Cast iron cookware buying guide
If you pull together a pro and con list, the former will be much longer than the latter, if you’re trying to decide whether or not to purchase, care for and cook with cast iron pots.
Sure, cast iron can be more pricy. They’re also not the best choice for cooking with acidic foods (like wine or tomatoes). And no, you can’t toss them in the dishwasher.
But they’re the roughest, toughest cookware out there, and can go from stovetop to oven in a snap. They cook evenly, good luck even trying to damage them – and they even add a bit of iron to your diet. Once seasoned, they’re as good as most any non-stick cookware out there.
Picking the perfect pan:
We’ll let you in on a little secret. If you see one at a yard sale, or Great Aunt Wilma has offered you the one she’s owned for 30 years, count your blessings. It’s seasoned, which is to say it’s worn smooth and is nearly non-stick, and it will last for many more generations. If you’re buying new, consider what you’ll be using it for. It might not be a bad idea to have one a perfect size for frying a few eggs, a skillet for one-dish meals, and a Dutch oven for stews and more complex dishes.
There’s some debate over how to clean the pan. Some swear by scrubbing them out with coarse salt and elbow grease, but many savvy chefs say that a bit of mild detergent and a soft scrub brush won’t hurt it. What all agree on, however, is that the pan must be dried thoroughly, as rust is the enemy here (you can get rid of it, but it’s a bit of a pain).
Seasoned to perfection:
No salt nor pepper needed here. A seasoned cast-iron pan or pot will be non-stick. Time will “season” a pan (which means it’s oiled and often worn down smooth). But you’ll need to season your new purchase, most cooks say even if it’s sold “pre-seasoned). Simply rub a thin coat of vegetable oil on the pan or skillet, then put it in a 350-degree oven (pros recommend turning the pan upside, and putting foil under it to catch the spills, to keep that oil from pooling). After an hour, shut the oven off and leave your new cookware alone until it cools. Down the road, repeat this process if food starts to stick in the pot or pan again.
Pretty in pink….or red…or blue:
If you think cast iron looks a bit too rustic, meet Le Creuset cookware. Whether you’re shopping for yourself, or trying to find a perfect gift for a cook, you can’t go wrong with a colorful – and we mean colorful – Dutch oven. You’ll find a sturdy Dutch oven, which will move from stovetop to oven with grace, in a rainbow of colors. Le Creuset Dutch Oven, starting from $130, lecreuset.com
Frying up goodness:
Perhaps the most important piece in your collection, and the one you’ll turn to often, is the cast-iron frying pan. Look for one large enough to fry up bacon and eggs, or one that will allow you to sear meat. Lodge Rust Resistant 11 Inch Cast Iron Skillet, $69.99 (plus Cash Back), macys.com
Once you have the frying pan and the Dutch oven, consider another piece that will be well-used: the skillet. Find one with a deep rim, so you can fry, then add the ingredients for a one-dish wonder. Anolon Vesta 10 Inch Cast Iron Skillet, $69.99 (plus Cash Back), bedbathandbeyond.com