I read a lot of things on the internet and visit a lot of different websites. One I visit from time to time is called Vice.
Like most other websites, I typically visit it because I see a link to an article I think may be interesting, funny, useful or some combination thereof. The most recent article I read at Vice was titled, “Once and for all: are cast iron skillets worth the trouble?”,by Mary Frances Knapp. It’s the only one of Knapp’s articles I saw that’s about cooking, but whether she’s an expert or not, in the end she got the answer right.
The answer is “yes,” of course. Knapp did her research by soliciting advice from Isaac Toups, who is awesome and articulate and, also of course, correct in describing the versatility of cast iron. She also interviewed Chef Rasheeda McCallum, who unsurprisingly said a lot of the same things.
McCallum also connected her love of cast iron to her family’s Jamaican heritage, and I can tell you that Toups, too, would attest to his family’s use of the metal. I fall into that category as well; my grandmother had a lot of anodized aluminum cookware, but when she was going to fry something, the cast iron came out.
For much of the piece, Knapp quotes people (often from reddit) who have wildly differing opinions on how to maintain cast iron. Everyone is entitled to an opinion, of course. But not everyone is entitled to have a correct opinion. For example, the person who suggested using sandpaper to clean a cast iron skillet has an opinion, but that opinion is wrong unless you are completely re-surfacing a pan.
There is a persistent myth that once you “season” a cast iron pot, you should never use soap to wash it. The truth is that if you have actually seasoned your cast iron, you will not do any damage to that seasoning with a quick scrub using dish soap.
Cast iron, properly seasoned, is about as non-stick a cooking surface as you can get, and you don’t have to use only rubber or wooden utensils. Cast iron holds heat, which is a function of its mass, and while it does not distribute heat as evenly as aluminum or copper, if you use the right burner for your pan – a burner with a flame that extends at least mid-way to the edges of your pan – it will still outperform the most expensive aluminum-clad cookware you can buy for pan-frying. You can also do a hell of a braise in cast iron and I stew in my dutch oven pretty often.
Here are the downsides to cooking in cast iron: it is heavy, it takes longer to bring it to the right temperature and you should wash and dry it shortly after every use so that it does not rust.
That’s it, really. To me the positives far outweigh those issues. They are also damn-near indestructible. If I wanted to, I could use any of my cast iron over a campfire. I don’t think I’d want to carry around cast iron if I was camping, but the point remains.
I could go on for a long time about cast iron, but if you’re actually interested in the science behind it, this article by Dave Arnold is a good read.
I suspect many of you own and use cast iron regularly. I would be very interested to hear about the difficulties you have experienced, and any tips you have for maintenance.