Guide to Kitchen Utensils, Pots, Pans and Accessories: Cast Iron

About the uses, care, cost, and controvery surrounding cast iron kitchen utensils, pots, pans, and accessories.

A Guide to Kitchen Utensils

CAST IRON

Properties: Heavy; heats slowly and evenly, and retains heat well. Excellent for browning, braising, and for making stews.

Cost: Moderate to expensive.

Use: Made into dutch ovens (which can be used on top of the stove or in the oven), broilers, griddles, muffin pans, frying pans, and skillets. These have metal or glass lids (it's nice to watch the transformation that goes on while food is cooking without lifting the lid). Waffle irons are also made of cast iron. Some cast iron utensils have rust-resistant finishes such as a porcelain-enamel coating or a nonstick lining of Teflon. Though expensive they need no seasoning and are easy to clean.

Care: A new pan needs to be washed with hot soapy water and a steel-wool pad to remove the oil that is applied at the factory to prevent rusting. Rinse and dry thoroughly. Coat the inner surface with unsalted oil and place the utensil on moderate heat until the oil appears thin. Remove and swirl the oil about, coating the bottom and sides. Now place it in a 250 deg oven for about 2 hours. Turn the oven off; allow the pan to remain there until the oven and the pan have cooled down; take the pan out and wipe off excess oil. It is now ready to use. Warm soapy water and a stiff brush to remove burned-on food is all that is necessary for cleaning until it is time to reseason the pan.

Acid foods such as tomatoes, vinegar, wine, or fruit juices will remove the seasoned layer, ultimately causing pitting, as will storing food or prolonged soaking. However, adding water to the utensil right after each use and allowing it to soak during the meal will certainly make cleaning the surface much easier. When rust appears, it is time to wash the pan and reseason it. To save physical energy when preparing a heavily encrusted skillet for reseasoning, place the utensil upside down in the broiler (to get a high temperature) until the burned-on food flakes off. (It may take hours, but it does work.) Allow to cool, wash, and season. Lids should be removed when the pan is not being heated to prevent moisture from forming. Water vapor causes rusting on the inside.

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