Tag Archives: Why Use Cast Iron

Why Cook with Cast Iron?

Why Cook with Cast Iron?

One of the main reasons why people choose a cast iron skillet for their cooking tasks is because cast iron cookware can be used for almost anything. Whether you want to sear potatoes, bake a cake or stir-fry vegetables, one cast iron frying pan is all you need. However, because cast iron cooking can be a lot of fun, especially for someone new to the idea, you may find yourself with more than just a single pan. Here are some other reasons why you may consider cooking with cast iron:

WagnerWare Cast Iron: #3 and #6
WagnerWare Cast Iron: 1053 (#3) and 1056 (#6)

No Fear of Scratching

Cast iron doesn’t scratch, so you can use virtual any cooking utensil on it without worrying about damaging the pan. Unlike most non-stick pans on which you need to use rubber spatulas or special spoons to cook the food, you can use metal spatulas, rakes, shovels or nearly anything on cast iron. It truly is virtually indestructible.

Doesn’t Warp

Ever wonder how Grandma’s cast iron skillet still looks the same as when she used it decades and decades ago? One of the wonders of cast iron is that it doesn’t warp over time when repeatedly exposed to high temperatures. Many traditional pots and pans can lose their shape, as exposure to heat and use over time molds the shape of the pan, yet cast iron continues to look exactly the same.

Holds Flavor

Cast iron skillets hold flavor for longer. In fact, while some people may be grossed out the remnants from Grandma’s meal may still be in the crevices of the pan from a luncheon held 35 years ago, it is for this reason that cast iron enthusiasts adore the cookware. Many maintain that the flavors are held within the pan itself, so when you cook something new, you are still adding a little bit of the flavors that were there previously. For better or worse, cooking with cast iron can ensure a different flavor experience each and every time.

Size #3 Used for Serving
Cast Iron Skillet, Size #3 Used for Serving

Heat Retention

Cast iron skillets are ideal heat conductors. They have high heat retention, and those who swear by cast iron maintain that the food heats more evenly when compared to traditional pots and pans. The versatility of a cast iron skillet is unrivaled; you can use it on a stove, on a barbecue grill or even in your oven. Cast iron can be preheated to temperatures that will brown meat and will withstand higher oven temperatures than what is considered safe for traditional non-stick pans. Because cast iron skillets hold heat for longer periods of time and heat up more quickly, you actually save a little bit of money in electric or gas heating costs, whichever applies to your home.

Great for Baking

One of the main reasons people enjoy cooking with cast iron is that it is versatile – you can use these pans for baking, stir-frying, searing and boiling. In fact, before the slow cooker ever existed, grandmothers around the world used cast iron Dutch ovens for all of their cooking. Dutch ovens, used for hundreds of years, are notorious for cooking if you want an even temperature. Moreover, a Dutch oven can go from stovetop to oven without missing a beat. It doesn’t get much easier than that.

Less Expensive

If you do not currently own a cast iron frying pan, it is well-worth your time and money to invest in the cookware. You can often find sales on the Internet, and most stores carrying cast iron skillets that are pre-seasoned and ready to use. You can typically expect to spend about $30 on a cast iron skillet, depending on the size, while you may be looking at over $100 for the same-sized stainless steel pain.

Long-Lasting

Remember that cast iron can last for three generations or longer. Ever have a family fight or know of someone who desperately wanted Grandma’s pans after she passed? Anyone who is anyone in the cooking world knows and appreciates the importance of a good cast iron skillet. If you don’t know of anyone in the family who is passing one down anytime soon, you can find vintage cast iron pans at a local flea market, thrift store, online auction site, and garage sales. While you may worry that because these have already been used, they are disgusting and not worth the dollar you might spend, cleaning cast iron is relatively simple.

More Iron in Food

Although cast iron doesn’t leak chemicals into your food, it can allow iron to saturate whatever it is that you are cooking, and that is truly a benefit for those who are iron-deficient and looking for natural ways to boost their levels of the nutrient. Iron deficiency is fairly common across the globe, particularly in women. As many as one in 10 American women do not receive adequate amounts of iron; if you are looking for a different way to add iron into your diet other than taking a vitamin or supplement, cooking food, especially an acidic food like tomato sauce, in a cast iron frying pan can increase the iron content by as much as 20 times.

Use Less Oils

Did you know that cast iron frying pans are also healthier than non-stick pans? The lovely sheen that you see in the skillet is the sign of a well-used and well-seasoned pan, which translates into non-stick as well. Fortunately, however, you will not need to use heaping amounts of oil to sear chicken or brown crispy potatoes while cooking with cast iron. In fact, if you use cast iron skillets regularly, you often don’t need to add any extra ingredients before you begin to cook.  Check out the Definitive Guide to Seasoning Cast Iron.

Chemical-Free

If you are extremely health-conscious or at least somewhat concerned about living a healthy lifestyle, then keep in mind that when you use cast-iron skillets, you avoid all of the harmful chemicals and toxins that are prevalent in non-stick pans. The repellent Teflon coating that keeps foods from sticking contains perfluorocarbons (PFCs), a chemical that has been associated with developmental problems, cancer and liver damage. These chemicals are released as the pans are heated or when the surface gets scratched, and we subsequently ingest the fumes into our bodies.

Easy to Clean

Cast iron skillets are great in the kitchen and extremely versatile, but what about cleaning? Even for the most troublesome spots and caked on grease, oatmeal can do the trick, believe it or not. While all you really need is a scraper to clean cast iron, if that isn’t working, you can sprinkle some oats on it and add a little water. The paste will absorb the leftover grease without stripping the pan of iron. However, if you are one that holds fast to the notion that the leftover flavors simply add to the next meal, cleaning a cast iron skillet truly is a breeze.

While cast iron may seem like an old-fashioned choice, this reliable cookware should be a staple in your modern kitchen. Please don’t throw away that old pan that has been passed down to you from generations. As long as it has no significant cracks or nicks, you can clean, season and use the pan for every single one of your cooking needs. And, if all else fails and you need a great middle-of-the-night weapon against an intruder, you can’t go wrong with a single cast iron skillet.

 

Rusty WagnerWare Cast Iron Skillet - 1058
Rusty WagnerWare Cast Iron Skillet – 1058

Recipe: Calzones on the Grill on a Cast Iron Skillet

Cast Iron Calzone on the Grill
Cast Iron Calzone cooked on the Grill

Calzones on the Grill

I love pizza.  Or, pretty much anything that has most or all the components of pizza, such as a calzone.  Today, I will be sharing my experience making calzones on the grill and some reasons why you might want to do this.

About 50% of the time, you can see a ball of dough in my refrigerator resting, slowly rising, and developing great sourdough like flavors, waiting to be kneaded (pun intended).  I might bake a loaf of bread, na’an, pita, pizza, or flatbread.  Once, I even made some cinnamon rolls with Nutella spread over the top.  The recipe for the dough that I make varies slightly but our cast iron pizza recipe has a good one to start with.  We actually travel a decent amount and sometimes a kitchen isn’t fully stocked so I have definitely made bread or pizza dough with just flour, water, yeast, & salt.  That’s all you really need.

 

 

Cast Iron Calzone on the Grill
Cast Iron Calzone on the Grill – Divide the dough into four equal pieces and knead for a few minutes.

Okay, here is how it started –  I knew I wanted to have some sort of a pizza.  I also knew that it was a warm day and the house was already heating up!  Cranking up the oven for an hour or more would definitely make the house hotter and that is not at all a good thing during the summer time.  No problem since a grill can cook just about anything and we know that from so many chefs.  The last time that was on my radar is when I saw Bobby Flay grill pizza on his show “Grill It!” using a Weber Kettle.  Awesome.

Next, I wanted to use my cool WagnerWare 1053 #3 Cast Iron Skillets.  🙂  No really good reason why but I have really enjoyed coming up with ways to use these smaller pans.  It’s a little tough to cook in a small pan like a #3 but that make really fantastic serving dishes and if you’re making personal sized meals or side dishes, they just make good sense.

 

Cast Iron Calzone on the Grill
Cast Iron Calzone on the Grill – After kneading and letting the dough rest, you can spread and press the dough into the pre-oiled pan.
Cast Iron Calzone on the Grill
Cast Iron Calzone on the Grill – Fill up your pizza pocket or calzone with your favorite toppings.

You can see I divided the dough into four roughly equal pieces.  I kneading them for about 2-3 minutes a each and then let each of them rest for about 5 minutes.  After the rest, I flattened each ball of dough and pressed one of them into the bottom of each cast iron skillet.  I filled them up with caramelized onions, red peppers, minced garlic, and chopped artichokes.  Feel free to put anything you want in the calzone, like bacon, sauce, olive oil, cheese, goat cheese, more bacon, etc…  You’ll notice that I opted to omit the sauce and cheese for the filling.

Cast Iron Calzone on the Grill
Cast Iron Calzone on the Grill – The calzones are topped with the other two pieces of dough.  I used the very delicious Pizza Seasoning from Penzey’s Spices.  I also enjoyed a black lager while grilling – gotta have beer if you’re by the grill.
Cast Iron Calzone on the Grill
Cast Iron Calzone on the Grill – This thermometer is not super accurate but it is close enough to keep us in the right range.  The temp actually dropped a little bit for this picture.  Most of the time, the grill was in the 300° range.

I had the grill heating up with an indirect heat set up.  That is to say, I had the two side burners lit at about med-low.  This allowed me to keep the burners at the center of the grill off so that the bottom of the calzones would not burn.  I might try turning them on low for the 2nd half of the baking next time but I was a little worried about that for the first attempt.  And, since this was my first try I was not quite sure about how long to cook these calzones or at what temperature.

Cast Iron Calzone on the Grill
Cast Iron Calzone on the Grill – Topped with cheese and ready for the grill.
Cast Iron Calzone on the Grill
Cast Iron Calzone on the Grill – Sitting in the center with the two outside gas burners on Med-Low.  The stock thermometer displayed about 300° for most of the grilling time.

Normally, I would cook a pizza really hot, like 500-550° + on a pizza stone or cast iron skillet.  In this case, I knew the filling was dense, the cast iron was relatively cool, and that a hot grill would not be the right way to do it.  I figured that a moderately warm grill would work and that I needed to keep the calzones on for 25-40 minutes or so.  I monitored, watch, peaked, and checked on the calzones every 10 minutes or so.  Towards the end of the grilling, I bumped up the burners on the outside and even turned on the  center burners.  I slid the calzones right out of the pans and then  put some pizza sauce on the top.

Cast Iron Calzone on the Grill
Cast Iron Calzone on the Grill – After 35 minutes on the grill.
Cast Iron Calzone on the Grill
Cast Iron Calzone cooked on the Grill – All sauced up!