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I don't own any cast iron cookware...

...but I'd buy a piece or two if I had a good sense of how I'd use it, and of its advantages over whatever I'm presently using.

I own some pretty nice (Matfer Bourgeat) copper pans, a couple of pieces of All-Clad, several Le Creuset pots and various others including a large Calphalon Unison Non-stick (sear) pan. What am I missing by not having cast iron? I'd buy a 12" cast iron saute pan in a heartbeat if I understood how it will improve whatever it is I'd cook in it.

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  1. Hi, Cindy:

    What are you missing? Not much. Membership in a huge fanclub is about it. Oh, a little more iron in your diet, too. I suppose if you seared at very high temperatures...


    10 Replies
    1. re: kaleokahu

      I do sometimes sear at high temps, but my stainless-lined copper seems to do the job pretty well. Do you think CI would give me a better sear on things like filet mignon?

      1. re: CindyJ

        Yes. The two great things about CI are its heat capacity per ounce and its generally higher mass. Combined, you can get that pan super-hot and when you throw the steak on it stays super hot. So it will tend to give a better sear than stainless, even with copper underneath it.

        Another HUGE advantage of cast iron is its extremely low cost relative to other high-performance cookware. A Matfer Bourgeat 11" skillet is on Amazon right now for about $325, though I understand most people get them at least a little cheaper than that. A Lodge 12"? Twenty five bucks. (Right now the 12" isn't Prime eligible; usually it is and you should hold out for that and save the nine bucks shipping if you're a Prime customer). Basically, the value proposition isn't "is it worth the money?" but "do I have the storage space?" If you've got the space for one of these, you should get one even if you never use it for anything other than a steak (OK, and cornbread. Skillet cornbread out of CI is the bomb).

        1. re: CindyJ

          Hi, Cindy:

          A better sear? No. For the same volume, copper's specific heat is in a dead heat with CI. So preheated copper pan of the same thickness has about the same heat to store and give to the food. It would do it a little faster, too.

          By "high temps", I meant charringly hot.


          1. re: kaleokahu

            The specific heat may be similar, but a cast iron pan will be a lot heavier than a copper pan and so hold a lot more heat energy. Enough more to negate the far faster heat transfer ability of the copper

            1. re: jbuttitta

              I hadn't thought about the weight of CI. My copper casserole pot is so heavy (about 10 pounds empty) I need help getting it in and out of the oven.

              1. re: jbuttitta

                Hi, jbutitta: "...a cast iron pan will be a lot heavier than a copper pan..."

                no, not necessarily. It obviously depends on the relative weights. That's why I buy 3mm and above copper. I have pans in copper that are heavier than my LC pieces in the same sizes.


            2. re: CindyJ

              I don't have copper but I do have stainless and it gets an ugly brown residue cooked on when used at high temps. Does copper lined stainless do this as well? That would be one advantage to the cast iron if so. You may have to reseason after a high heat sear, but clean up is simple. My biggest joy from cast iron is emotional. I remember my grandma using cast iron and when using mine I get a feeling of connection to the past that is somehow satisfying. I only use my 10" skillet once or twice a week but wouldn't want to be without it for browning spuds, cornbread and a few other things.

              1. re: Cam14

                Hi, Cam:

                Yes, searing on copper bimetal can do that. Cleanup isn't all that hard, and there's all that fond.

                You can sometimes get "ugly brown residue" in CI, too. It just isn't as noticeable.


              2. re: CindyJ

                "Do you think CI would give me a better sear...?"

                If the copper on your fry pans is thin, then yes. I have a copper stainless lined Mauviel paella pan. It's 1.5 mm thick. It is not capable of what my cast iron pan is capable of. It just isn't thick enough to retain that kind of heat. CI won't give you a better sear if what you own is a thick and heavy copper fry pan.

                1. re: sherrib

                  The copper is 2.5 mm and the stainless is 18/10.

            3. I'm finding the main thing I use my CI skillets for is roasting vegetables at pretty high temps - 400ish or higher. Great crunchies.

              Attached is a picture of a potato dish that I do pretty often.

              2 Replies
              1. re: c oliver

                Yum! It looks like a giant latke. Care to share your recipe? Does that cook entirely on the stovetop, or does it go in the oven?

                1. re: CindyJ

                  Surprisingly - to me anyway - this was from a grocery store chain's magazine. I'll paste here as now you have to sign up to get access to their site. Argh. I first did them just as described but pretty quickly switched to CI skillets (size determined by how many I'm cooking for). I also switched from butter to oo, usually Cheddar cheese and whatever herbs I have on hand. I also start with it covered and uncover for the last part of the cooking so it gets nice and brown. Other than these things :) it's JUST like the recipe!

                  1 lb. Yukon gold potatoes (about 2 -inches in diameter)
                  3/4 lb. red potatoes (about 2 -inches in diameter)
                  3/4 cup Rumiano Dry Jack Cheese (in our Deli), divided finely shredded
                  1/4 cup butter melted
                  2 tbsp. fresh herbs (such as rosemary, thyme and sage) chopped
                  1 tbsp. spicy brown mustard
                  3/4 tsp. McCormick Smokehouse Pepper
                  1/2 tsp. sea salt
                  4 cloves garlic minced

                  Prep: 30 minutes Cook: 40 to 45 minutes Makes: 12 potato stacks
                  1. Preheat oven to 400°F and spray 12 muffin cups with nonstick cooking spray.
                  2. Cut potatoes into very thin slices, discarding rounded ends. Place in a large bowl with 1/2 cup cheese, butter, herbs, mustard, pepper, salt and garlic. Mix well with your hands, separating potato slices so that all are as evenly coated with mixture as possible. Stack slices in prepared muffin cups. Scrape bowl to remove all butter mixture and spoon over potatoes; top with remaining cheese.
                  3. Bake for 20 minutes, then tent with foil and bake for 20 to 25 minutes more or until potatoes are tender when pierced with a sharp knife.

              2. You have a couple of carbon steel cookware. Cast iron has many similar properties as carbon steel cookware.

                I don't think you have to have cast iron cookware, but they are nice to have.

                < if I understood how it will improve whatever it is I'd cook in it.>

                Cast iron cookware have a few advantages over other cookware. It can take on very high heat and yet remain nonstick. It can store a good amount of thermal energy, so it is very good at searing -- especially high temperature searing. If you want a medium raw steak with a crusty surface, then it can deliver that no problem. It is also very good for some classic dishes like cast iron cornbread.

                Do you absolutely need it? No, but then you don't need any particular cookware anyway.

                1 Reply
                1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                  Hi ChemicalK -- I have a carbon steel wok that is unevenly seasoned but works well. I think if I were starting with a new one, I'd season it in the oven, rather than on the stovetop, as I did with this one. So maybe that's what I'll do. I'm curious enough to buy a deep CI saute pan, season it, follow all the great advice here about using it for frying, and see how I like it. Compared to the cost of other cookware, it's relatively inexpensive, so if I end up not liking it, I won't feel badly about giving it away.

                2. You could buy a CI to see how you would use it. A Lodge isn't expensive. Buy it, season it and find out how you would use it.

                  I use mine to bake cornbread in, to use as a griddle for grilled cheese and pancakes, and to cook things in. The classic use would be to fry bacon in it. Or, to fry anything in it. Want to do fried chicken, chicken fried steak, or fried fish? A CI skillet is a good choice.

                  1. I have a variety of pans from bare cast iron, enameled ( Le Creuset and Staub), All-Clad and clay pots. I use my bare cast iron most of the time. They are my daily pans for everything from eggs for breakfast to homemade pizza for lunch to skillet dinners. I especially choose them for deep frying for the heat retention and searing. They are perfect for dishes where you want to retain heat. I do use my All-Clad and enameled pans for reactive dishes.

                    I think the thing I love the most about cast iron is it's longevity and natural non stick properties along with the ease of use. I can use metal spatulas and cut in the pans without concern. I love my cast iron waffle iron and loaf pans.

                    1. The big positive is also a big negative. The mass that lets you sear, fry, and quickly cook items without losing heat also means it can get heavy. Real heavy.

                      Based on what you have, I see no great need for a cast iron pan, but if you want to try it out, you can get a 12 in. for less than $25 in my area at any flea market or thrift store. And if you don't like cooking with it, you can always use it as a piece of equipment in a weight lifting regimen.

                      True multi-tasking.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: INDIANRIVERFL

                        True re the weight. I cooked something in the oven recently in my largest skillet and its lid. I could lift it but didn't feel terribly safe about it when I needed to pull it out to baste. So I was able to call on my sous chef extraordinaire aka Bob to do it for me.

                      2. I perpetuate the stereotype about southern women... We like to fry. And I have th easiest time frying in a cast iron pan.

                        1. I do have two pieces at our cabin, a 10" fry pan and a Dutch iron (both Lodge) that I pull out once in a while to use over the campfire but I have yet had the urge to use either for everyday cooking.

                          Part of the reason is my cooking style. The other part is storage, I don't have a lot of extra room at home to keep pans that aren't used regularly.

                          I posted this before about how my grandmothers and great aunts (9+) and their friends chucked the cast iron into the barn or basement as soon as they could afford to replace it. Growing up, I remember them all using Revere ware. The ones who are still with us just shake their heads when they hear my generation talk about cast iron.

                          1 Reply
                          1. I have a 10 inch Lodge cast iron skillet that I use for certain things more because I feel like I *should* rather than because it does such amazing things.

                            1. Cast iron is very versatile and economical. If you only have a couple pans, cast iron is an excellent choice since it can double as a non-stick pan and a good pan for searing.

                              If you already have good pans for searing as well as some decent non-stick (that you don't mind replacing every so often), then you won't have too much to gain from adding cast iron. Especially since CI tends to improve the more you use it, and having a full array of other high quality pans tends to keep you from using it on a daily basis.

                              OTOH, i use a cast iron dutch oven for no-knead bread and for a throw-back style of (relatively) fast, high heat braising ( http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/805158 ), and I don't think you could find an alternative that works as well for these applications at even a nearly comparable price.

                              1. Got reunited with good old CI several years ago when I picked up a Griswold and Wagner skillet at a yard sale for $1 each. Both THOROUGHLY crusty with who-knows-what?? It was summer, so was probably a bit of a HERETIC cuz reached for cheap-o spray oven cleaner... in cold weather, self-clean cycle on oven works great. Got the crud off and reseasoned. I think the key is to USE it OFTEN.

                                It IS heavy, probably why people basically GIVE stuff away at yard sales and thrift stores. My grandmother used bacon grease to reseason her stuff... also ONLY thing she'd shallow fry crab cakes in.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: kseiverd

                                  LeCreuset is heavy. All Clad is pretty heavy. I like heavy in cookware, even though I'm no spring hamster.

                                  I'd suggest buying a Lodge CI skillet, season it, use it for lots of bacon, sausage, hamburgers, steak.

                                2. CindyJ,

                                  Do you sear at high temps in any of your current cookware?

                                  As others have said, stainless steel stains with high temp cooking. If the stains bother you, you might consider a separate cast iron (or carbon steel) pan for searing/frying.

                                  Also, your copper and All Clad pieces have accustomed you to cookware that distributes heat evenly. Cast iron cookware does not. It retains heat very well, but it definitely has hot spots. Even in my Le Creuset, I get scorching on the bottom when I use the stovetop unless I use a diffuser.

                                  I have a lodge pan that I use only for fish. I get an awesome crispy fish skin with it. Also, I don't hesitate to throw it on the grill outside when cooking fish. This serves two purposes. One, I don't worry about delicate fish falling apart and through the grill grates and, two, I don't get the inside of my house fishy smelling or my stovetop dirty (high temp cooking splatters everywhere!) I wouldn't be as comfortable using my copper frypan on my outdoor gas grill even though it would be capable of the same results. However, since bare cast iron absorbs odors, I only use that pan for fish. That's definitely a limitation of bare cast iron (or, again, carbon steel) over other materials.

                                  1. Buy the old stuff on ebay.

                                    Wagner, Griswold.