Iron ware has been used for cooking since the 5th century B.C., and has been a preferred method of cooking for some because cast iron absorbs, conducts, and retains heat efficiently. It may take cast iron a little longer to heat up than other cookware, but once it’s heated it stays hot a lot longer than other cook ware. Cast iron appears in many forms, with the skillet being one of the more popular choices for the home kitchen.
I was always curious about the differences between the two basic kinds of cast iron. There’s the regular dark version and the generally bright and colorful enameled version. I’ve underestimated the heat of both kinds in my kitchen and have been left with plenty to scrub.
The first tip for those indoctrinated in the rules of engagement with regular cast iron is that your cookware requires seasoning. This creates a natural nonstick finish and makes sure that the pan or pot doesn’t take on the flavor of foods cooked in it. Also important is that regular cast iron that hasn’t been seasoned, or is in need of a re-seasoning, can react with the ingredients you use. I learned this firsthand when my meatballs I had simmered in tomato sauce had a distinct metallic taste.
So just to be clear — an unseasoned cast iron pan will react to your acidic foods — tomatoes, lemon juice, vinegar — and create that metal taste. It may leave some discoloration too. This is where enameled cast iron comes in.
Enameled cast iron is relatively non-stick, generally comes pre-seasoned and is safe for acidic foods. Having said this, it is cast iron beneath the enamel and will conduct heat in a much more intense way than non cast iron cookware, so ere on the conservative side when selecting the amount of heat to cook with. Do be careful not to use metal utensils in your enameled cast iron posts and pans because you can chip the enamel. I’ve done this, and even though the pot still performs well, I had to season the exposed spot. It’s also worth noting that enameled cast iron cookware is expensive. If you spend a lot of time in the kitchen and cooking is your thing, it may be worth the investment.
Image above: Le Creuset’s new Provence collection reminds us of Pantone’s Color of Year, Ultra Violet. Photograph via Sure La Table
As far as cleaning cast iron pieces (regular or enameled), there are several schools of thought. I’ve seen everything from a Bon Appétit test kitchen chef using Barkeeper’s Friend on his skillet, to dire warnings to never, ever touch it with anything but warm water. If need be, I simmer a little warm water in my skillet and loosen any stubborn pieces with a wooden spoon.
Here are three hard and fast rules about cast iron care most agree on:
- Keep your cast iron pieces out of the dishwasher.
- Avoid metal scrub pads unless you plan on re-seasoning the pan right away.
- Allow the cast iron to cool slowly. Cast iron can actually warp or crack if cooled too quickly.
How do you care for your cast iron cook ware? I’d love to hear your stories and tips in the comments. –Caitlin