't fucking do it right. Everyone who is freaking out about not using soap in the skillet is a person I kind of love.

WindowSeat (#180)

The cast iron skillet is a must-have, but the Lodge Cast Iron Wok made me cry tears of joy. http://goo.gl/ZFroW

Doubles as a home gym.

LotaLota (#1,703)

And you can make a fabulous roast inside a cast iron skillet, too. Tuck some root vegetables alongside and they will brown magnificently, as will the meat. And the gravy! You've forgotten just how brown and delicious gravy is supposed to be, when the meat is properly roasted in a heavy, dark pan.

Leon (#6,596)

OH GOD BUY SOME LE CREUSTER ENAMLED CAST IRON GEAR TOO. It is fucking awesome and will change your life. Basically, it costs a billion dollars, but is worth it.

WindowSeat (#180)

Staub Cast Iron in matte black enamel FTW. You don't have to fret over something acidic staining the enamel.

@WindowSeat, I won't fret about sending my kid to college either. That's some Rockstar cookery.

jolie (#16)

YES AND ALSO YOU CAN CLEAN IT WITH SOAP.

petejayhawk (#1,249)

Basically the only two reasons I would ever want to get married are 1) Le Creuset and 2) KitchenAid stand mixer.

garge (#736)

@Pete: for me, it's a Vitamix.

jolie (#16)

@pete: When I realized that I didn't want to marry the ex who nearly blew me to bits while seasoning my cast iron skillet, I set about slowly but surely acquiring all the things I would have wanted on my registry (so, like, fuck the china and the silver, Mom.) and now I have everything, which is handy since a year or two after realizing that I didn't want to marry my ex, I realized that I actually didn't want to marry anyone at all.

What I'm saying is: Don't be one of those girls. Just buy the damn stuff yourself, you don't need a husband!

boyofdestiny (#1,243)

The only reason I ask my folks for recipes on a monthly basis is so they'll understand that I'M the son who deserves to inherit the La Creuset.

dntsqzthchrmn (#2,893)

@Pete: Yes on walking the aisles for the stand mixer. Le Creuset however you can find at good yard and estate sales.

@Pete & Joles: YES! First two things I registered for. (AND I GOT THEM!)

rj77 (#210)

It costs a billion dollars but it's so sturdy you can bury yourself in it. So win-win.

SeanP (#4,058)

@Leon – I was going to bring it up if no one else did… yeah, if you're grossed out by the idea of not (really) washing the pan (and you're independently wealthy), the Le Crueset (sp?) stuff is so awesome. The goodness of cast iron with an enamel finish you can scrub to your heart's content.

RocketSurgeon (#1,632)

My dad makes the best cornbread ever in the cast iron skillet he inherited from Grandma.

You know what's useless, though? My cast iron skillet with grill ridges. Getting the ridges hot enough to mark the meat makes the bottom practically molten, so the fat/juices smoke like crazy.

Joey Camire (#6,325)

My food just won't taste the same without those little bits of teflon in it.

Tomg (#2,075)

Searing meat does not keep the juices locked in. That is a myth.

An ex-gf once bought me this book (or one very similar). It has provided great dividends.

http://cookbookman.com/2010/12/12-days-of-cookbooks-the-cast-iron-skillet-cookbook/

Teuthida (#7,187)

Signed in just to say, yes!

Andrew Piccone (#7,185)

i love pie, and steak. i'm in.

KenWheaton (#401)

Skillet? Pfft. I have a 20-quart and a 12-quart dutch oven. (Oh, and a skillet)

And when I get my outdoor space, I'm getting one of these: http://www.cajuncastiron.com/eshop/10Expand.asp?ProductCode=CL7430

john.rambow (#703)

Folks, once your cast iron skillet has a reasonable amount of seasoning on it, it is totally ok to wash it — with soap! And even a little scrubbing when it needs it. Give it a try; nothing horrible will happen for SURE.

SeanP (#4,058)

I agree. I wash mine with regular old Dawn all the time.

Not afraid to be tetanusy!

I got my booster. Bring that lockjaw on!

deepomega (#1,720)

A recent discovery: quesadillas made in cast iron are FUCKING INCREDIBLE.

jobbotch (#3,528)

I admit – at first, I thought "TWSS" was your strange way of onomatopoetically rendering "sizzle."

My favorite thing about it is how it locks in all the juices.

garge (#736)

alsk;jfld;asjkl;djkf

What?

roboloki (#1,724)

she said "last"

garge (#736)

Just lolsing that your comment followed 16 juices-sealing myth busting comments (I thought we were sharing a laugh :( )

My favorite thing is the German pancake.

Ed. LAST

Oh, we are, we are…

On the inside.

grandpa27 (#804)

Never buy new – yard sales and junk shops carry them by the dozen. They come in all sizes. A complete collection of matched makers go for big bucks ($500-$600).

En Vague (#82)

It would be nice if this post was somehow accompanied by a recipe on how to cook a steak in both simple and angry terms.

kneetoe (#1,881)

MJ is over-rated.

Tulletilsynet (#333)

Skillet haters are frying in their own hell. No use to reason with them.

Tulletilsynet (#333)

If a thing is worth eating, it is worth frying.

For all you haterz, I just rocked pork chops fried up in olive oil and butter in a cast iron DREADNOUGHT and finished in the oven.

Fucking delish.

(lights a candle for Jolie, scrolly)

At the New Hampshire summer house we retain 1937 authenticity with genuine cast iron. In New York City, I rely on my George Foreman Grill.

patrick_b (#9,790)

Cast iron is absolutely the crappiest approach to cookware. 1. Cast iron does not transmit heat well, leaving distinct hot spots. Sprinkle flour on one, heat. You'll see it doesn't brown evenly. 2. Cast iron sucks for searing-only applications. A thin blue steel pan heats quickly and much more evenly. 3. Cast iron is a pain in the ass to maintain. 4. Cast iron is potentially dangerous. Try and even guess what that "seasoning" is made of. You wonder how you get the non-stick surface? Intermolecular diels-alder on the unsaturated bits (which is why flaxseed oil is the best seasoner), producing nasty cyclics and thousands of different products. In quantity, the stuff would be considered toxic waste. Instead, you put it in contact with your food on a daily basis.

SeanP (#4,058)

Can only speak to my own experience, but:
1) my experience with the typical copper-clad stainless (think Revere-ware) is much worse in this regard, and teflon-coated stuff isn't that great either. No experience with other sorts of cookware.
2) Is basically the exact same point as 1).
3) True.
4) A lot of things (including such things as certain vitamins and minerals, teflon breakdown products, salt) are toxic in quantity. Is there any evidence that such products in quantities found in a frying pan actually cause any harm?

I'm not here to tell anyone that cast iron is the absolute best cookware EVAR. I haven't used all forms of cookware. But it's far from the "absolute crappiest".

patrick_b (#9,790)

1&2. Generally, thinner cookware will transfer heat throughout the pan faster. Cast iron is about the opposite.
4. Yes, and the quantities involved with cast iron are frightening. Teflon requires a single administration of about 0.005g or less of material. If you've ever scraped a cast iron pan down to the metal, you will get a gram or two. And that is coming on and off all the time, plus given how permeable it is as compared to engineered surfaces, it's going to exchange a lot of material with the food itself.
With regards to the health risks of seasoning, first, seasoning is produced by polymerization. I misrecalled; it is linseed oil (highly unsaturated and unstable) which produces the best seasoning:
http://sherylcanter.com/wordpress/2010/01/a-science-based-technique-for-seasoning-cast-iron/
And of course it is linseed oil and other highly unsaturated oils that produce the nastiest polymers at high temps similar to pan seasoning temps:
http://www.reactivereports.com/45/45_2.html

I personally use thin blue steel (Acier) for searing and Green Pan (very thermo stable) for non-stick.

Wow, the anti-cast iron lobby is as powerful (and annoyingly strident) as the tobacco lobby.

patrick_b (#9,790)

This post argued that cast iron is the Michael Jordan of cookware. Cast iron is neither particularly effective, safe, or convenient. In this way, cast iron is the Kurt Thomas of cookware: mostly just cheap and predictable.

Polly Peachum (#8,145)

Someone must have said this already, but cast iron skillets are a good way to introduce iron into your diet. The food absorbs iron from the pan. A doctor once recommended I cook liver in a cast iron skillet because my iron was low.

I don't use them because they always look nasty to me. What is this "seasoning" thing? Old stuff burned on. Yuck.

smapdi (#1,306)

If it cant go in the dishwasher…

GailPink (#9,712)

I inherited a set of cast iron skillets from my Mom while I was still in college. Sadly I threw them all out when I got a set of Silverstone. Hindsight being 20/20 and all…they sure were HEAVY!

prrtyfood (#8,285)

thank you for the sage advice. i do have the spatial issue, but I need to step up my kitchen game. PS. balk's "How to Cook a Fucking Steak" sort of changed my life.

mjfrombuffalo (#2,561)

Thanks for the answers, y'all totally rock. I'm not going to buy a Hyundai though, especially just to total it. Will a 1999 Saturn work as well?

I have 4 cast iron skillets one my mom used for 50 plus years, having a yard sale what should I do? email me
weekender859@att.net…subject cast iron skillets

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