How to Choose and Care for Cast Iron Pans

One of the most basic and versatile pieces of equipment that every kitchen must have is a large cast-iron pan. The beauty of this piece is its simplicity. With all the technology that can be found in modern cookware, the cast-iron pan, which has been around for generations, still produces some of the best food. When properly cared for, a cast-iron pan will improve with use and be something that you can pass down to the next generation.

You may be asking why, with all the fancy new pots and pans on the market, every kitchen needs a cast-iron pan. A cast-iron pan is thicker and heavier than most other cookware, which helps hold, as well as temper, heat. No other cookware will give you a better crust on a thick seared steak or spread the heat evenly when slow-cooking an egg. Lastly, when properly cared for, cast-iron cookware will not only last forever, but also get better as it ages. An old cast-iron pan will best a brand-new Teflon pan any day.

How to Choose Cast-Iron Cookware

There are many brands and types of cast-iron cookware on the market. We will cover three of the more common types.

Sand-Casted

This is by far the cheapest version of cast-iron cookware, but the price tag in no way relates to the quality of food it will produce. Because the finish on this cast iron is rougher, and may come unseasoned depending on the brand, this type of cookware will require the most diligent care to keep in good condition.

Enameled

Enameling is the process of glazing the cast iron with powdered glass under high heat. This glaze means the cookware doesn’t require any sort of seasoning before using, is less prone to rusting, and is much easier to clean. With a middle-of-the-road price point, this is probably the best bang for buck in cast-iron cookware for the average user.

High End

There are a couple of lines of higher-end cast-iron cookware on the market that feature some fancy features such as heat-resistant handles and computer-polished cooking surfaces. These beautiful pieces come with the highest price tags, but at the end of the day they will cook no differently from any other cast iron.

How to Overhaul an Old Cast-Iron Pan

When not properly cared for, a cast-iron pan can start to develop rust or lose its seasoned, nonstick surface. The process of bringing an old cast-iron pan back to life is very simple, and once completed, the rejuvenated pan might quickly become your favorite again.

  1. Wet the pan and sprinkle generously with coarse kosher salt.
  2. Scrub the pan on all sides with a green scrubby. The salt will act as an abrasive and help clean off any rust.
  3. Rinse the pan with clean water and place into a hot oven to dry completely, approximately 10 minutes.
  4. Pull the pan from the oven and allow it to cool.
  5. Oil the pan with grapeseed oil or another high smoke point oil.
  6. Rub the oil into the cast iron until it is shiny.
  7. Turn the pan upside down and place it on a roasting rack. This prevents any oil from pooling during the baking process.
  8. With a tray under the roasting rack to catch any oil, bake the pan at 500°F for 1 hour. This process bonds the oil into the iron like a polymer.
  9. Remove the pan from the oven and allow it to cool completely. The pan should have a slightly wet, bluish look to it.
  10. Re-oil the pan with another light coat of grapeseed oil and store it somewhere dry.
  11. To clean a cast-iron pan, use hot water and a gentle brush, dry well, and re-oil before storing.
a top down view of the bottom of a worn black cast iron pan on a dark wood cutting board