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How to cook in cast iron - especially enamled cast iron

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Mojave Feb 28, 2012 06:51 PM

I've looked around for an answer to this but cannot seem to find one.

How do you cook in cast iron? How do you cook in enamled cast iron?

I bought a 10" Le Creuset skillet from BB&B for $32 (it was used and returned, cleaned it up) and we've used it three times. The first two times we used potatoes and the entire bottom was coated in burnt potato. First time, I used a tbs or 2 of olive oil, preheated on low and then cooked on medium. My assumption was that the heat was too high. Second time hubby did it with way too much oil and the temp did not go above low-med. Third time I tried to brown cubed chicken but all it did was cook it. Admittedly, I have struggled for some reason with searing meat. Even in my All-Clad pan I have an issue. I just haven't figured it out yet. Anyway, the chicken didn't burn and coat the bottom which was good.

So.

What were we doing wrong? Please be brutally honest about it - I only bought the pan because it was so dang cheap and it was caribbean blue. I know a lot of people can't stand the gritty cast iron, and others have been cooking in it for decades with no problem.

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  1. s
    sedimental RE: Mojave Feb 28, 2012 07:47 PM

    Well, I am not sure. Here is my experience. I have many different LC (white interior) older cast iron pots and pans. I use them alot. I love them. They are NOT non stick. They are not good for everything. They require lots of oil. I often do a quick spray with a "pam" type spray- then add a bit of olive oil before I saute. They should not go above medium heat. I don't consider them "fry pans" and use my bare cast iron to fry chicken in.

    IMO, these pans do a great job when you need to saute onions and garlic in olive oil, then add some chicken breast- brown it- drop in some chicken stock and spices- then add a pat of butter to make a pan sauce. Very quick "saute pan dinner" or sauced foods (french style) type dinners. Also good for cabbage and sausage, pasta and tomato/pesto, curry veggies, etc. Think...smooth, easy foods.

    NOT good for fried chicken, potato, eggs, pork chops or "wok" style foods.

    I hope this helps.

    1. ipsedixit RE: Mojave Feb 28, 2012 08:22 PM

      Your pan is not hot enough AND you're probably using too much oil.

      Get your pan hot. Hot like Africa Hot.

      Then use 1 teaspoon (not tablespoons), maybe just a bit more, of oil to lightly coat the pan. This is because when searing, the oil is less of a cooking medium and more of a way to get uniform surface contact between the meat and the pan. This will give you a nice, even caramelization and prevent some spots from burning while other spots are still pale. As such, when it's heating, swirl the oil around to get a thin coating over the bottom of the pan.

      Then put whatever you want to sear or cook on the pan and don't move it. Resist that urge to move. It'll tell you when it's ready to be moved, when just the slightest nudge will dislodge the meat from the pan.

      Good luck.

      1. c
        chuckl RE: Mojave Feb 28, 2012 08:22 PM

        My LC frying pans are enameled on the outside but not the cooking surface, so you might need to season it like you would any other cast iron until you achieve a slick patina. At that point it won't need much oil.

        1. Chemicalkinetics RE: Mojave Feb 28, 2012 09:49 PM

          To be honest, you told us about the three times you tried, but you didn't quiet tell us your problem in details.

          3 Replies
          1. re: Chemicalkinetics
            m
            Mojave RE: Chemicalkinetics Feb 29, 2012 01:11 PM

            The problem is that I can't figure out how to use it as it is brand new to me - I gave the three examples to help "diagnose" what my problem is. So far it sounds like it was the oil and using potatoes in general.

            1. re: Mojave
              Chemicalkinetics RE: Mojave Feb 29, 2012 01:12 PM

              By the way, some people find it useful to wash the potato first. Some of the burning you see may come from the loose potato starch, so washing the cut potato will remove the excess starch. It may just reduce your problem.

              1. re: Chemicalkinetics
                m
                Mojave RE: Chemicalkinetics Feb 29, 2012 02:18 PM

                Thanks I'll try that - that makes sense, as the potato we were able to eat was cooked just enough and not burned.

          2. kaleokahu RE: Mojave Feb 28, 2012 09:54 PM

            Hi, Mohave:

            Potatoes are pretty much the worst-case scenario for ECI, IMO--you can count on them sticking.

            What kind of a hob are you using under it, and are they perfectly matched size-wise? If mis-matched, or you are cooking on anything other than a coil electric or a commercial gas hob, you are probably getting somewhat uneven heat, which will exacerbate potatoes sticking over the hot spots.

            Beware getting your new skillet super hot when empty. You can craze, blister and raise the enamel, as Wahine knows from ruining a 9Q DO.

            IOW, I don't think you're doing anything especially wrong.

            Aloha,
            Kaleo

            7 Replies
            1. re: kaleokahu
              m
              Mojave RE: kaleokahu Feb 29, 2012 02:20 PM

              Thanks - it's just one of those things I guess I need to gain my confidence in.

              I have a regular gas n grate stovetop. The grates are the same size as the bottom of the pan.

              1. re: kaleokahu
                i
                iliria RE: kaleokahu Feb 29, 2012 02:36 PM

                Does the type of hob and size of it matter? I thought that cast iron is good at maintaining an even heat throughout its surface?

                1. re: iliria
                  cowboyardee RE: iliria Mar 1, 2012 07:24 PM

                  "Does the type of hob and size of it matter?"
                  -------------------
                  yes. Using a hob that's significantly smaller than your pan is a recipe for very uneven heat in the pan.

                  "I thought that cast iron is good at maintaining an even heat throughout its surface?"
                  ---------------
                  Not really, if we're talking about using it on the stovetop. Aluminum (and copper, obviously) heats much more evenly.

                  1. re: cowboyardee
                    g
                    GH1618 RE: cowboyardee Mar 1, 2012 08:31 PM

                    I have one 11" A-C LTD2 (D5) pan. At low to medium flame on a small hob, it heats rather evenly, judging by the browning effect.

                    1. re: GH1618
                      cowboyardee RE: GH1618 Mar 1, 2012 09:17 PM

                      That's all-clad, right? Since All Clad is typically made with either aluminum or copper, it heats more evenly. That said, the center is still surely hotter than the outside of the pan, and it would heat even more evenly if you had a larger hob that still could be turned to low.

                      You can check heat distribution with an IR thermometer if you care to. Even a light dusting of flour can give you a reasonably decent idea of how much hotter the center of the pan might be compared to the outside. Here are a couple in-depth threads on the matter:
                      http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/738175
                      http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/804287

                      All that said, heat doesn't have to be 100% even for a pan to cook well enough. It's just a consideration.

                      1. re: cowboyardee
                        g
                        GH1618 RE: cowboyardee Mar 2, 2012 08:16 AM

                        Yes, All-Clad. The D5 technology is the five-layer design with the central SS layer. This is supposed to slow the heat transfer through the pan to the inside, allowing more heat to move transversely through the outer alluminum layer(s). So the pan is less responsive to changes in the heat source, but more even. I'm not going to get an IR thermometer to quantify it. I've used it, and I like it. That's enough for me.

                        1. re: GH1618
                          Chemicalkinetics RE: GH1618 Mar 5, 2012 07:43 AM

                          "This is supposed to slow the heat transfer through the pan to the inside, allowing more heat to move transversely through the outer alluminum layer(s). So the pan is less responsive to changes in the heat source, but more even."

                          That is the claim for the even heating. Even heating is nice, but it is not essential for many cooking.

              2. paulj RE: Mojave Feb 28, 2012 10:37 PM

                Think of this skillet as a shallow enameled dutch oven. You fry things as the first step in braising - in other words, saute onions, and sear stew meat. Stay away from starchy things like potatoes, at least for now.

                I don't think you should try to get it super hot. That's a good recipe for crazing and chipping.

                1 Reply
                1. re: paulj
                  Chemicalkinetics RE: paulj Feb 28, 2012 11:06 PM

                  "That's a good recipe for crazing and chipping"

                  Agree.

                2. BobB RE: Mojave Feb 29, 2012 07:23 AM

                  I have a set of three Le Creuset fry pans with the black enamel interior. To me they are specialty pans - I use them primarily for searing steaks and burgers, and also for frying fish, and never have a problem with sticking.

                  For the steaks and burgers, I put a small amount of grapeseed oil in the pan, then wipe the entire interior surface with a paper towel, leaving just a sheen from the oil. Heat to medium high, never super high (make sure the pan is properly heated before you put the meat in). Lay the meat in the center of the pan and do not touch it for at least three minutes. This ensures good crusting and no sticking. If the meat burns in three minutes the heat was too high; if it isn't properly browned, it was too low.

                  For fish, I use more oil, at least 1/8" deep, but an otherwise similar procedure: preheat the pan before adding the fish, don't touch it for a few minutes after adding it, then flip and continue cooking until done.

                  I generally do not use these pans for sautéing, for that I use stainless or non-stick. The only exception I can think of was a nice veal in cream sauce dish I made a while back, for which the large pan area (my largest is 12") and low sides were ideal for browning all the meat at once and quickly cooking down the sauce.

                  1. g
                    GH1618 RE: Mojave Feb 29, 2012 07:33 AM

                    In addition to the advice given above, food to be seared must be dry. If you have just rinsed something off, and not dried it, it will sit on a layer of steam and not sear properly. Use paper towels to remove the surface moisture.

                    1. r
                      rasputina RE: Mojave Feb 29, 2012 11:15 AM

                      Heat the pan, then add the oil, heat the oil then add the food. Hot pan, room temperature food. Don't try and move the food too soon, if it won't budge, it's not done browning yet. Although, I prefer bare cast iron for potatoes, I do sear meat in my Le Creuset on occasion although I don't own any of their skillets or items with the black enamel interior.

                      1. Kagemusha RE: Mojave Feb 29, 2012 02:36 PM

                        I've always thought enameled cast iron skillets were a kind of prank. Use non-stick and make sure any meat is dry if you want it browned.

                        5 Replies
                        1. re: Kagemusha
                          BobB RE: Kagemusha Mar 1, 2012 10:57 AM

                          Prank? In my 30+ years of using them, they haven't fooled me yet! Non-stick is great for lots of things, but searing steaks isn't one of them.

                          1. re: BobB
                            Kagemusha RE: BobB Mar 1, 2012 12:11 PM

                            Searing? Well-seasoned cast iron? Yes. The OP's enameled cast-iron? No.

                            1. re: Kagemusha
                              BobB RE: Kagemusha Mar 1, 2012 12:13 PM

                              Le Creuset's matte-black interior enamels? Oh yes!

                              1. re: BobB
                                cowboyardee RE: BobB Mar 1, 2012 07:19 PM

                                I'd be worried about getting ECI hot enough for a good sear. Though I should add that a good sear to me is pretty hot - I get safflower oil smoking hot (its smoke point is north of 500) for a good sear.

                                1. re: cowboyardee
                                  BobB RE: cowboyardee Mar 5, 2012 07:30 AM

                                  Not the LC black enamel - I have a set of three that I've been using regularly for 30 years now at all heat levels, with nary a crack or chip.

                        2. t
                          Timster RE: Mojave Feb 29, 2012 02:54 PM

                          Hi, everybody .... I'm new to this forum ... glad to be here and glad to contribute.

                          I have oooooodles of Le Creuset cookware, and use pretty much nothing else ...

                          I actually look for stuff to stick, so that I can "deglaze" the pan with an acidic substance, cooking wine, or whatever ....

                          One thing I do is add a little oil ... However, I do know that Olive Oil has a lower burning temperature rate ... so ... If I want to "sear" something .... I actually will switch to a higher burning rated oil .... i.e., SAFFLOWER oil.... This does allow me to get the pan African Hot ... and then, sear the dickens out of whatever it is I'm cooking....

                          Potatoes are weird .... because you want them to be somewhat browned .... If the pan and oil isn't hot enough, they won't brown ... they will just "cook" .... Also ... use wooden instead of metal utensils .... and be willing to let the potatoes "sit" and cook.... If you put too much potatoes in the pan, they will "steam" and not "brown" .... so ... whatever you do ... don't over crowd the pan .... This also applies when you're just searing cubed meat ...

                          Add your potatoes a little at a time .... if you add too much at once, you'll end up cooling the pan down too quickly ... Not that it's a bad thing ... just that you have to now bring the pan back up to temperature....

                          One other thing you might consider doing .... Is flash cook the potatoes for a few minutes, in boiling water ... and then shock them in cold water ..... This gets them "cooked" already, so all you have to do is "brown" in the pan.... Be sure to salt them so that it helps to draw the moisture out of the potatoes ....

                          Not sure if this info helps .... but ... maybe some good advice....

                          Tim

                          11 Replies
                          1. re: Timster
                            m
                            Mojave RE: Timster Feb 29, 2012 03:59 PM

                            Thanks - those are really awesome tips. I love my Le Creuset french oven but the inside surface is very different from my skillet and I get very different reactions. I have an easy time browning meat in the french oven for some reason. We were definitely guilty of a few of the above - overcrowding, not hot enough, etc.

                            1. re: Mojave
                              t
                              Timster RE: Mojave Feb 29, 2012 05:37 PM

                              I learned the "not hot enough" and "add oil to the pan" from Gordon Ramsay .... He has a foul mouth .... but, he knows how to cook foul.... :)

                              The white coated enamel is my ultimate favorite .... It honestly doesn't take much for those pans to get hot .... and really, they don't need a whole lot of heat .... so blistering and crazing shouldn't be taking place .... unless you have the burner on its highest setting ... THEN, I can understand .... However, the Le Creuset are not designed for that kind of cooking ....

                              They are excellent for slow cooking and whatnot ... especially the Dutch Ovens! I have the little skillet ... the baby one .... probably 6" if that in diameter ... that I use for making eggs ... and they are awesome .... Again ... don't take much to heat that up with a little butter in there and drop the eggs in .... and they cook up really nice....

                              1. re: Timster
                                m
                                Mojave RE: Timster Feb 29, 2012 06:41 PM

                                I've considered replacing all of my pots with similarly size Le Creuset ovens. It takes a little longer to boil water and to get hot, but the enameled cast iron "feels better" for me. My parents have All-clad and before I was married and lived at home I would use that and it felt great to me but it seems to have lost its groove. Maybe I just don't use it enough, I do only have one saute pan. All of the other cookware was a free set from a photoshoot of Farberware stainless steel with the aluminum core on the bottom. Not a bad set really, especially for the $0 to me, but there is waaaay better.

                                1. re: Mojave
                                  t
                                  Timster RE: Mojave Mar 1, 2012 08:55 AM

                                  Well, I'm not sure if it's psychological or what ... However, I've noticed that food cooked in cast iron / enamel coating, etc., have a nice flavor to them .... Maybe it's just me .... I just enjoy them.... although, my set has just about every different color in them .... but .... the most important thing, is that they are just awesome... My wife says I'm a nut ... because just about every time a package arrives, it's a pot or something, from Le Creuset .... She says it's the reason we're freaking broke!

                                  1. re: Timster
                                    d
                                    dixiegal RE: Timster Mar 1, 2012 09:14 AM

                                    I have to agree. Food DOES taste better in cast iron. Many years ago, my mother in law had a wood cookstove in her kitchen. (she also had a regular electric stove) On the weekends in the winter, she would often fire that stove up and cook on it. I was suprised at how much better the food tasted. I don't know why, heat to cook, is heat to cook, I would think. But it did taste wonderful. And it was so fun to watch her use that thing. Talk about a warm and cozy kitchen........

                                    1. re: dixiegal
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                                      Timster RE: dixiegal Mar 1, 2012 09:59 AM

                                      Then it's not psychological.... :) It's a fact! :) Cooking is fun ... and what's even more encouraging, is when somebody else says, "WOW!! This is really good! How did you do it?" and my reply .... "Well, first you need about eleventy million dollars to buy some good cookware .... and then, go from there...." :)

                                      1. re: Timster
                                        d
                                        dixiegal RE: Timster Mar 1, 2012 01:51 PM

                                        >Then it's not psychological.... :)<

                                        There was a time that I thought it was allin my head. I went for several years that I barely touched my cast iron. I was all about teflon and just stainless steel, and the microwave.
                                        Then one day, for some reason, I decided to drag out my old cast iron and cook in it. Oh my goodness. How delicious the food was. I just thought the teflon coating and SS was tasty but nothing compared to the cast iron. I also now appreciate food rewarmed in the oven or top of the stove is sooooooo much better than reheat in the microwave.
                                        For so many years I only had the bare cast iron which has it's limits. But now that I have the enameld cast iron, I cook almost all my food in cast iron of one kind or another. I am soooooo loving it. My next project is to try popcorn in the cast iron dutch oven. Someone told me it gave it a whole new and wonderful flavor.

                                        1. re: dixiegal
                                          t
                                          Timster RE: dixiegal Mar 1, 2012 02:38 PM

                                          I do have a tough time with "iron iron" ....Only because of the nature of keeping the buggers clean and such .... I'll have to try the popcorn .... let us know now it all pops out.... :)

                                        2. re: Timster
                                          b
                                          blondelle RE: Timster Mar 5, 2012 05:40 PM

                                          If you read the Le Creuset reviews on Amazon you will come across several that say they have been making a recipe for years in their other cookware and when they made the exact same recipe in LC it tasted so much better. They said they didn't change a thing. It must be the way it retains heat or something as the lining is inert.

                                          1. re: blondelle
                                            g
                                            GH1618 RE: blondelle Mar 5, 2012 07:03 PM

                                            It could be that their other cookware is not inert, and it could be bias due to expectations, if the comparison wasn't done blind.

                                            1. re: GH1618
                                              Chemicalkinetics RE: GH1618 Mar 5, 2012 07:06 PM

                                              "it could be bias due to expectations, if the comparison wasn't done blind."

                                              Exactly.

                            2. j
                              jzerocsk RE: Mojave Mar 5, 2012 09:27 AM

                              My guess is also too cool. I have to pre-heat mine on med/med-high heat and then turn it down from there (although for browning meat it's still in the middle of the dial).

                              I have also found that while it's not like bare cast iron, it does develop a season of sorts over time and my LC skillet has over the years grown to be one of my workhorses.

                              1. m
                                Mojave RE: Mojave Mar 5, 2012 12:54 PM

                                Since I have so many great replies, I have another question.

                                What temp do you use to heat the pan, and how long do you wait before you start using it?

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: Mojave
                                  j
                                  jzerocsk RE: Mojave Mar 5, 2012 02:12 PM

                                  I have a glass/flat top electric stove...

                                  For most situations, I pre-heat it on 5-6 (dial goes up to 10) for 5 minutes. If I'm searing a steak or a burger, I usually leave it at 6, but most of the time for browning chicken, sauteeing veggies, I turn it down to 4 or even 3 once I start cooking.

                                  1. re: jzerocsk
                                    BobB RE: jzerocsk Mar 5, 2012 02:15 PM

                                    I do pretty much the same on my induction range, but the preheat takes less time because it's induction.

                                2. j
                                  justlearning RE: Mojave Mar 8, 2012 10:28 AM

                                  There are a few things I don't cook in LC ECI - potatoes is one, eggs is the other. I've also learned to use just a slight bit of EVOO or butter, NEVER veg oil. It leaves a nasty, ridiculously hard to remove film on the pan. Otherwise, I love this type of skillet. I've been using the French Oven more of late, but I come back to it once in a while. I think the skillets do a great job with meats and most other veggies. Good luck learning to use it. It's all about making it fit with how YOU cook. :)

                                  1. d
                                    dkdcam RE: Mojave Oct 20, 2013 02:28 PM

                                    Almost a year later,I stumbled on this post and wonder how the BB&B Le Creuset bargain is working out?As a novice cook,I have friends who are hobby,and real chefs ironically.So,I learned about their preferred tools,and cast iron's one of their favorites.My first entry into cast iron about two years ago was with Lodge:2Q serving pot ,10"skillet.In the summer,I decided on a 1.5Q braiser due to size,and color option;enjoyed using it.This fall I picked up a 3.5Q versus the wok because I couldn't justify both given use and skill level.I saw more use with the braiser,with a winter goal to make coq au vin: http://bit.ly/1i6TC0c

                                    Potatoes,I've roasted,and made potato hash on the stove top,and they do brown pretty well on about medium heat on a ceramic flat top stove.Using canola oil coating the bottom of the 1.5Q.For eggs,I've made western sandwiches using a coating of butter in a heated braiser where they turn out fluffy just from scrambling in the braiser.Le Creuset directions recommend you heat the oil,or butter in a cold enameled cast iron for the stove top use.

                                    Question for the initiated,deep frying chicken in the 3.5Q braiser,fill oil just below half way?I have made fried chicken in the 2Q,and filled it to just over a third without a problem.I wanted to use the 3.5Q braiser for periodically deep frying chicken. How about making mussels in wine,or thai curry; will the braiser be able good for this job?A friend,and I with equal competency in the kitchen figured out how to make two versions:

                                    )

                                    Psychological,or does food taste better in cast iron?I wouldn't have purchased the pricier Le Creuset if I didn't enjoy the results even with my remedial kitchen skills.My braised chicken,and roasted chicken is more moist,flavorful using the same shake n bake,or braising ingredients.

                                    Reading some posts,a few have said the enameled cast iron braiser doesn't heat evenly if the the heat source isn't the same circumference as the base of the braiser,or similar.I haven't experienced this issue after allowing the braiser to heat up.I actually can sear my chicken like I never knew I could! Can see how people could get addicted to the cookware;most of us love food?

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