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Cooking Food with Cast Iron Pots and Pans

For a very long time, cast iron pots, pans, and even cauldrons have been premier cookware to use. The cookware is heavy, but it lasts for a very long time and it heats food evenly. Many cooks, myself included, have a preference for using cast iron cookware to cook food.

Using and caring for cast iron post and pans is becoming a forgotten art, though, since stainless steel and no-stick pots and pans were invented. Stainless steel is easier to clean, though it normally is inferior when it comes to the cooking part. As a result, many people have never been taught how to care for cast iron. A lot of people don’t even realize that cast iron is superior and they may not have even owned any cast iron cookware.

When a cast iron pan is first made, it is a dull gray color. At this point, it isn’t suitable for use for cooking. If first needs to be seasoned. This is a reference to coating the cookware to protect it. Seasoning is simple enough; coat every part of the pot with lard, then bake the pot at 250-300 F for 1-2 hours. Most new cast iron pots and pans that are sold have been pre-seasoned.

The seasoning bakes in the lard, sealing the iron, which is semi-porous. The pots and pans end up a dark blue to a black color and the seasoning prevents water from getting to the iron. If water reaches the iron, the iron will rust if it is exposed to oxygen in the air.

A seasoned pot or pan isn’t impervious to the elements, though. Cooking acidic foods, such as tomatoes or anything containing citric acid or vinegar, eats away the seasoning. Normal use and washing also wears it away. This means that the pot or pan needs to be periodically re-seasoned.

If there is any sign of rust anywhere on the pot or pan, it needs to be reseasoned. 

To keep the seasoning on the pan as long as possible, fluids should not be left in the pan for any longer than necessary, if the pan isn’t being actually used. In other words, it should not be allowed to soak for hours, even if food is dried on. 

It should be washed as soon as possible after use and it is best to do it by hand rather than using a dishwasher. A dishwasher can wear away the seasoning in a hurry. After washing, the pan should also be dried immediately, either by hand or by gentle heating. Cast iron shouldn’t be allowed to just air-dry.

The best frying pan I have is a 14-inch cast iron fry pan. I acquired it accidentally, back in the 1980s. At the time, I was helping a friend demolish a very old shed that was being used as a garage. The shed had been built in the 1930s and as we started taking it down, we discovered that it had been rebuilt many times, over the years. 

There were three levels of flooring. The bottom level was so old that it was nearly rotted away. It was also very rough-hewn as if the lumber was made by hand. Under that layer and partly buried in the dirt, I found the frying pan. Nearby, there was the head of a US cavalry hatchet, too, the wooden handle nearly rotted away. The “US” on the back of the hatchet was in mirror-relief so it could be used to stamp ‘US’ on cavalry saddles. I couldn’t even see that at first because of the dirt and rust, but the point is that the frying pan and hatchet had probably been there long before the 1930s.

The frying pan was covered in rust, too. It took a good deal of scrubbing and washing to remove the rust. After I finally did, I seasoned the pan. I’ve been using it ever since and I continue to season it periodically.

In those early days, cast iron was common and the caldrons used to cook beans and such on cattle drives and wagon trains was usually made of cast iron.

  • Have you ever used cast iron pots or pans?

    • Yes
    • No
    • I currently use cast iron pots or pans
  • Prior to reading this, did you know of the importance of seasoning cast iron pots and how to do it?

    • Yes
    • No

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Written by Rex Trulove

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18 Comments

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    • I even prefer cast iron when we go camping, despite the additional weight. It is really good for even heating, unlike aluminum, or even stainless steel. We specifically bought our dutch oven for camping, though it is so useful in so many other ways.

      I might never have made the discovery of the big frying pan and the hatchet if I hadn’t tripped over the handle of the pan. It wasn’t sticking up much, but it was a moment of clumsiness on my part that actually paid off.

  1. Very interesting read. I leave my cast iron pots in the sun to dry after washing it. 1 because then I know it is dry and won’t rush. 2 because the sun also sterilize it. Then I coat it with sunflower oil and I know it it good to go for next time….

  2. Great information. I have always been confused by the seasoning process. I bought a really nice cast iron skillet from Amazon but have not used it yet. Do I assume that since it is black and shiny it has been pre-seasoned and I can use it? Will I eventually have to reseason it?

    • Yes, if it is black, it has been seasoned and is safe for use. You will probably need to reseason it sooner or later, but if it is properly cared for, that could be a quite a while. Still, it is easy to reseason it. The ”how’ and ‘why’ is very easy to grasp. When you do reseason it, though, please be sure to let it cool down completely before touching it.

    • I also have 2 12-inch pans that I bought, along with a 6-inch one that I also bought. Yes, it was a fortunate find. The friend I was helping saw that rusted thing and said, “Throw it away. It’s no good.” Naturally, I didn’t.

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