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Nov 6, 2008 09:16 AM

Cast Iron and conflicting info

I’ve have been reading so many conflicting things about cast iron..

I just bought a carbon steel fry pan. One of the main reason is to cook quick tomato sauces. I also require the ability to use wine in the pan.

I’ve read from multiple sources that yes I will not have a problem in a well seasoned pan with acidic foods. Then I turn around and read Yes It will be an issue to cook with acidic foods.
“ It will impart a taste or color or ruin the seasoning ect. ect. ”

Without having direct experience with acidic foods in cast iron I’m looking for real world examples either way.

Cast iron has been around for generations. I find it hard to believe people were not cooking acidic foods 100yrs ago.
Please enlighten me
Thank you

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  1. First, carbon steel and cast iron are different things. They both attain a seasoning and are both great pans to have. I use a French carbon steel pan almost daily. Second, I would not have purchased a carbon steel/cast iron pan for the purpose of making quick tomato sauces. It's just the wrong kind of metal for it to be primarily used in that regard. You should buy a stainless steel saute pan if you're interested in making quick tomato sauces... but don't throw away that carbon steel pan! It's fantastic for other uses. Pork chops, steak, general sauteing, etc. After you build up a seasoning, it's good with eggs and fish too.

    The problem you're describing is the fact that acids (especially in tomatoes, vinegar, wine) can react with the surface of the metal. In a new pan, one that does not have a sturdy seasoning, the acid (whatever it may be) can start to strip off the seasoning. This isn't necessarily poisonous but it will give the food an unpleasant metallic taste. Older cast iron pans/pots can stand up to the acids because they are protected by the seasoning. That's likely where you're getting the conflicting info. Some people say you can't (new pan) some people say you can (older, seasoned pan).

    Again, if it were me I would not use this style of pan primarily for tomato sauces, just buy a nice stainless saute pan. Sitram brand pans are good quality and relatively cheap compared to All-Clad. Look for the Sitram catering line of cookware - my suggestion.

    2 Replies
    1. re: HaagenDazs

      That’s what it is French Carbon steel pan

      I will be using the pan for other things as well. I just want the ability to use it for tomatoes and wine ect..

      One of my goals is to move away from multiple pans of the same size and have
      1 pan that will take a seasoning and will cook everything. I guess that’s too much to ask of 1 pan
      Thanks for the informative reply.

      1. re: Trazom

        Cool - I understand the "conservation" issue but a couple different pans is probably a good thing. I use stainless, carbon steel, and cast iron, and enameled cast iron (Staub, Le Creuset). Keep using the carbon steel pan for various things and develop that seasoning. After it gets good and brown/black, try out a tomato sauce. Worst case scenario you have a tomato sauce that's a little metallic, and a homemade sauce is rarely an expensive venture so if you don't like it just toss it. If you're only making a sauce a few times a month, you'll probably be ok. Realize that the longer the sauce sits in the pan and cooks, the more likely it is to get metallic-y and strip off some of the seasoning. You won't ruin the pan but it may require a couple uses to get it back to pre-tomato sauce condition.

    2. Yes, stainless sounds like your best bet. But there's no need to buy one of those overpriced gourmet store pans,. Check out a restaurant supply store like this one (which I have bought stuff from):

      1. In general you are perfectly fine cooking acidic foods in a seasoned cast iron or carbon steel pan. The one exception I'd make is very long cooked sauces. For a quick tomato sauce, or deglazing with a bit of wine or vinegar, you aren't going to run into problems. The food simply won't be in the pan long enough to break it down. I wouldn't do an all day pasta sauce or braise in the pan though.

        1. I do wine sauces in my cast iron frequently. No problem at all. I've also done tomato sauces. I wouldn't do long cooked sauces in my beloved cast iron, but I do tomato gratins in them all summer long with no problems. My 9 inch and 12 inch lodge cast iron pans are the only pans of those sizes I use anymore, and they live on my stove.

          15 Replies
          1. re: Vetter

            Please Vetter, lets not add to the "I do it all the time it must be OK" mindset and confusion. First, we're not talking about cast iron, we're talking about carbon steel which is different. Read the previous posts. Second, this is a new pan as is evident by the phrase "I just bought..." Again, you may do tomato sauces/gratin/soup, etc in you older, seasoned cast iron pans, but this is a brand new carbon steel. If you have not used carbon steel before, try it. Anyway, sorry to sound brash but just because you do tomato sauces in your seasoned pan does not mean everyone else should try it as their first venture.

            1. re: HaagenDazs

              That wasn't called for. The OP inquired if acidic foods could work in cast iron, too. I suggest you reread the end of the first post and the title of the thread. I certainly didn't advocate that the OP slap tomatoes in a new cast iron pan that lacks proper seasoning.

            2. re: Vetter

              Thanks everyone,
              I do have some AllClad SS pans also some Le Cruset enameled Cast Iron for all day stuff. I’m just looking to switch to 1 pan for a lot of everyday quick stuff. That’s why I thought French carbon steel would be good due to that it’s great for searing but also it can develop a seasoning.

              I was just hoping I could do a quick pasta sauce “ 10-20 min cook time” or make a quick wine sauce. Without any trouble

              1. re: Trazom

                For what it's worth, I just use my stainless steel sauce pan or LC dutch oven to make pasta sauces, depending on how much I'm making.

                1. re: MMRuth

                  So do I but if I’m making just enough for 1 dinner the sauce cooks in the pan while the pasta is cooking, then the pasta goes in the pan to finish

                  1. re: Trazom

                    Sounds like you're cooking pasta the right way! How do you like your pan by the way? I love mine - I think I like it better than my cast iron! Did you buy a deBuyer? If you don't mind, where did you buy yours and how much did you pay? I had to buy mine from Broadway Panhandler in NYC because I couldn't find them ANYWHERE else. Actually, they were available elsewhere but no one specifically described what pans they carried - deBuyer actually makes 3 or 4 different lines of carbon steel pans and I had one in mind that I wanted. It took some searching online, but it was well worth it.

                    1. re: HaagenDazs

                      Yes it is a de buyer from chefscatalog dot com. I initially had the 14” pan but found it WAY to big it was almost comical how large it is. I had to order the 12” . Getting it any day now. I can say that the quality is top notch.

                      I cross referenced the pans on de buyers website then they are the heave duty professional grade carbon steel pans

                      Chefs catalog had the 14” for 89$ and 79$ for the 12” free shipping at the time

                      1. re: Trazom

                        Just for reference (and just to toot my own horn!), three weeks ago while I was in Paris I picked up a 12" carbon steel pan at E. Dehillerin for €21.41 ($27.48). It's the de Buyer Carbone Plus 5110.30 (their heavy-duty line):


                        As you can see, there was quite a bit of savings in waiting for my next visit Dehillerin. Up to 65% off American prices in this case. The downside was I had to wait seven years to return to Paris to get it!

                        If you can beg someone to bring back one for you, it's a no-brainer. Heck, tell that person you'll buy them one too, and you'll still be ahead!

                        1. re: Trazom

                          Are you talking about the ones with the flared rim? It looks like it would be great for searing meat. I wouldn't be afraid to deglaze it with wine, and quickly reduce a sauce in it. But the shape would not be good for a sauce that requires longer cooking. That's where a pan with vertical sides and a cover comes in handy.

                          'The Cook Book' by T&C Conran (Crown 1980) has this to say about Iron and Steel pans
                          '... although a well-seasoned heavy steel frying pan is a very satisfying thing to use, steel saucepans are only useful if they are covered with a sturdy layer of vitrified enamel.'

                          1. re: Trazom

                            Yeah, 14 inches is pretty big! I'm glad it worked out. I looked at Chefs Catalog when I was in the market and I couldn't decipher what line of pan it actually was. de Buyer makes 4 lines of their carbon steel: Force Blue, La Lyonnaise, Force Blue (with colored handles), and Carbone Plus. I decided on the Carbone Plus but again, I could only find one online store who really knew what they were offering. I would have loved a cast iron handle with it, but they only carried the steel handle... it's still a great pan.

                            1. re: HaagenDazs

                              This is the pan Chefs is selling
                              Carbone Plus line Round lyonnaise frypan - Heavy quality steel

                              Heavy quality steel for Professional strong heat sources


                    2. re: Trazom

                      "French carbon steel would be good due to that it’s great for searing but also it can develop a seasoning."
                      "I was just hoping I could do a quick pasta sauce “ 10-20 min cook time” or make a quick wine sauce. Without any trouble"

                      Sorry, my friend, never the twain shall meet. The expensive, rolled, carbon steel fry pan you describe is miraculous. When used daily for several hours each and every day, it is even more non-stick than the most expensive, famous teflon-whatever pan you can name.
                      However, you cannot do acidic sauces (tomato, wine, quick or whatever) under any circumstances for any reason and still maintain that superior non-stick ability.
                      In your case, suggest you have that carbon steel skillet for sauteing, and do quick wine/tomato sauces in a SS all-clad pan.

                      1. re: jerry i h

                        Sigh …..
                        I guess I need yet another pan.
                        Something at least 12”…. My 3qt sauté is a tad small for a pound of pasta

                        1. re: Trazom

                          Oooh, Oooh (he says, while trying to find his tape measure and some saute pans)...I have a 12 inch, straight-sided pan that is from Calphalon, that takes 5 qts. Sounds like this is what you want. Problem: it has 2 loop handles, and no stick handle to grab. It is thick bottom disk of aluminum, and the sides are thin SS. It works great. It will handle a pound of pasta plus sauce.
                          Truth or Dare: the thin, cold-rolled carbon-steel fry pan you cite, it does work great (I have one at home), but really no better than the equivalent All-Clad fry pan.

                          1. re: jerry i h

                            Yes that’s what I was thinking a 5qt sauté the 6 may be a bit too big. All-Clas ss is around 200$

                  2. 100 years ago there were alternatives to cast iron:
                    - ceramics have been used for cooking, bean pots, Chinese sand pots, Spanish terracotta
                    - enameled steel or iron

                    I have a great seasoning on my carbon steel crepe pan, but that only gets used for crepes, pancakes, and omelets. But I've had mediocre to poor experience developing a good seasoning on carbon steel woks.