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Advantages, Disadvantages and Uses of a cast Iron skillet

I'd like to have a discussion on cast iron skillets. I keep seeing people rave about them. I don't own one myself but could be talked into it.

It would seem to me that the best use for one is searing because of the heat distribution and it can take high heat. However, I can sear with a lot of pans.

ADVANTAGES:

A well seasoned skillet is stick free.
You can sear and move to oven with 1 pan.
They are very cheap.
They last a lifetime if properly cared for.

DISADVANTAGES:

They are very heavy.
They are a bit of a hassle to take care of and maintain.
They are a bit of a hassle to season but you can buy them pre-seasoned.
Storing a greasy pan in the cabinets just doesn't seem right so it has to be stored in the oven or on the cooktop.

Would anyone like to share their opinion?

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  1. Under advantages, I'd add the ability to maintain a steady heat, and also, you list the maintenance as a disadvantage but I disagree. My CI takes a lot of abuse, to whit, when I make 'cream gravy' after frying chicken, I spoon most of it out, leaving a pretty good layer in the pan, then (here's the kicker) set it on the cool stovetop overnight. The next morning I just peel out the dried gravy, give it a good swish with a sponge and HOT water, then dry it by placing it over medium heat for a few minutes. (As I smile about a magic kitchen and tip my hat towards the sky.. and Sam Fujisaka.) If it seems to need it, I'll give it a quick swipe with an oiled paper towel. It then goes into my cabinet, no problem.

    However, for only one thing I can think of, I prefer a nonstick pan (cheapo walmart special) - fried eggs. I like to be able to *immediately* control the heat when making eggs if I need to adjust something, which isn't so easy in cast iron.

    So really, its advantages also seem to be its disadvantages.

    14 Replies
    1. re: shanagain

      Forgot to add, conventional wisdom (ie, I haven't googled this to refute or confirm) states that iron leaches into food from cooking in cast iron.

        1. re: Becca Porter

          You know, I think in some cases it might not be - something scratching at the back of my brain that I *will* have to google... Ah, nevermind, that's iron poisoning which generally occurs from a child overdosing on iron pills.

          For the rest of us, yes, good for us!

          1. re: shanagain

            In some cases, it is not a good thing. Some people (myself included) have too much iron in their blood. I certainly don't need more. When that happens, you have to be careful about what you eat as getting too much can cause liver problems.

        2. re: shanagain

          How does a properly seasoned cast iron pan leach iron?

          1. re: pabboy

            I think small fragments chip off into the food...like iron dust. I could be mistaken. I didn't think it was leaching really.

            1. re: Becca Porter

              Seasoning is a layer of polymerized fat. How does the iron get through that layer?

            2. re: pabboy

              I'm not entirely sure, but here's a very informative link on the veracity of the claim (and yes, it does add iron): http://goaskalice.columbia.edu/does-c...

              1. re: shanagain

                But that article explains that to get a significant amount of iron into your food you would have to do what most of us would never do. Simmer an acidic sauce for a long time. Guaranteed to make your sauce taste terrible.

                It's also strange that they caution against frying in cast iron...

                1. re: kengk

                  I noticed that as well. It makes you wonder if by breaking down the seasoning via a long acidic soak you then jumpstart the "leaching" effect.

                  And yeah, because it can turn the oil rancid? That was weird.

                2. re: shanagain

                  GoAskAlice doesn't say whether the cast iron was seasoned or not. I'm unable to access the article cited in Journal of Food Science.

                  1. re: pabboy

                    It isn't necessary to read the full article. If seasoning were considered, it would have been mentioned in the abstract. Testing the effects of seasoning would be a lot of work, as there is a great deal of variation in how seasoning is done.

                    1. re: pabboy

                      Unfortunately that's the best I could do for you. You might consult google and see if you can find better information.

              2. re: shanagain

                Peeling the dried gravy off the next morning sounds like a good trick.

                Oh.... another advantage would be that you can use metal utensils such as spatulas and tongs, unlike with a non stick pan.

              3. <the best use for one is searing because of the heat distribution and it can take high heat>

                Probably not even heat distribution if you that is what you mean.

                I like to iterate that a well seasoned cast iron skillet is stick free and can take on high temperature. This is somewhat unusual. A Teflon pan can be much more nonstick, but it cannot take on very high temperatures. A stainless steel cladded cookware can take on relative high temperatures, but is not stick less at such conditions.

                <Storing a greasy pan in the cabinets just doesn't seem right so it has to be stored in the oven or on the cooktop.>

                Storage really shouldn't be a problem because you really don't need to store a very greasy pan.

                A disadvantage of seasoned cast iron cookware is that they are not suitable for prolong cooking of very acidic foods. The acidic condition will degrade the seasoning surface.

                1. I take exception to your list of disadvantages, in some respects:

                  "Heavy" is only a disadvantage when you pay postage to mail it, or when you take it backpacking. In your own kitchen, it's no disadvantage at all. If you can't lift it, you need a smaller one.

                  My iron skillet is the easiest to maintain of all my pans. Just hand wash in hot water, rinse, dry with paper towel and heat. Done.

                  Pre-seasoning is useless. The seasoning is not the hassle some here make it out to be. I think some people just like fiddling with it, so they pretend it's something akin to sorcery.

                  Your iron pan should NOT be greasy when it's stored! Mine is always clean and dry. Even so, I often leave it on the stovetop where it's handy,

                  5 Replies
                  1. re: GH1618

                    They are heavy. They get even heavier when filled with food. Ergo, a disadvantage. We don't need to pretend being heavy is not a disadvantage. There seems to be plenty of genuine advantages to counter balance the disadvantages.

                    Ah,,, another disadvantage is a hot handle...easily dealt with but another type of pan has a cool handle but can't be put in the oven.

                    Your method for cleaning your pan sounds like what everybody else does with their non stick skillet. Well, minus the reheating to sweat any residual moisture out. To be fair, I season my non stick electric skillet after washing. I find the non stick coating and it's ability to stay non stick lasts longer.

                    What do you do with your pan? I assume there are other uses beside searing.

                    1. re: Hank Hanover

                      I just discovered a new use for my iron pan. Instead of baking a couple of potatoes for dinner in the usual way, I now cut one potato in half the long way, and place it in the skillet open face down, then bake. It cooks faster and more evenly than baking it whole. I started this just because I wanted smaller portions, but I like the result better.

                      I also reheat leftovers in the oven in the iron skillet i preference to the microwave.

                      Breakfast potatoes, and especially corned beef hash, are best done in cast iron. That is reason enough to have one, I think.

                      1. re: Hank Hanover

                        No, I'm sorry I'm still not getting it. I just don't see what is wrong with "heavy". My CI pan isn't big or that heavy really. I like the way the weight sits it firmly on the stove top.

                        The way the handle gets hot is a disadvantage, I concede that. It's a very small disadvantage sorted by using a cloth.

                        1. re: jhamiltonwa

                          Some people have physical issues preventing them from lifting/moving heavy pans.

                      2. re: GH1618

                        Exactly. Mine is the easiest thing to clean and I use it everyday for almost everything. It is not dirty or greasy. Other pans just never cook right. Mine was bought in 1918 by my grandmother. You can't get more value than that.
                        Do you own wooden salad bowl? You have to season that at the beginning and not wash with detergent. If you can look after a salad bowl you can look after a CI pan.

                      3. I have four CI skillets of varying sizes including a flat one and I use them all fairly regularly. I can't remember the last time I had to reseason them in the oven. After rinsing them with hot water and giving them a mild scrub if necessary (never any soap), I wipe them out with a towel. If the spirit moves me, I some times wipe them with an oily paper towel, but I do that rarely. I hang them from a rafter in the kitchen when not in use. If I had to store a skillet in the cabinet and I had just oiled it, I would put a clean paper towel in it, but that's not an issue for me. I don't use them to cook high acid foods like tomatoes and don't use them for scrambled eggs.

                        I can use higher heat to sear meat than I can in my other skillets and can finish cooking in the oven without using another dish. CI makes great grilled sandwiches with another one to weight it down. I use my flat CI to make crepes and to heat tortillas.

                        I think that nice seasoning comes from usage over time. Sure, you have to preseason it initially, but I think it only gets good after a lot of use,

                        The one exception I've had to using CI is the Dutch oven I bought years ago. I detected an iron taste in the food I made in it and stored it away some place. I've had thoughts of resurrecting it to use for making no-knead bread.

                        1. Another Disadvantage: Takes a long time to heat up

                          Another Advantage / Disadvantage: Holds it heat

                          For me, it's a great tool for the right job. But as most things in life, it's not the best tool for all jobs.

                          The only things that even comes close to meeting that requirement is cold hard cash.