Cast Iron

Losing faith in cast iron cookware


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Losing faith in cast iron cookware

takadi | | May 2, 2008 06:16 AM

I bought a ten inch and 12 inch cast iron pan and a bare cast iron dutch oven based on testimony of users who rave "you can't replace cast iron!" or "you can't get that nice cornbread crust anywhere else!" or "it's the most versatile cookware ever!". I'm starting to lose faith in those claims

I used to cook almost exclusively on non-stick cookware when I was inspired by Alton Brown to buy a cast iron pan to brown my steaks properly, something which was claimed never could be done properly on a non stick pan. So I figured, considering all the testimony about cast iron, if I can buy it for that purpose and replace all my other non stick cookware, it's worth adding to the collection. A year later I already encountered a number of problems.

First, claims that cast iron is nonstick hasn't been working for me. Eggs, fish, rice (risotto), etc all were ruined or had sticking problems. I have been seasoning my pan for a year with gallons of oil and fat and though the sticking problems aren't as severe as they used to be, in the end I still resort to my non stick pan

The limitations of what you can cook in cast iron is annoying. No acidic foods, no delicate soups or stews (in fear of getting off flavors from the seasoning), no pan sauces or just sauces in general. And yes I know, you get your extra iron from those stews, but if I wanted extra iron I would have taken a multivitamin pill. So far the only uses I found for my pan is frying and the occasional baking (which I found always burns the food or makes it stick, and which I already have a baking pan for). If cast iron was just a niche cookware that really only succeeds other cookware in frying, I wouldn't have bought it in the first place and would have just stuck to regular nonstick.

Cast iron is a pain to clean and even more of a pain to handle. Not only is every part of the pan hot during cooking (I can't count the times where I've burned myself, even with a pot holder), it's extremely heavy, which makes for a dangerous combination. I also can't use any detergent on it (soapy flavors might get into seasoning apparently) and I have to clean with salt, which gets very hot from the residual heat, so I always have to wait forever until it cools down. Then I have to lug the huge thing into the sink and rinse it out, and without soap it's harder to get bits out, not to mention it's so difficult to handle while cleaning. THEN I have to reseason and heat up the whole thing again. All this for just one pan.

Then there's the heat retention. Some claim this as the best part of cast iron but again I find it makes cast iron a niche cookware only really suitable for slow cooking or high heat applications. And again, I've found myself going back to nonstick anyways. The stew, soup, or braise ends up exactly the same in a regular nonstick pot, and I've found you get tastier results with steak if you brown them with butter on medium heat. So the point of having a cast iron pan has been totally thrown out the window.

Now it might be totally stupid to complain about cookware that costs barely 10-20 bucks but considering that I don't really need cast iron as much I thought I did, it's just clutter now, really heavy clutter, and that's a shame, especially since I hear so much hype about it. In the end it seems like the limitations I encountered with cast iron seemed to outweigh any limitations I had with nonstick pans (not to mention that there are studies out there that now show seasoning is more toxic than teflon).

As a final note, copper cookware of the same thickness and weight has not only similar heat capacity as cast iron, but has vastly superior conduction, making it everything cast iron can do and more, not to mention having a non-reactive surface when lined with tin or stainless steel.

As a beginner food enthusiast who was looking to explore the wonders of different cookware, replace his nonstick cookware and have the ultimate minimalist kitchen, I ended up having more junk that I don't have anywhere to store. I feel like I failed somehow. Is there a way for me to gain back my faith in this humble ancient cookware?

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