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Cooking in Cast Iron

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I'm new to cast iron, having just recently lifted a skillet from my mom. I've seasoned it and baked in it a few times, but I'm wondering about cooking certain types of foods. I know that you shouldn't cook tomatoes in cast iron, but what about adding certain types of seasonings like soy sauce or vinegar? Will those ruin the seasoning on the pan?

I've got other cookware to choose from, but i'd like to be able to play with my new skillet more.

Thanks!

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  1. No acids. They will pit the iron and ruin any finish that you have developed. I would stay away from high-salt foods as well like soy sauce.

    1. great. it's a good thing i also took a nice old wok from my mom :). i think it probably needs some sort of seasoning too, but i don't know what material it is. it's definitely pre-nonstick.

      1. OK, I've said this before, but it bears repeating. In the context of cast iron, "seasoning" just means cooked-on grease. Anything that threatens that coating is bad for cast iron.

        High-acid foods like tomatoes and vinegar will strip the seasoning. Long, slow simmers and braises will also. Soaps, detergents and abrasives are bad as well.

        Over time, with proper care the seasoning gets harder, thicker and smoother. So freshly-seasoned cast iron is more vulnerable to threats than something that's been in steady use for, say, 20 years. It's perfectly possible to make soups and stews in a well seasoned pot --in generations past that was done all the time-- but if making soups and stews is your aim, you'd probably do better to choose a different pot.

        I've not heard that salt is a threat. In fact, the recommended method for scrubbing cast iron, on those rare occasions when it needs it, is to put some oil and a bit of salt in the pan, and rub with a paper towel.

        1. I think the "threat" when using high-acid foods is the taste of iron that you will impart in your whole dish should you cook with acids. The pan/skillet can be re-seasoned but your dish will have to be thrown away! Your wok is probably a high carbon steel if it's lasted for a while. If it has a nice browny-black center/bottom you're in good shape. High, high, high heat is recommended for cooking in a wok. It's best to open your windows and flip on the vent fan when using it inside! Have fun, and enjoy your newly acquired cookware!

          8 Replies
          1. re: HaagenDazs

            Well, yes and no. If the seasoning holds up, there won't be a taste of iron, because the food won't be exposed to metal. Trust me, I've done this successfully. The iron taste indicates that the seasoning has been stripped.

            Again, I think this is a poor use of cast iron; other tools are better suited for the task, and there's no good reason to risk it. But it's possible, with a very well seasoned pot.

            1. re: PDXpat

              Yep, you're right. Didn't think of it that way.

              1. re: HaagenDazs

                Interesting, I didn't know that and I have been cooking my tomato sauce in my newer iron skillet. I haven't seen any pitting and I haven't tasted any iron.

                1. re: Missmoo

                  I'm with you. I make tomato sauce all the time in a cast iron skillet, with no ill effects on either taste or the pan. Having said that, it's well seasoned.

                  1. re: andreas

                    We used to make tomato sauce in my grandma's old cast iron all the time, never even thought about it, never had any problems.

                    1. re: andreas

                      I think "well seasoned" is a requirement for cooking acidic food in a cast iron pan. I received my big skillet 50 years ago, and it was old then. It was my only pan for a few years, and I cooked everything in it. It's still in good shape, too.

                  2. re: HaagenDazs

                    Ages ago, every houshold had a black iron kettle hanging over the hearth, and pretty much everything was cooked (meaning boiled to death) in that cauldron. On the other hand, those cauldrons had been in use for many years, even generations.

                    My own collection of cast iron skillets are mostly Griswolds made between 1897-1920, and handed down to me from my Mother. They've been in fairly regular use for generations, and have a coating that's as black as coal, and as hard, smooth and glossy as enamel.

                    My point is that it takes, quite literally, many years of steady use to thoroughly season cast iron. I don't wish to risk starting that process over. I also don't advise people who are still learning how to use their cast iron to engage in "risky behaviors". THe pan the OP lifted from his mother may be perfectly well seasoned, and may be able to stand up to long-simmered tomato sauce. But it would be a shame to strip of a generation of patina in a few minutes because the OP didn't know better. Best to proceed with caution until the OP and the pan are better aquainted with each other.

                    Until then, my advice would be to stick with dry heat methods such as frying bacon, chops and burgers, pan-broiling steaks, or baking cornbread. These are, not coincidentally, the very techniques where cast iron has a big advantage over other cookware. As time and confidence build up, the OP will find out what he and his pan are comfortable doing.

                2. re: HaagenDazs

                  This is really interesting. Last year, I once braised some short ribs in my cast iron pot and found that it had imparted a pretty strong metallic or iron taste to the dish. Others did not notice it as much but I recognized it and did not care for it.

                3. Well, I used the wok to make some Sichuan peppercorn shrimp. I think it is exactly what you said, a high carbon steel wok I'll save the cast iron skillet for other foods, like bacon and eggs and fun stuff like that.

                  1. I have a wonderfull cast iron dutch oven that I have been using for years. It makes the best chilli, pot roast, and other dishes that have acidic ingedients. I have never tasted iron except when i once washed it with soap and didn't dry it properly. It got a fine layer of rust on the inside. When properly seasoned, washed with hot water only, and not placed on an element that is too hot, you should be able to cook most anything in or on it without problems. Cast iron holds and conducts heat very well so you don't need or want it so hot that the good black coating burns off.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: hagar4316

                      I was going to say the same thing: if the pot is REALLY well seasoned, high-acid foods aren't a problem. My mother's 100+ year old dutch oven makes excellent chili, etc. But I do know that you shouldn't cook peeled crawfish in cast iron, as they turn an odd shade of gray. No taste problems, just an odd color.

                    2. I don't think you can get a cast iron pot "too hot."

                      Remember, back in the day, when Paul Prudhomme popularized blackened redfish? His specific instruction is "Heat a large cast-iron skillet over very high heat until it is beyond the smoking stage and you see white ash in the skillet bottom (the skillet cannot be too hot for this dish), at least 10 minutes."

                      I used to make that dish regularly and never had the coating deteriorate in the least.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: JoanN

                        I've never seen a cast iron pot get too hot and burn the seasoning off, but I have the the seasoning peel right off of a steel wok. My friend was using the turkey fryer burner for a stir fry, ala Alton Brown, and the coating peeled off like old paint!

                      2. For the last 2 years I've been using a nickel plated cast iron skillet. It can handle temps up to 1500 degrees. Great for use when camping. Does not need seasoning. Dishwasher safe.

                        They are pricy however. About $75.00. You can check them out at olvidacookware.com

                        4 Replies
                        1. re: Stack8

                          Great looking cookware - but for me one of the main benefits of properly seasoned cast iron is that it develops a natural non-stick surface. How does a nickel pan behave?

                          1. re: andreas

                            When cooking with the nickel plated cast iron you will notice a couple of things. First, you notice that you will need to lower your gas flame about 25%. The nickel gets very hot, so you have to get in the habit of lowering that flame. Next you will find that it does not retain flavors. Everything won't taste like bacon. If their is a question about cooking with soy sauce, vinegar or tomatoes with regular cast iron, no problem here at all. The cooking surface has been buffed down some so it's all most like cooking with stainless. The thing I like about it most of all, is I can put it the dishwasher. No problem. If you were to burn something badly you can clean it with a steel wool pad. You can't hurt it.

                            I must admit that I was one of the first to "field test" this product. I know the company and the folks behind this.

                            This is not the first time cast iron cookware has been nickel plated. Griswold, I think did it back in the 1900's. But was dropped because of cost.

                            One thing you might here some talk about is some people are allergic to nickel. That is of no concern in this case. The nickel is molecularly bonded. It's not coming off. It is harder than stainless steel.

                            I hope this answers your questions. I'm sorry I went on and on. But it is a good product.

                            1. re: Stack8

                              No, that's fine. Many thanks for answering.

                              I am still thinking that with my regular cast iron pans all I do is wash them with warm water (I have even added a drop of dishwashing liquid on occasion with no ill effects whatsoever - they are well seasoned) and they are as good as new. No flavor is transferred, they are naturally non stick and they cost next to nothing to buy. Personally I can't really see the benefit of the nickel plating.

                          2. re: Stack8

                            Whoa! That's pretty cool. Thanks!

                          3. It's perfectly fine to cook tomato sauce in cast iron... that's a good way to get a lot of iron in your diet!

                            3 Replies
                            1. re: Ida Red

                              I agree. It seems that cooking with cast iron really helps with your intake of iron. In rare cases it has caused too much iron intake.

                              1. re: Ida Red

                                Seriously folks... we're not talking about mineral deficiencies, we're talking about taste. I can eat copper pipes if I want copper... chew on some metal buckets for zinc, or put some cast iron in a blender for a iron smoothie. Take your vitamins and learn to cook your food so it's palatable.

                                1. re: HaagenDazs

                                  If your pan is properly seasoned and your sauce has some oil in it the cast iron will be great. This is an absolute fact. I really only use the CI for most tomato sauces. The only time I've seen a CI reaction disaster was over Thanksgiving when a family member cooked red cabbage in a CI pot that had not been properly seasoned-- this was mostly a problem b/c Scandinavian red cabbage takes a lot of vinegar and no fat. I actually think the history of the pan adds some really good flavor to the sauce. Treat your pans well and they will treat your food well (in other words, don't wash with soap; if you cook something nice and fatty consider not washing at all and just wiping well with a paper towel; scrub any crud off with kosher salt; use your pans frequently). Don't be afraid of your cast iron...

                              2. Yep, sounds like what i'm trying to do. First thing i did after I cleaned it up was cook up a mess of bacon, just to start it out well. No soap since then, and I love using the salt to clean it. It is so easy.

                                Yay cast iron! Maybe I'll make more bacon and eggs this weekend.

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: annimal

                                  Don't waste your salt! Not like it's terribly expensive, but just get a stiff bristled scrub brush.

                                  1. re: HaagenDazs

                                    . . . or a Golden Fleece Chore Boy. I keep one aside to use exclusively on my cast iron pans. They're great. Get off every little last bit of crud.