I first used a cast iron skillet for camping, as it was safe to use for cooking over an open fire. After a few years of regular use (both for indoor and outdoor cooking), I can’t imagine not having my cast iron cookware in the kitchen. I have 5 pieces of cast iron cookware, several of my favorites being Lodge brand. I recently purchased a ceramic coated dutch oven and am so looking forward to baking bread and cooking winter stews in it as the weather gets colder. I’ll talk more about that piece of cookware once I have broken it in a bit better this fall and winter!
Cast iron cookware has a number of benefits for cooking, which we’ll get into in a minute, but a few words of advice on things you might not anticipate from a cast iron!
- This cookware is not ready to use right out of the packaging. You will most likely need to season the cast iron cookware before you cook with it. Here’s an explanation on how to season your cast iron.
- Cast iron skillets retain heat exceptionally well – which means that they are easy to burn yourself on! Exercise extra caution when using a cast iron skillet and make sure that when you remove them from a heat source that you use a silicone / high heat resistance trivet.
- Cast iron cookware is susceptible to rust in certain situations. Never, ever let water sit in your cast iron – when you wash it be sure to use minimal soap (or just hot water), and then dry it immediately. I am notorious for letting our non-stick pans sit in the sink to soak and I have to remember NOT to do this with my cast iron cookware.
- They can be tricky to learn – I cannot tell you how many items I’ve burned to a crisp on our cast iron because I underestimated the heat retention.
So what are some of the benefits of cooking with cast iron cookware?
- Heat retention! While also something I warned about above, the heat retention with cast iron cookware is exceptional. The consistent heat retention and even heat distribution makes cast iron cookware perfect for searing steaks, pan frying fish, or even cooking burgers when you don’t want to light the grill.
- You can switch between cooking surfaces with cast iron cookware. Cast iron is safe for stovetop use and oven use – so you can start a recipe on the stovetop and finish it in the oven, reducing the need for multiple dishes. You shouldn’t shock your cast iron with different temperatures – if you are not gradually heating your cast iron on the stovetop and then moving it to the oven, leave it in the cool oven and let it heat up as the oven preheats.
- Cast iron pans are nearly indestructible. A properly seasoned and well-maintained cast iron can last for generations. A great way to reduce landfill waste is to buy higher quality products and take good care of them.
- Cooking in cast iron cookware can help boost the amount of iron in your diet. We’ve seen this put to the test and used for good with concepts like the Lucky Iron Fish, which provides a small iron fish shaped token to use in cooking in areas of the world that face a nutritional deficit. Cooking in cast iron is certainly not going to replace the consumption of iron rich food in your diet, but if you are anemic, this is an easy way to absorb more iron.
My three favorite things to cook on my cast iron cookware are:
Skillet Nachos – Wwe use dairy free cheese shreds from Daiya Foods and Beyond meatless crumbles instead of ground beef and dairy cheese. We’ll make these in the oven on a lazy meal night, but they’re one of our favorites to have while camping, too!
Cornbread – I exclusively use Bob’s Red Mill cornmeal and their cornbread recipe because it’s so darn good. The only thing I change is that I sometimes add canned corn into the recipe to make things interesting. I typically use unsweetened almond milk with a small amount of vinegar in it as a plant-based buttermilk alternative.
Searing Burgers or Veggie Burgers – We have a small charcoal grill, but I hate lighting it for something like burgers that take a whole 8 minutes to cook. I like the crisp exterior coating you get on a burger from pan searing. Make sure your kitchen has good ventilation, or you might end up setting off your smoke alarms! I make my own black bean burgers in bulk using The Pioneer Woman’s recipe and they sear to perfection in a cast iron pan. My husband eats regular burgers, but we try to support our local farms using ethical and environmentally friendly practices in the area by supporting the Oneida Nation Market or Waseda Farms Market.