When something works well, there’s usually no good reason to change it. And for a cast iron skillets, that adage couldn’t be more true. There’s a reason why cast iron has been used for thousands of years for cooking (seriously!). In fact, the use of cast iron skillets can be traced all the way back to the 5th century BC, and to this day kitchens around the world are stocked with these cooking products. There’s even extensive cookbooks dedicated to the art of cooking with these kitchen staples, and we believe that every kitchen should have one. So this all begs the question – what exactly is cast iron, and why has it remained so essential for cooking?
As the name suggests, iron is the metal material that these skillets are made from. Comprised of over 2% carbon, cast iron has a low melting point, which in a nutshell means that it’s pretty easy to mold when forged in furnaces and high heat. But don’t let that fool you; these skillets won’t melt in the heat applied to cooking. On the contrary, cast iron might be slow to heat up over a grill or open flame, but they retain heat incredibly well. It’s one of the characteristics that make these products so revered.
Today, cast iron is used in the kitchen for such a wide range of different products. Skillets, dutch ovens, panini presses, waffle and crepe makers, griddles and deep fryers are just a few types of cookware that are made with cast iron. Simply put, it’s an inexpensive metal that gets the job done well.
A cast iron skillet is also super versatile. They’re equally effective on a stove top, in the oven, or even used on a grill. Looking for a perfect sear to a steak? Trying to fry up some eggs and bacon? Even a delicious pan pizza can be whipped up with cast iron. The cast iron skillet can truly be your best friend in the kitchen. And did we even mention how insanely cheap they are?
Cast iron skillets can come in a variety of sizes to fit any kitchen. The one potential downside is that these products can be heavy and a little bulky, but it’s a small price to pay for such a durable and product. Families have been using the same cast iron skillets for generations. A properly maintained skillet can quite literally last you a lifetime.
Since cast iron has been around for thousands of years, there are a ton of companies that excel in making skillets and other products. Very little has changed in the standard makeup of cast iron skillets throughout time, but some companies still seem to make better, and more cost effective options than others.
Here are our favorite brands around today:
When we think of cast iron, we think of Lodge. This American manufacturer has been making “heirloom quality cast iron” products since 1896. They’re totally dedicated to producing top quality products at affordable prices, and have established themselves as the authority for all things cast iron.
A well established brand that has been making cast iron products for over 90 years, Le Creuset produces high quality stuff. One of our favorite things about this French company is their dedication to making functional cookware that’s also fun. In stark contrast to the standard, often boring dark and gray hues of most cast iron skillets, this brand makes enameled products with bright bursts color that really pop.
The Field Company is a family business that’s seriously passionate about cast iron products. Their products are made painstakingly by hand and the result is an excellent product that gets better with age. They have various sizes and sets to fit any sized stovetop or kitchen. While their cast iron skillets skew towards the more expensive end, you can’t put a price on such phenomenal quality.
An American born and bred company considered to be “the new kid on the block”, Smithey makes sleek, eye catching skillets whose functionality matches their visual appeal. Their artfully crafted products are expensive, but worth the price tag. Easy to clean and even easier to cook with, you simply can’t go wrong with a Smithey skillet.
Care & Maintenance
Caring for cast iron skillets boils down to 2 main themes: Cleaning and Seasoning. These kitchen products can last forever, but in order for that to happen they need to be properly maintained.
We’ve extensively detailed the cleaning process for cast iron skillets, but the process itself is pretty simple. Here’s a couple of things to keep in mind when it comes to properly cleaning cast iron products:
- Don’t ever wash in the dishwasher.
- Cast iron skillets should be hand-washed, and the general rule is less is more.
- Most times the non-stick properties of cast iron means all you need is some hot water and a sponge/brush.
- If compelled to use dish soap, use just a couple of drops and thoroughly rinse off all excess suds.
- Never leave in standing water! Cast Iron can rust, so make sure to properly dry after each cleaning.
- Looking for a deep clean? Scrub the surface of the skillet with coarse salt to remove any food particles and rinse with warm water.
- Don’t use coarse brushes! Wiry cleaning products can remove the cast iron’s seasoning/coating, reducing the effectiveness. Sponges work just fine.
- Clean immediately after use. Even if that just means a warm water rinse, it’s important not to let hot food settle to the pan.
Seasoning doesn’t only apply to spicing up meals. In fact, one of the most vital ways to take care of cast iron products is by “seasoning” them, or by coating the surface with oil. Oil helps give cast iron products their iconic black/gray sheen, and the oil is essential towards creating a coating for the skillet that is non-stick and rust resistant.
Each time you cook with a cast iron skillet, food grease piles up on top of the oil, effectively burying it and diminishing it’s helpful properties. Excessive heat and constant scrubbing and washing can also work to remove the coat of seasoning oil, so it’s pretty important to make sure that it’s being replenished.
While seasoning a skillet isn’t a complicated process, it does take some extra time. Don’t let this deter you! A proper seasoned skillet retains the best qualities of cast iron, and though it’s best practice to season your skillet after each cleaning, that’s not always realistic. Once food starts to stick excessively to the skillet after cooking or the color begins to dull, it’s time to re-season. When that time comes, here’s how to do it:
- After properly cleaning and completely drying the cast iron skillet, preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
- Pour a tablespoon of vegetable or finishing oil into the skillet. There is also a specialized seasoning spray that can be used.
- Take a paper towel and rub the oil all over the surface and underside of the skillet (add another tablespoon to the bottom).
- Place the skillet directly in the oven, and allow to heat for around an hour.
- Allow the skillet to dry, and that’s it!
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