Everything you need to know about the versatile cast iron skillet

Cast iron skillets have been a staple of American cuisine for hundreds of years. We will explore why this cooking vehicle been the pan of choice from frontiersman to housewives, and how can one pan help save money and the environment. (Illustration courtesy of Alex Wood)

Due to recent trends in media and its developing relationship with cooking, cast iron pans have been thrown a bit more love in the past decade. But this type of pan is nothing new. In fact, quite the opposite. These pans have been a staple of American cuisine for hundreds of years. We will explore why this cooking vehicle been the pan of choice from frontiersman to housewives, and how can one pan help save money and the environment.

Up front, most cast iron pans are intimidating. They are heavy, dark black, often greasy, and get very hot when stovetop cooking. But the way the pan works on a thermodynamic level, is what gives it true value. Thick cast iron heats up slowly, but can absorb and retain a lot of heat compared to most pots and pans. This might seem like a fault, but it pays off. Thick cast iron can hang on to heat for a much longer time than steel, this gives the pan easy to control heat levels. Coupled with its ultra durability, these are just some of the reasons cast iron is favored by hikers and campers.

When camping, your heat source can often be limited which restrains how much you can cook at a time. When using a cast iron, you can continue to cook in the pan, long after the flame has died. Another benefit of cast iron is the fact that you don’t need to use soap or water to clean it, making it highly efficient in its use regarding waste. Saving time, energy and water, what is not to love?

Not an outdoor person? Here are some more reasons why a cast iron pan should be in your kitchen arsenal, if not the only pan. Generally speaking, cooking in a pan that is too large for what you are cooking results in burnt food. In a cast iron, temperatures move slowly through the pan and allow more even cooking whether your pan is under or overcrowded. This quality also allows you to cook more than one thing at once in the pan, almost like a small griddle. Over medium heat, you can cook meats along side vegetables and starches. For breakfast try it out with bacon, fried eggs, and veggies all in one pan!

Cast Iron’s heat even mimics that of a stone oven, which makes it ideal for baking rustic and artisanal breads. Leavened breads such as sourdough boules, quick breads like cornbread or flatbreads like focaccia. There are also plenty of pastry applications that the cast iron is great for.

Hopefully at this point you are sold and would like to purchase a pan of your own. But, there are many different shapes, styles and brands of cast iron pans out there, making purchasing confusing.

Lodge is one of the most established cast iron brands on the market and makes a solid product across the board. When it comes to style of pan, most cooks and chefs would agree that the 12 inch deep skillet is the most versatile. Shallow enough to breathe on high temperatures, but deep enough to use as a fryer or soup pot, this pot can do it all. The high sides also aid in even radiant heat when baking. The pan sells for about 54 dollars on their website and should outlive many generation of your family if maintained properly.

Maintenance of cast iron is relatively easy compared to most non-stick or stainless steel pans. The most important aspect is seasoning—It isn't salt and pepper.

“Seasoning” is vegetable oil baked onto the iron at a high temperature: Not a chemical non-stick coating. Seasoning creates the natural, easy-release properties. The more you cook, the better it gets. Because you create, maintain and even repair the “seasoning”, your cookware can last 100 years or more. Chemical non-stick coating cannot be repaired, limiting lifespan.

Lodge brand cookware also has a several guides and videos to demonstrate how to take care of your pan like a seasoned pro. Go to this website for more information.


Dan Wood is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at daniel.wood@uconn.edu.