Pans_2                                                                                                                                 Photo by DTR

Cast iron: When properly maintained, cast iron pans are superlative cookware.  They are inexpensive, durable, and because they’re so dense, they’re slow to heat, but when they do get hot, they stay that way.  When they are properly “seasoned,” they are virtually as good as the fanciest non-stick sauté pan, better in fact, because they can take a beating.  They do react to acid and salt, however, so you wouldn’t want to salt food down in cast iron, and the acid in tomatoes will actually draw iron into a tomato sauce (iron is good for you but tomato is bad for the pan).

To season cast iron, pour a half-inch layer of oil into it, put it over high heat until the oil is very hot or put it into a 300 degree oven for an hour or so, then let it cool completely.  Pour off the oil and wipe it dry with a paper towel.  (If you make fried chicken or deep fry potatoes in your cast iron, it will season itself.)  Never use soap on it, only an abrasive (a copper scrub pad or some kosher salt), dry it with a paper towel, and if it needs it, rub some more oil into it.  It will stay seasoned and glossy indefinitely.  If you neglect it, it can be re-seasoned.  Even old and abused cast iron pans can be cleaned, seasoned and reborn as first-rate cookware.

Enameled cast iron is cast iron that has an enamel coating—and therefore is non-reactive to salt and acid and should not be “seasoned”—is also an excellent cooking material.  It can be used on the stove top or in the oven and is especially suited to braising because, while its surface is semi-non-stick, it still allows food to brown and the bottom develops a fond.
                                                                                              —From The Elements of Cooking

Some readers have asked me about cast iron cookware—I have the three pans above and I use them all the time, love them. I don’t think I paid more than $10 for any of them.   Great for any kind of cooking.  It’s what I roast chicken in, and bacon seems to taste better when fried on cast iron.  Turn them upside down and use them as a pizza stone.  They truly are some of the best cookware available from a practical standpoint, but also there’s something satisfying in cooking food in these elemental vessels, in this age of plastic handles, non-stick surfaces and marketing ploys.  Food looks great when it’s cooking in these things (see Moonstruck for one of the most memorable food shots in film).  Look for used pans in antique stores—all of my pans were found on travels through Amish country in central Ohio.  They’re easily brought back to gorgeous gleaming black life, they make great gifts, they last forever. Heavy expensive copper pans hanging in your kitchen intimidate.   The sight of cast iron inspires.

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144 Wonderful responses to “Elements: Cast Iron”

  • frenchtart

    we have one that my husband inherited from his grandfather. it’s many decades old, and makes the best fried chicken.

  • Shannon

    I’ve had lousy luck with cast iron. I can never get it seasoned right and it starts rusting. Your instructions are different than what comes with the pan, so I will try your way. It sounds exactly like it will do the trick! I think I hadn’t applied enough oil.

    My dad has a nice cast iron pan.

    Back in the 70’s, I remember us lugging his pan to camping trips and him banging it on our apartment wall and telling the crazy lady next door to shut up when she’d start yelling at her husband, LOL.

    He still has it and uses it daily….for cooking only.

  • Joanne

    Do you have any suggestions on how to clean a cast iron grill pan? I have a Calphalon grill pan, one side is a smooth surface, the other has the raised ridges. My stove is gas, so I find some difficulty cleaning it, I find when using one side the underside gets a bronzy sticky sheen to it. I clean my 12″ pan by heating it with a neutral oil, then sprinkling kosher salt and scrubbing it with a spatula or paper towels.

  • rockandroller

    Getting a cast iron pan a few years ago was key to my actually learning how to properly cook and handle heat for food. I think Teflon and other non-stick has really dumbed down cooking and really delivers unsatisfying results, not to mention the toxicity.

    I did learn last Fall that acid/citrus + cast iron doesn’t work when I tried making MS’s brussels sprouts recipe in my cast iron. I know that should be obvious but if nobody has pointed out you shouldn’t do it, you don’t know. Dark purple, gray sprouts are not visually appealing. :)

  • Dennis

    I absolutely love my Lodge 12″ cast iron pan for all the reasons you list. That pan outshines its more elegant All Clad cousins in many respects. I would like to add another pan to your list though – black steel. Harder to find but about as cheap as cast iron, and the treatment is completely similar for care and maintenance. I ordered mine from Bridge Kitchenware:
    http://www.bridgekitchenware.com/browse.cfm/2,142.html

  • bloviatrix

    There are two things that have long intimidated me – sharpening knives and seasoning a cast iron pan. I bought Chad Ward’s book last week to work through the first one, now I’ll print this out to work through the second.

  • Kate in the NW

    Thank you for singing the praises and giving proper “care and keeping” advice for these unparalelled instruments. I cook just about everything in either lovingly-seasoned naked cast iron or in heavy enameled pieces – almost every one purchased at Goodwill and rehabilitated. Surely there is some sort of wisdom in “vintage” or antique cookwear. I buy them and joyfully speculate as to their history, the many meals they have brought forth. I feel more like their custodian or curator than their owner.

    Question: do chefs use cast iron in profesisonal kitchens? If no, why not?

    Just curious.

  • Marcy

    Aaah, Moonstruck eggs…but how about the scene in The Color Purple when Celie makes breakfast for Shug—the eggs and ham look so unbelievably delicious sizzling away in that cast iron pan—makes me want to go cook eggs every time I see it.

  • Cooking Zuni

    One of the three cast iron pans that I love was given to me by a friend. It had been in her family for two generations, so I was extremely lucky that she passed it along to me. Carbon steel frying pans, with heavy iron handles, not flat handles, are also favorite pans of mine. I have given up nonstick for everything other than crepes. Perhaps I will be able to season my carbon steel crepe pan well enough to ditch that one too. It is with great difficulty that I am about to part with three tin-lined copper saute pans. When I bought them, Falk hadn’t even developed the process of lining copper with stainless steel, that’s how old they are. If I can’t get rid of them, the devil made me do it.

  • Schlake

    Your cast iron seasoning instructions are lacking. I’ve followed instructions like those many times and never managed to season my pans. I finally figured out how to do it when I realized that my cast iron deep fryer was the only seasoned pan I have. Now I season all my cast iron pans by deep frying potatoes in them every day for two weeks. A little messy with a skillet, but most effective.

  • Jeff

    I have a decent amount of cast iron, having made many stops at the Lodge factory outlet, but the piece that I cherish the most is the 10″ skillet that my grandmother gave me.

    She had received it as a wedding gift over 60 years prior, and I remember how she would use it to make breakfast for my grandfather. The finish is as smooth as you might imagine and no, water does not touch it.

    I lovingly care for it and plan on passing it down.

  • Sarah

    I have two cast iron pans–one (I think) British 10 inch number that my granny picked up heaven knows where in her early married life–it’s been making cornbread, fried chicken, collards, and other southern delicacies for since the 50s in air force postings all over the united states. It’s one of the material things she left to her cooking-mad granddaughter (in addition to teaching me most of her recipes and cooking tricks), and I treasure it more than the wedding china I also inherited from her, because I use it nearly every day. It’s still in service making proper southern cornbread, searing steaks, and pretty much anything small enough to fit in it that doesn’t require teflon, though I suspect I’m the first to whip up chicken korma and chorizo hash in there. :-)

    My second cast iron is a lodge of fairly recent vintage, square, 12 inches, and a bit more suited to things like bacon, and can handle two burgers, steaks, or checken breasts without crowding the pan. It doesn’t cook quite as well as Granny’s beauty simply because it doesn’t have 6 decades of curing and daily use on it, but it is starting to mellow nicely. Honestly, if it weren’t for a few stick-prone items like fish filets and eggs, I could probably do 100% of my sauteeing and frying in cast iron.

    Point of all this? I have as many name brand knives and stockpots and appliances as any other amateur food nerd, but those are just tools, and like any other tools eventually they will wear out or break down and be replaced with the next new technology, and I’ll take them to goodwill with only a small sigh of nostalgia. My cast iron is family history–it’s a link to generations of women who loved to cook, did it well, and who passed that heritage on to me. Whether or not I have kids, I hope to pass that knowledge and love of cooking to the next generation in some form, and I hope that in another 60 years, somebody somewhere will still be whipping up cornbread in that 10-inch round beauty.

  • Darcie

    I have several inherited cast iron pans and use the Dutch oven and 10″ skillet almost daily. The others, however, are warped and I’m afraid nothing can be done to correct that. If I had a gas cooktop it wouldn’t be so bad, but all I have is smooth-top electric so I can’t use them.

    I picked up an old portable induction unit for $25 that I use with the skillet, Dutch oven and my enameled cast iron pans. It’s a great extra burner and can be set up anywhere.

    As much as I love cast iron and induction, I can’t part with the Mauviel that my husband surprised me with one Christmas. I guess it will just have to intimidate visitors to my kitchen because it’s too pretty to hide (and its performance equals its beauty).

  • Camille

    Cast iron pan as pizza stone! That’s brilliant! I was almost there – I tried baking calzone in the dutch oven à la the no-knead bread and it worked great, but I had yet to come up with a solution for pizza. Thanks!

    p.s. Is anyone familiar with Staub cookware? I’m having the hardest time telling whether the interior surface is enameled or not. The literature says that it is, but it seems to require oiling after washing.

  • ikate

    A few years ago when moving my Busia out of her house I foolishily allowed her 3 ancient cast iron skillets to go to Goodwill. Two days later I came to my senses and begged my way into the drop-off facility and dug through piles of donations until I found them (and paid for them). It was worth it as I use them for just about everything. I’ve purchased a double-burner griddle to go along with them but it doesn’t have the same non-stick and flavor of the 3 70 year old skillets!

  • DAC

    Does anyone know how to re-season an old cast-iron pan. I have my grandmother’s and I want to start using it but it’s showing rust in certain places. Any help would be greatly appreciated.

  • Jim Dixon

    I’ve got about 15 cast iron skillets in my kitchen that I use regularly (and quite a few more in the basement awaiting cleaning and seasoning). They’re all Griswolds, the best cast iron cookware around but only available at garage sales, antique shops, or through eBay. Made in Erie, PA, from the late 1800s through the 1950s, Griswolds were made using better materials and the finishing is nicer. I still find them for a few bucks at garage sales.

    I have to disagree with your advice about never using soap or detergent. A little won’t hurt a well-seasoned skillet, and it makes getting the grease off much easier.

    I’ve got a little more info about my skillets and a photo of the Griswold trademark (or one version, anyway) at my web site:

    http://realgoodfood.com/cast_iron.html

  • Becky And The Beanstock

    Thanks so much for this! I’ve been slowly cobbling together my hodgepodge of cookware, and though I’ve been cooking for a long time, I have a whole lot to learn. i came of age in the paradigm of nonstick, and I’m just beginning to appreciate the quirks, idiosyncrasies, and particular superiorities of cast iron (my favorite to look at!) and stainless steel.

    Now, what about knives???

  • Dennis

    Re: seasoning pans. If you have rust on your old pans, take steel wool to them. I use the Alton Brown method for seasoning pans – it is written up here:
    http://www.ehow.com/how_2001030_season-cast-iron-pan.html

    To take care of it after cooking, I use a nylon scrubby with minimal water and never use soap. I dry it off then spray the inside down with nonstick spray (Pam) and wipe it all over with a paper towel and store it in my oven.

  • Messy

    I got rid of some cast-iron pans during my student days when it seemed I moved every 15 minutes. One was just way too big for me – it was difficult to lift at all. The other wasn’t a particularly good one to start with, I still don’t regret tossing it.

    I think I’ll replace them now. Cook’s Illustrated (love those guys) tested cast iron pans sometime late last year. All I remember is that Lodge was not at the top of their list. I shall have to look up that list.

  • Harry

    @Schlake: The method that works best for me is almost the same as Michael’s, but repeated. Generously grease the pan. I like crisco best because it sticks to the pan longer, but any neutral oil will work also. Bake it as he suggests, but upside down over something to catch the drippings. Wipe out extra grease while it’s hot, let cool. Lather, rinse, repeat till you like the seasoning.

    For anyone who wants to rehab a ruined pan and has the right oven, there’s a really easy way to remove burnt-on junk, rust, sticky-tacky grease, etc. Put your pan in an oven while the oven self-cleans. Your pan will be thoroughly clean and 100% unseasoned. Rinse out the junk and you’re set to go.

    That said, I haven’t used my plain cast iron much since I bought Le Creuset & Mauviel. But cornbread can’t be cooked in anything else, as far as I’m concerned. Ditto for the-real-thing fried chicken. I also have ONE nonstick pan for eggs. I’m not a fan of nonstick: onions don’t brown, roux doesn’t get dark, meat “browns” funny.

  • Yolanda

    Re: Re-seasoning

    We let a cast iron pan of our rust accidentally (it was left in the oven without being cleaned). We searched the internet for a way to bring it back to life and it was suggested to place it in the oven during a cleaning cycle (we also found suggestions of throwing it directly into a burning fire for 3 hours). The long exposure to the high heat will burn off any debris, surface rust, and seasoning. When cool, you wipe it with a dry cloth to remove any soot. Then, you coat all surfaces of the pan with shortening (vegetable oil works, but shortening is preferred). Then, place on a rack in a 350 degree oven for at least an hour face down (use a foil covered cookie sheet to catch the grease).

    We keep one cast iron pan for exclusively searing beef (steaks, roasts, burgers, etc.). We never cook any non-beef item in this special pan. The result? After five years of regular use, it has developed a deep, smokey, beefy flavor that really adds to the flavor of cooked meat. Like a well-used restaurant flat top.

  • nondiregol

    I will also chime in on the virtues of cast iron cooking. I love this stuff, and unless you are keeping kosher it’s easy to season by just frying bacon in it.

    I have a “gumbo pot” and a French style “cocotte.” The latter, made in England, actually works really well for baking bread. Sort of like a pullman loaf. Last time I used I put a blister the size of a quarter on my thumb but the bread was really good.

    Could we move on to earthenware? The virtues of cooking in earthenware are almost spirtitual. There is just something about the taste that comes out of those vessels…

  • Rebecca

    I’ve had to reseason cast iron a bunch of times- newer pots+clueless roommates=rust and sorrow. While frying potatoes seems to be the popular suggestion, I’ve found that cooking a whole bunch of bacon works really well too, as does rendering chicken (or I suppose any) fat. If a pan does get a bunch of stuff stuck to it, instead of scrubbing it out, I put it on a high burner until the stuck stuff chars and can be wiped away- though this only works when it’s warm enough to open the windows. Then I smear the whole thing with oil and leave it on the floor of my gas oven over the pilot light until I need it again. I suspect that some problems with seasoning and rust are putting oil in a pan that isn’t yet dry, so after I rinse a pan, I put it back on the burner for a few minutes to make sure all the water is gone before oiling it up again.

  • Amy

    My mom owns a cast iron skillet. It cooks the BEST fried items and the BEST steaks. I have yet to own one myself…and as others have noted I have been intimidated on how to care for it.

  • Cyndi

    years ago a wonderful small bakery was closing in my town, Ann Arbor, MI. My (not yet, but eventual) husband and I were walking down Main Street and decided to check to see what they selling. I love to cook (he’s a good cook too)and he loves to eat. They had a pile of round flat griddles they were selling. We ultimately bought 2 (probably for less than $5 each) Needless to say, they were well seasoned from all the goodies they made for many years. I recall thinking that 1 would be enough, but what the heck… We cleaned them up and use them often, especially for pancakes. One of the best purchases we’ve ever made! So glad we walked by at the right time!

  • luis

    I recently purchased a Joyce Chen flat bottom cast iron wok. the wok itself is round as most woks but the base is flat. At first it seemed a bit gunky until reading the “Breath of a Wok” and searching around I discovered the cast iron woks come with a protective coating so they won’t rust in the stores.
    To remove the protective coat I kept oiling heating and washing the wok and drying it until there was no more residue coming off.
    To cure it is simple brush it with oil and heat it over and over and over again until it’s properly seasoned.
    The cast iron pores keep openning up and drinking in the new oil.
    After I use it now I gently wash it and brush away the food and oil and then I dry it under medium heat on the stove top. After its dry I apply a coating of oil while the wok pores are open to receive it and then I put it up.
    The more I use it the more I learn about it.. like everything else in life. Also I think its very important to use the thermopen whenever you cook in anything. I am now learning to up the heat and down the heat on the burner based on the temperature of the oil in the wok. In time I suppose I am also learning to read the texture of the oil in the wok and guess what the temperature of the oil is. Without the temp measuring I would never reach this level of understanding.
    I also have an enameled cast iron wok which I haven’t used all that much. The few times I have used it I have had very good results from it as well. But it cooks at lower temperature settings than the raw cast iron one. I have a non stick and two cast iron woks and I may purchase a 12 in steel wok if I find a good one sometime. Just to see how it cooks… The seasoning for steel is same as cast iron. As I am getting rid of all heavy store bought sauces in my pantry and I am making my own from fresh ingredients.. washing the woks is a snap. No sugary gunk to deal with anymore.

  • luis

    Michael thank you for the great tip about tomato and cast iron. If I use a tomato based sauce I will be sure and use the enameled or non-stick wok instead of the cast iron. Great tip.

  • Kitt

    When I finished gradual (sic) school and was moving to South Dakota for my first real job, my mom came out of the house carrying a package and handed it to me tenderly, like a baby. It was my great-grandmother’s Geman pancake pan. It’s really just a 9-inch cast-iron skillet, but German pancakes were its special purpose.

    I know it was hard for Mom to give it up, but I cherish it and use it regularly, but only for foods whose flavors won’t clash with the German pancakes I make in it still. Never fish.

    I clean it with water immediately after use, and reheat it with grapeseed oil, wiping out the excess for storage. The bottom is as smooth as glass.

  • Arturo

    You do see some cast iorn in working kitchens, usually not more than a couple peices though. Much more common are the blue steel pans by DeBuyer/world cuisine.

    They are great for pan roasting protiens and getting a great crust. Although not light, they are compared to Lodge pan, so you can have a stack on your cook top.

  • Lisa

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s1bKvLrz_lI

    You neglect to mention that deep frying in cast iron is not recommended with polyunsaturated oils such canola, sunflower or safflower. The iron when heated quickly makes the oil absorb iron oxide turning it rancid. Rancidity involves all of those nasty cancer-causing free radicals, that you don’t want in your body.

  • The Yummy Mummy Cooks Gourmet

    Great post, Michael!

    I cook nearly everything I can in cast iron. And all of my cast iron is old and re-seasoned from various flea markets and antique stores. I absolutely love it!

    But what is this about tomatos and cast iron? I never heard of this. Does this mean I shouldn’t make my marinara or my other tomato-based sauces in cast iron anymore?

    Yikes. I’ve been doing this for years…

    Kim

    PS And this is why I keep reading you…

  • Ken

    Let us all sing the praises of cast iron cookware.

    When I was heading off to college 36 years ago, I decided that all my belongings needed to fit into a backpack. One of those items was a large cast iron pan that I cooked everything in (it was the only thing I had) and lugged from place to place to place. I still have it today. It’s a champ.

    Let us also sing the praises of Griswold cast iron cookware. I inherited a set of Griswold pans from my grandmother, including a pancake griddle, and Lodge and other modern cast irons pale in comparison. Griswolds are significantly lighter (and, so, easier to handle) but without losing all the benefits of their clunkier cousins.

    I haven’t had to reseason any of these for years. Clean up is easy. (Compare the mainenance and clean up to copper.)

    Back to black, I say.

  • motoko

    Taste memories…cast-iron takes me back to childhood, when my uncle lived with us. I guess I can say he was a “personal chef,” or rather, my own short-order cook. He and my dad were raised in poverty in Mexico so his cooking reflected his simple upbringing. He would make all kinds of meals for me with his cast-iron skillet like fried-chicken or a fried egg/potato concoction and best of all, refried beans. None of it was fancy, but it was always flavorful, with chiles, salsa, and fresh corn tortillas on the side.

  • Darcie

    @Lisa

    I take your point, but beg to differ. First, canola and safflower are mostly monounsaturated, not polyunsaturated.

    In a well-seasoned pan, there won’t be much iron oxide (aka RUST). More likely I think what gets absorbed into the oil are impurities from the food.

    I use these oils to fry in a cast iron pan with no problem, but it is difficult to REUSE these oils because they do become rancid easily. I don’t like using shortening for anything. I’d rather have the free radicals from the cast iron than the artery clogging properties of partially-hydrogenated oil.

    But the best fat for frying is lard. LARD RULES. Don’t use the shelf-stable stuff; it’s full of preservatives. Render your own and savor the flavor.

    Remember, if at first you don’t fricasse, fry, fry again!

  • kristin

    my mom has this cast iron wok that is so great. The thing could be a lethal weapon. Got my dad a Lodge cast iron hibatchi a few years ago. He uses it almost as much as the gas grill.

  • Harry

    @Ken: copper pans are easy to keep clean.

    The *outside* of the copper pan is another thing entirely. I didn’t buy copper pans till I’d had my itty bitty butter warmer (<$50 and still used to make garlic oil) for a year and decided I could live with unpolished copper. I keep my pans in a drawer anyway - the better not to intimidate my guests, I suppose.

  • Kurt

    Excellent topic. My cast-iron skillet and Dutch oven are my most prized cooking utensils, hands down. They literally improve with every use. My $0.02 on use and care:

    – more grease is always good. oil-fry if you want, coat with oil whenever you think you need to. NEVER use soap.

    – always dry thoroughly and immediately. iron + water = rust.

    – if you have rust, the pan likely needs re-seasoning. you need a protective coating of oil to make a non-stick surface, as well as to separate the iron from the water. rust means that the non-stick surface is almost certainly gone.

    – Ruhlman mentions scrubbing with kosher salt, but a mixture of kosher salt and fresh oil works best for me. after scrubbing, wash the salt away under running water and dry the pan thoroughly with paper towels. use dry towels to coat with more oil if needed.

    – better yet, don’t scrub…just deglaze the pan when it’s hot. the sticky bits will come right up with minimal scraping. make a pan sauce if possible, or dump it and dry out the pan with paper towels. coat with additional oil if needed.

    – don’t buy a panini press. heat a cast-iron skillet and drop it on top of your favorite sandwich.

    Questions:

    – I’ve never heard that salt reacted with cast iron. What does it do? Why is scrubbing cast-iron pans with salt okay?

    – Anyone got tips on cooking eggs in cast iron, other that floating them in grease?

  • Messy

    Right. If anyone’s interested, cast iron skillets were rated by Cook’s Illustrated in Sept/Oct 2007. The top three:

    1. Lodge Logic 12-inch Skillet.

    2. The Camp Chef SK-12 Cast Iron Skillet. The notes say that with a bottom 10.37 mm thick, it’s awkward to handle because of the weight.

    3. Lodge Pro-Logic 12-inch Skillet. I like the look of this one for the sake of the curved sides and bigger handle. Apparently it’s easier to clean.

    So there you go, if anyone (like me) wants to buy a new pan, those were the three top-rated.

  • milo

    My cast iron pan has always been great for bacon, but that’s about it.

    For anything else, stuff seems to stick very easily unless I use a ton of oil, then is impossible to clean.

    I’m pretty sure I seasoned it correctly, but I suspect that to get it really nonstick, I’d have to season it multiple times? Once doesn’t really seem to do the trick.

    Question – once a pan is seasoned well, can you really cook stuff in it without it sticking, without having to use a ton of oil? Stuff like hash brown potatoes? I thought a cast iron pan would be great for that sort of thing, but it all totally stuck unless I used just gobs of oil.

    I’d love to get away from nonstick cookware as much as possible, but most things I have tried just end up sticking and making an awful mess.

    So what am I doing wrong? Not seasoning it enough? Or will cooking in cast iron always need a lot of oil?

  • Bob delGrosso

    milo

    As long as the pan is clean (no build up of tar anywhere), oiled and free of excessive pits and bumps, it should not be sticky. Perhaps you are not getting it hot enough?

    Try heating over a high flame until just before it smokes. Then turn down the flame a half measure and wait three or four minutes.

  • ruhlman

    joanne, i’d clean a grill pan same way i’d clean a regular pan, just as others here have described.

    kate, good question why chefs don’t typically use cast iron. they wouldn’t be practical–pans in a restaurant kitchen can get used dozens of times in a single service–lots of hot soapy water and scrubbing. also, they’re heavy and bulky.

    i believe i read the pizza stone idea in a heston blumenthal book.

    darcie, thanks for you comment on LARD!

    I’m impressed by the number of commenters who attach so much sentiment to these pans–but i agree. is there another category of cookware that can carry such emotional weight?

  • nondiregol

    Caring and feeding of:

    The way I was taught many long years ago was to first throw in some coarse (kosher) salt. Wipe it around with paper towel. Next rinse it with hot water and wipe again—and then burn it dry on the stove top.

  • Tammi

    Ahhh, my cast iron skillet. I love it more than anything. I used to be intimidated by it but no more really, so easy to throw some oil in it and bake in the oven for awhile. It’s so well seasoned that just running water on it cleans even the messiest foods. I will be buying my children cast iron and teaching them how to use it also. I honestly think it’s the best in terms of economy and reliability EVER.

  • Egaeus

    I don’t ever put my cast iron skillet up. I use it for almost every meal.

    Michael, if salt is bad for cast iron, why do you scrub it with salt?

    I personally have never had problems myself.

  • Laura

    Harry, if the build-up on your copper isn’t too heavy, ketchup will remove it. Pour some ketchup on the copper bottom of your pan, let it sit for a few minutes, rub with a cloth or paper towel and rinse. Repeat if necessary.

  • kindageeky

    So I’m a bit of a germaphobe and the idea of just wiping it with a cloth and hoping for the best has been hard for me to accept. What I generally do is wipe it, then spray it down with a mixture of 1 quart water with 1/2 teaspoon of bleach (clorox sells a similar mixture for $4-5, I did my own math to get the % right), and then let it sit for a couple minutes, then dry. I have to re-season the pans occasionally, but this allows me to sleep at night. An alternate method is wiping then reheating until dry on the stove or in the oven, fine if you’ve cooked a big meal and are busy cleaning, but usually I use the first method and just deal with the re-seasoning every few months.

  • Messy

    All right, Mr. Ruhlman, ya got me! I followed the link, but bought a different pan. I got the 10″ chef’s pan. It has a small handle on the front which should make my life easier, and it’s got the curvy sides for easy cleaning. It should be here by Monday. I’ll make the Fluffy Omelet and let you know how it works.

  • carri

    I grew up with the idea that once you’ve washed a cast iron skillet, you put it on the stove for a few minutes to dry it completely. This is not a big deal unless, as I found out the other day, when in my rushing around to clean the kitchen and get out the door for work, I put the pan on to dry and promptly rushed my 8 year old out the door to baseball practice, it wasn’t until I had been at work for a few hours that my husband stopped by and, very calmly, told me I had left the pan on the stove…for, like, 3 hours! Amazingly, the pan, and my marriage, are both just fine!

  • Rich

    Ruhlman,

    The first thing I ever learned to cook was breakfast, all in one cast iron skillet. Fry the bacon, drain half the rendered fat, sweat onions and cook the home fried potatoes in what’s left, finish by using a bit of the reserved fat to fry the eggs. I may still have a bit of those breakfasts in my arteries, but without those memories I don’t know what I would want to live a long time for.

    BTW the Lodge chef’s pan is fantastic. I have a 10′ traditional skillet, another the size of a 5 quart saute pan, and the chef’s pan. I use the chef’s pan the most now. The best thing about the chef’s pan is that it is more accessible to those who are not accustomed to a flat sided pan. My girlfriend wanted no part of my skillet, but loves the chef’s pan.

  • Rich

    Milo,

    Listen to Bob on the heat. It’s your friend. When properly seasoned, and hot enough, I scramble eggs in mine. The ultimate non stick test in my book.

    I do have to confess something though. I reach for the nonstick cooking spray from time to time. Hey….it works.
    I also use a refillable oil pump sprayer that I keep full of light olive oil.
    Both methods work well, but work best if you follow Bob’s advice about the heat

  • Harry

    @Laura: ketchup does work but it works by removing not only the gunk but a little of the copper as well. (Most of the quick methods have this little-known side effect.) I want my pans to last decades so I avoid these methods.

    Every now and then, usually when we’re mad about something, my spouse or I attack the pans with Barkeep’s Friend and elbow grease.

  • Kate in the NW

    To our gracious host, Re:the Lodge “pre-seasoning” –
    I have only ever bought one brand-new cast-iron pan. It was a “pre-seasoned” Lodge. I think the “pre-seasoning” means diddly-squat, especially if you’re used to using venerable old pans. I actually ended up getting so frustrated with it that abou a week later I found an old one of the same size while trolling Goodwill, bought it, and donated the new one back to them – a pretty shrewd exchange, in my opinion! Maybe the pre-seasoning is better than totally un-seasoned iron, but probably not much.

    To the Germophobe using bleach – I feel for you, I do – but the bleach is probably harming you FAR more than anything in the pan! Heat will kill off any germs on there, don’t worry. Remember, humans live as PART of the earth, not merely on its surface – we were never meant to be sterile creatures. Some exposure to critters = strong immune sytem! (plus yummy things like aged beef, all sorts of cheeses, etc etc etc).

  • Annie

    My favorite piece of cookware is the small cast iron skillet that my dad bought in 1942 when he came to the University of Michigan for college. It’s the only thing of his that I wanted when he died 20 years ago. I can’t even fathom how many burgers that pan has cooked. But, they taste the same today as they did when I was five and that’s a very good thing.

  • johnnyd

    Help!

    A month ago I bought a deeply discounted 12-inch cast-iron skillet at a local supermarket, a steal at $5. At last! I can jump on the cast iron bandwagon, said I.

    In spite of the “pre-seasoned” claim, I set about oiling, heating and wiping per various instructions we’ve all seen.

    After the third(?) time, I still found black, ferrous powder coming off in my paper towels. I turned it over and saw “Made In China”, and concluded I had bought an imposter.

    Should I be worried about this craftsmanship, toss it, and hold off for American-made instead?

    Thanks one and all.
    johnnyd

  • mary lynn

    My thanks to Jim Dixon for the info about his cast iron pans. We used our cast iron on camping trips and most is pretty old. We got it out of our garage to take a look at it, and we have a Griswold in our collection! None of the others have any identifying stamp on them. We can’t even remember where we got them, but think from my husband’s grandmother. We even used to make sheepherders bread in our dutch oven. Made the best bread ever! Love all the cleaning hints. Thanks!

  • Chef Troll

    Nice tips but I hate cast-iron cookware for the reasons you apparently like it. It takes too darned long to heat up and too darned long to cool off. So, you actually have to remove the Chicken when making Marathon Chicken, for example.

  • nondiregol

    Michael, yesterday you posed the question: “I’m impressed by the number of commenters who attach so much sentiment to these pans–but i agree. is there another category of cookware that can carry such emotional weight?”

    For me that other category would be earthenware. I have a collection of Spanish cazuelas which also require some seasoning. I’ve yet to have one crack but if one does it is inexpensive to replace.

  • Maura

    My mother cooked almost everything in cast iron. Just the thought of it makes me nostalgic for fried eggs on Sunday morning.

    I have a cast iron dutch oven that I picked up at a thrift store several years ago. It was really rusty, but I assumed I could get it clean. I’ve scrubbed it with kosher salt and oil (numerous times), used steel wool on it, committed the crimes of scrubbing it with Bon Ami and Barkeeper’s Friend, and put it in the oven during the cleaning cycle. After each of these treatments, I’ve always put it on the stove top to dry it thoroughly, and re-seasoned it. Nothing works. It’s still rusty. Is it possible that a piece of cast iron is unsalvageable?

    I’m ready to sit it in front of the fireplace and leaving it there, because it looks really cool.

  • milo

    I’ll have to try eggs or potatoes again, I guess as long as I have the pan just blazing hot before I put them in, they shouldn’t stick?

    Inspired by this post, I pulled out my wok last night for stir fry instead of the usual nonstick pan and it worked great. Most veggies seem to be no problem, it’s just the starchy ones that want to stick.

    I’m tempted to get a 6 inch or so skillet, it would probably get more use for individual egg and sausage portions.

    Germs shouldn’t really be an issue as long as you heat up the pan enough. I like to dry it by putting it back on the stove and heating it up, then oiling it back up again. Bleach is toxic, you should never use it on a cooking surface, especially one that is seasoned.

  • sheila

    I’m from Erie, and Griswold pans are everywhere in my parents’ house. I have a number of their pans, from dutch ovens to a wonderful griddle and a little bitty frying pan reserved for sauteeing garlic cloves, and have a few notes…

    First, the Griswold pans seem to be lighter in weight; I was told by one of the Griswold family that the cast iron they used was a special formula which is lighter and stronger.

    Second, the self cleaning cycle of the oven works great for cleaning up an old gunky pan; you have to start from scratch from the seasoning, of course, but sometimes that’s good.

    I do use a little water sometimes to dissolve baked on bits, but that pan then gets oiled and put in the oven to dry.

    I think the emotional resonance comes from the fact that so many of us inherited these pans. My grandfather used a small Griswold frying pan which belonged to his father for many years to cook his own breakfast; when he died he asked to be buried with it. My parents were embarrassed to ask the funeral director to put it in the casket with him, so they still have it. Still cook with it.

  • sheila

    I’m from Erie, and Griswold pans are everywhere in my parents’ house. I have a number of their pans, from dutch ovens to a wonderful griddle and a little bitty frying pan reserved for sauteeing garlic cloves, and have a few notes…

    First, the Griswold pans seem to be lighter in weight; I was told by one of the Griswold family that the cast iron they used was a special formula which is lighter and stronger.

    Second, the self cleaning cycle of the oven works great for cleaning up an old gunky pan; you have to start from scratch from the seasoning, of course, but sometimes that’s good.

    I do use a little water sometimes to dissolve baked on bits, but that pan then gets oiled and put in the oven to dry.

    I think the emotional resonance comes from the fact that so many of us inherited these pans. My grandfather used a small Griswold frying pan which belonged to his father for many years to cook his own breakfast; when he died he asked to be buried with it. My parents were embarrassed to ask the funeral director to put it in the casket with him, so they still have it. Still cook with it.

  • DQKennard

    I have a couple of small cast iron pieces (a small skillet and a small round griddle). They were an important early part of my interest in cooking. Maybe that’s because the *consciousness* with which one interacts with a cast iron pan — in care and in use — helps lead to a greater consciousness of cooking, a greater /intimacy/ with food and with the processes of cooking.

    I got them before I married a germophobe/clean freak. She doesn’t like them. She doesn’t much like me using them. They’re too small to use for family cooking anyway. I’d get larger ones, and would undoubtedly use them constantly, except that my wife (as said) doesn’t like cast iron. So, I use cheap non-stick pans. I don’t cook meat (I did when I got the pans), and cooking meat is where the greatest benefits of cast iron can be found. That and cornbread. If I still cooked meat, I’d push the issue, but as it is I don’t bother.

    The one that got away: I was at a rummage sale and they had one of those *huge* skillet-form fry-pans, I think intended for frying chicken. It was like three bucks. Amazing at ten times the price or more. At the price I could have had it, the frying oil of one cooking session would cost more than the pan. I had to just walk away. If it was just my decision, it’d be living on my stove. Instead, I’d never end up using it, especially since once something like that is stored away, it never comes out.

  • NextFoodnetworkStarFAN

    When’s Bourdain gonna show up here blogging about this year’s Next Food Network Star? That was a riot last year.

  • LorainLouisville

    First Post, though I have lurked for over a year…My Mom has always fried chicken and made cobblers in a 12″ 3 1/2″deep cast iron skillet from the 1930’s. We 3 kids always fight over who is going to get Mom’s “Chicken Fryer”. Unbeknownst to us, Mom scoured from Louisville to Raleigh and found 3 more, she rotated their usage and surprised us all last Christmas with our own, perfectly seasoned chicken fryers. Now she is looking for 3 more for her Grandkids!

    I still haven’t figured out how she makes those cobblers!

  • Charlotte

    Here’s my cast iron story — my dad fished with the legendary guide Ray Kennedy in northern Wisconsin. The highlight for us kids was the “shore dinner” at midday. Ray would dock his gorgeous old CrisCraft at an island campsite, dig an enormous cast iron skillet out of the sand where he’d left it, build a fire, and fry up a whole packet of bacon in that pan. Then he’d slice big thick beefsteak tomatoes, give us the end pieces sprinkled with salt and make us the best BLTs. And if we’d caught anything that morning — walleye, sunfish, perch — he’d clean them, dredge them in cornmeal and fry them in the bacon grease. When lunch was over he’d dump the grease (probably in some way we’d now think was environmentally unsound), scour the pan out with sand, and bury it again. The whole thing was just magic.

  • Kate

    So timely! I just inherited 2 frying pans and some old Copco from my dad who passed away a few months ago and was at a complete loss as to how to deal with them, other than waving them threateningly at my boyfriend when he’s being annoying.

  • Kay

    300 degrees is just not hot enough to turn that oil into a hard layer of carbon.

  • Jessica

    We live by our cast iron cookware. I can’t imagine cooking in anything else. My husband and I have spent years collecting our Griswold set.

  • Natalie Sztern

    Well my mother never owned a cast iron pan because frankly i don’t think she was probably able to lift it…but i own one which has been seasoned over and over…problem: i have a dust phobia and when these pans are oiled they gather dust particles and this is a problem for me (so much so that I have to lay paper towels in it first which by the way stick to the pan after a while…..like Milo my pan also has a sticky problem…so Bob, if I have electric heat and not gas will my pan heat up enough NOT to stick?

    I have yet to find enjoyment in my cast iron pan

  • Messy

    Natalie, try using wax paper instead of paper towel. It won’t absorb the oil and get stuck.

  • Bob delGrosso

    Milo

    NO!

    Don’t get the pan blazing hot. Heat it to the point where it is just beginning to look like it will smoke then turn it down.

  • maggie

    I have lots of cast iron cookware but I have one in particular that I don’t know what it was used for. It’s a round griddle with several round indentations and seems very old. I have yet to use it but it does look really nice.

  • cybercita

    i have a lodge logic 12 inch cast iron pan. i am a regular weight lifter and am pretty darn strong for a woman, bulging biceps and triceps and the whole bit, and i can barely lift the darn thing, especially when it’s blazing hot and full of food.

    nevertheless i love it.

    what i don’t love is the expensive le creuset cast iron fry pan i bought on the advice of the new york times. i thought it would be perfect to cook eggs in, but no matter what i do in terms of preheating both the pan and the oil, my eggs always stick.

    someone at the top was asking if professional chefs use cast iron in their restaurants. eric ripert has been quoted numerous times as saying he only uses cast iron to cook fish at le bernardin.

  • Amy Beth

    I just bought a house and all of the kitchen appliances remain in the house. That’s great except that it has one of those flat cooktops. You know, the kind where there are no drip pans under the burner. I’ve been told I can’t use my cast iron skillets on the stove. Yikes! What do I do now?? LOL.

    I love my cast iron skillets. If you can make it to South Pittsburgh, TN, you can buy Lodge skillets at a great price. Go during the Cornbread Festival!

  • Rich

    Hey Milo,
    Listen to Bob. I meant it when I said heat is your friend, but within reason. Use his “almost smoking” rule to guide you at first. Too cool and you will not brown and stick. To hot and you will burn, and probably stick.(paradox I know)
    Learn to know your pan and cooking fat. With a thin film of cooking spray, light olive oil, or extra virgin I can tell when each are hot enough by looking, and smelling. The only way I know is from the things I have under, or overcooked. I doubt your first wok product was a success.

    Seriously though, nobody expects to be a top racquetball player with no practice. If it were that easy everyone would be a great cook. You know what makes a great cook? Lots of failed dishes. Every great chef has made something far worse than the last thing you just did.

  • Jon

    I love my cast Iron pans. They live on the stove.
    One has been in my family for three generations.
    No fuss no muss a little maintenance and these are good to go.

    There was a brief tragic accident where a (former) boarder left one of my pans to “soak” for a day or three while we were away.

    Sharp words ensued but re seasoning the pan in question was a snap.

    Teflon? we don’t need none of that.

  • Vincent

    I have a selection of cast iron and mostly use them for specifics. My favorite is a le creuset crepe flat from France. It came with flat wood to spread the crepe batter – it has never worked so i made one out of dowels.

    It always gets the biggest response on my oldest daughter’s birthday – buckwheat crepe, pulled chicken from the night before, a bit of bechamel, a nice cheese (mild for her) and a salad of arugula with tomato and an acid – shallot with chervil or parsley.

    We have to have everything ready to set in the crepe and finish in the oven – it’s not good for her unless the outside cracks just so… I love that she loves that.

  • Ted

    They’ll get my Griswolds when they pry my cold, dead fingers from the handles.

    T.

  • Ted

    Question 1:
    Why do all of the new (Lodge?) cast iron skillets have a rough interior? My Griswolds are old and the surface is smooth and glass-like. It would take a hell of a long time to cook down the rough surface, I’d think.

    Question 2:
    Any one ever use a cast iron wok? What was it like?

    T.

  • Harry

    @Ted: I could simply say that cast iron woks are terrible. But I can’t resist the temptation to research and educate. So here’s why cast iron woks are terrible.

    Wok cookery developed to take advantage of a specific set of circumstances. Traditionally, woks are placed into holes cut into a sheet of metal placed over the fire; with a rounded pan, any size pan would fit any size hole, the variation would be how much of the pan was in the fire. The round bottom stuck directly into the fire, the rest of the pan was above the metal and relatively cool. The fire itself was very, very hot – the common fuel was scrub and brush wood, not wood or charcoal or coal. Scrub burns hot and it burns fast. If you didn’t cook your food quickly your fire went out and you wasted an hour’s worth of work collecting fuel. (Mise en place was really important!) You also didn’t have time for your pan to heat up for the same reason.

    So what developed was a cooking method that favored pans that got very hot at the bottom but were cool at the top, quick heating and quick cooling (ie, fast temperature changes), and fast work.

    What does cast iron offer? Slow heating and slow cooling (ie, slow temperature changes), even heat throughout the pan, heavy pans and, as already has been said above, sub-optimal performance at very high temperatures.

    Of course cast iron woks do lousy stir fry! They are, by their nature, totally unsuited to the method.

  • luis

    Yes Ted, I have two. I have blogged about it earlier. One is enameled and the other one is raw cast iron. They work very well in the electric stove top. Woks cook with minimum oil. This is the reason they are usefull. Skillets require lots of oil.

  • milo

    Thanks for the clarification. It sounds like I’ve been about the right temperature, but I still have things like eggs and potatoes stick like crazy. Things that aren’t starchy generally have been no problem, wok or cast iron (the wok has been a piece of cake since the first time I’ve used it).

    I suspect I either need to use way way more oil, or I need to season it many many times before really using it. As someone else said, the newer pans have really bumpy bottoms – if it has to be smooth to be nonstick, it will take forever to reach that point.

    I guess I’ll keep giving it a shot, at least it’s useful for things like bacon and sausage.

    So how much oil would typically be necessary to cook potatoes in a skillet?

  • Ted

    The cast iron woks I’ve seen look pretty poorly made.. very spongy cast iron.. worse than the Mexican dutch oven I used to use for cooking biscuits and cobblers at the scout camp I cooked at, back in the 1960s. I used it because it was over 2′ wide and I was cooking for a lot of campers.

    T.

  • Natalie Sztern

    So y’all forced me to take out my cast iron pan to make pork chops…heated till smoking and put in chops, second go round had to add some peanut oil…cleaned pan in hot water with barbq scrub brush (mini size)…added more peanut oil and stuck it in oven at 300 for 2 hours and left it in till morning (this)

    Half of the pan is sticky and the other half is actually dryer than ever…why can’t i get my pan perfect?

    However, the circumference of the bottom of my pan is bigger than the element on the stove, which in my illogical mind might be the reason, right?

  • Cameron S.

    To the Germophile,

    Don’t worry about bacteria on the pan – you should always pre-heat the pan anyways which will kill whatever is on it. Some hot water and a bit of salt will do a great job. Salt is the enemy of germs.

    I am not sure if it is a good idea to use weak bleach solution on cast iron.

  • Jen Blue

    I love my cast iron cookware but can’t use it anymore. I was given one of those horrible smooth top stoves and you really can’t use cast iron on them. My favorite one was purchased at Lehmans in Kidron,Ohio. I season it by giving it a coating of shortening and turning it upside down on a low oven for about 45 minutes. Works every time and never rusts.

  • Bob delGrosso

    Egaeus

    Salt is bad for cast iron when it is in solution
    and the pan is hot or when the pan is not hot and the salt is in solution and it’s all sitting around for a long time.

    Rubbing out a cast iron pan with dry salt is not going to hurt it as long as you wipe out all of the salt when you are finished.

  • luis

    Ted, I have 12 in carbon steel on the way. Lots of folks preffer them. I have no experience with them.

  • luis

    Jen Blue, I have been looking at stoves and I wasn’t aware of the smooth top limitations. Thanks, I will look into that.

  • Alexa

    I am sorry to say that I was offered a full set of cast iron pans; from the tiniest butter melter to the biggest deepest skillet. It was the residue of a great aunt’s estate. I was twenty at the time and my cooking acumen consisted of ramen noodles and peanut butter sandwiches. I ended up taking two of them and everytime I cook something in one of them I mentally kick my own ass for not taking the whole set. All I could think about was schlepping them around every time I moved house. Stupid stupid stupid.

  • Natalie Sztern

    OOPS Bob, I clean my pan with salt and water paste…also I too have a smoothe stovetop…shit! I guess I have to buy another and use them to better my biceps!! Cause the one I have isn’t bettering my cooking…

  • Bob delGrosso

    Natalie

    Paste that you rub the pan with is not a problem. It’s salt in solution that is abundant and at high temp for prolonged periods of time that is a problem.

  • Lee Ashwood

    Bravo, Ruhlman.
    Thanks for posting about my favorite cookware of all time. So many people whine about it, it’s too heavy, it’s too much of a pain in the ass to clean blah blah blah.
    It makes the best corn bread this side of heaven, and it’s a brilliant weapon in a pinch.
    And your last sentence about copper, too right. To me all that copper looks pretentious and like decoration. Cast iron reminds me of home and my Big Mama and yes, fried chicken.

  • D L Enburg

    you wrote, “cast iron inspires”, and, it truely does. There is not a better material on the planet for being able to get a crust on meat.

    And, to add a recent topic of yours, of spatchcocked chicken, to this thread, fry a spatchcocked chicken skin side down on the top of the stove; then, when a delightful shade of brown and done, flip it over and, put pan in a preheated oven, along with a pan of cornbread in a cast iron pan. Work it right, and, they’re both done at the same time.

    Nuke a potato for everyone involved in the meal for 3 minutes, then put them in the oven with chicken and cornbread.

    Make a coleslaw with shredded carrots, pineapple tidbits, and, about a 1/4 of a finely diced red pepper; colorful, flavorful, and, a real treat.

    Add a fresh ear of corn, (or frozen ear of corn in the winter, or, just frozen corn), and, you have a plateful of food that is one of the most joyus things that exists; fried, then roasted chicken, colorful coleslaw, corn, cornbread, and, a potato.

    The aroma of this meal, just having it set down in front of you is inspiring.

    Both the scent and sight of it on your plate makes you happy before you’ve even taken a bite.

    Bon appetite!