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New cast iron user, but what to use for tomato stews?

Hi everyone, I've loved reading the great advice on this site and hope you can help out a newbie.

I want to move away from my non-stick pots and pans, and just got a 10 inch pre-seasoned cast iron skillet (made in China). It looks fine, but I got it from the dollar store on a whim for only $7.89. Do you think there's anything wrong with it? I plan to follow the seasoning instructions here quite a few times before I cook in it.

What in the world should I use to cook tomato-based dishes and omelettes, however? I'm sold on cast iron being the best and healthiest cookware, but so disappointed about the no-acidic-food rule. I need a large pot for making chili, tomato sauce, and soups; a small pot for making little sauces; and a small skillet for making frequent omelettes. Are stainless steel my best option? Currently I use non-stick pots/pans for all that but want to get rid of them thanks to the health warnings about Teflon.

If I got a cast iron pot, I suppose I could use it for oatmeal, rice, plain pasta, beans and a few non-tomato soups. But I do cook chili, tomato sauce, eggs etc. very often.

Thank you very much for your advice!

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  1. Cast iron is perfect for eggs. I cook chili in the BIG pot. Don't know about tomato sauce.

    1. I've been using cast iron for everything... for years. Just try to maintain the patina-- don't overdo acids, soaps, etc.

      1. Once a cast iron pan or pot becomes well seasoned, light acid from tomatoes should not be a problem. If you don't already have one get a enameled cast iron pot like La Creuset or similar. These are wonderful cooking vessels that heat well and are a breeze to clean. I use mine often for soup, stews, curries, browning meats, beans, braises and even no knead bread.

        2 Replies
        1. re: scubadoo97

          so long as you don't have the tomato sitting in there for days you should be OK. If I were making tomato sauce from scratch I'm not sure I would use my cast iron, but for things like chili or spagetti sauce, I've never noticed any flavor problems or any problems with the patina on the pan.

          1. re: KaimukiMan

            I second the posts by KaimukiMan and scubadoo97. Once your cast iron is seasoned, making spaghetti sauce, chili, etc. with tomatoes should be no problem. Just don't let it sit in the pot for hours after cooking. I have never had a problem with mine -- and I learned from my mom who does the same. You might want to invest in one really good Le Creuset pot -- I use a 5 1/2 quart size. For omelets, I still have a small non-stick pan, but I am trying to get away from non-stick for most uses.

        2. Thanks, everyone! I do make my tomato sauce from scratch w/lots of tomatoes, so I'll probably avoid cast iron for that. Th enameled cast iron sounds good.

          What's your opinion on copper-base stainless steel? From what I read there aren't health issues with that, and sounds like a good basic metal for when you need to give the cast iron a rest.

          Oh, and everyone says that once the cast iron is well-seasoned every food's fine- but when exactly does it become well seasoned enough? After seasoning it in the oven a few times, after a year of use, after 20 years of use? Thanks!

          1. When I put up fresh tomato sauce, I do it in large quantities and use my steel-lined aluminum stock pots.

            If I'm braising and using lots of tomatoes or wine, then I fall back on my procelain-clad cast iron pots. I got rid of my unlined aluminum cookware years ago and am down to one last non-stick saute pan that's rapidly losing its non-stick so that will probably to be replaced with something heavy that's steel-lined.

            If I'm just boiling water for pasta or blanching veggies, I have a 5-qt. steel pot with a heavy aluminum disc on the bottom. It heats up quicker and is a lighter load to lift than the 5-qt. porcelain-clad cast iron pot I was using previously.

            I love my cast iron skillets for slow even heat -- toasting nuts, cooking eggs, frying chicken, grilled sandwiches, reheating pizza slices, warming tortillas, etc.

            1. I cook tomato-laden spaghetti sauces in my 12" cast iron frying pan all the time. The high surface-to-volume ratio and the even heat distribution seem to help make a great sauce. These are generally of the fairly quick, cook down the tomatoes just until the oil begins to separate stage types, not the simmer-all-day sorts.

              There's a bit of a negative effect on the seasoning of the pan, but nothing that cooking some bacon the next morning can't cure.

              As far as eggs, I've never had much luck with scrambled eggs or omelettes, but there's nothing more stereotypically beautiful for breakfast than a pair of eggs frying in a black pan.

              As far as when "well-seasoning" happens, it's more a process than an end. Sometimes, and it doesn't take long, you'll get the pan all perfect and then you'll cook a pineapple upside down cake in it or a messy omelette or something and it will be a big pain to clean and you'll just throw it into the dishwasher and set yourself back a month or two.

              But that's ok, it'll recover fine.

              1. wow - I never heard of all of that.

                Do you have any links to articles on the subject? I knew there was a reason I wanted all clad made in usa :) (at least I am pretty sure it is.....)

                1 Reply
                1. re: sarawithanh

                  Unfortunately I have been told by what I consider "reliable sources" that worldwide (including the US) labeling laws are not only extremely variable, but rarely well-enforced. For example, I have been told by someone who imports to the US clothes from China, and thus visits Chinese clothing factories regularly, that he has seen clothes being manufactured and labeled with famous Italian designer labels saying "Made in Italy". Apparently according to Italian law, this is legal as long as some part of the manufacturing process is completed in Italy...perhaps sewing on buttons, final pressing and packaging, etc.

                  So...I would necessarily put too much faith in the "Made in USA" label.

                  On the other hand, I have never heard of anything coming from China being packed in formaldehyde. I would truly appreciate capitalkid backing this us with some specific references.

                2. I cook a great deal, but am certainly not a "trained chef". I currently own no cast iron pans (aside from a few Le Creuset Dutch ovens which are enameled, and which I love!). Aside from the LeC Dutch ovens which I use for soups, stews, and braises...most of my cookware is Calphalon (regular...not non-stick) which I also love. I also have two Calphalon non-stick pans which I use excusively for eggs, omelettes, and crepes. They work great for these things. Although I do not need any more pots or pans, I am considering buying one or perhaps two Lodge cast iron pans, just for fun...more to see what I am missing, if anything.

                  Since there is no question that uncoated iron interacts chemically with acids such as those that are present in tomatoes (an other acidic foods, sauerkraut, etc.), I don't understand why folks wouldn't naturally want to use something non-reactive for making tomato-based sauces...either stainless, or Calphalon. Sure, once iron is seasoned, much of the iron surface is protected, but nevertheless doesn't it still make more sense to have a non-reactive pot to use for just this purpose. Also, after reading many threads with folks having difficulty seasoning a pan in which to fry eggs, I can't help but inquire...why bother, when non-sticks are perfect for this use?

                  I know my grandmother who was a fabulous cook loved her cast iron pots and pans, but nowadays aren't there really many better materials to cook in?

                  Willing to learn!