I Can't Cook Without My... Cast-iron Pan

Great for frying, searing, braising and baking


If I could pick only one item from my kitchen, it would be the cast-iron pan.

I remember growing up in my grandmother’s kitchen. In that time she went through her share of pots, utensils, pasta rollers and mixers, but there’s one thing that she was using from when I was a baby to when I began working in kitchens myself: her cast-iron pan. To this day that pan remains part of her repertoire, something of a secret weapon from days past; a relic yet still a highly effective tool.

It took me some time to realize the value of this tool. I started on my own by acquiring an Iron Clad cooking vessel for nearly all of my needs; and now, I use maybe half of the range. What I came to understand was that dependability and even transmission of heat to food could best be obtained through cast iron.
There are many high-priced pans on the market that try to achieve similar results, such as the Copper-Core line from All-Clad, which, since copper is such a good conductor of heat, lines the inside of the stainless-steel pan with a core of copper. The results are certainly noticeable (and the pan is significantly lighter), but the price is around eight times that of an equivalent cast-iron pan.

Also, cast iron is able to retain heat, which makes it great for braises and even some forms of baking (think biscuits). It can be moved easily from the oven to the stovetop and vice versa. In fact, for that perfect sear, I can think of no better alternative to an actual grill than cast iron that has been heated to 400+ degrees.

A word of caution: you must take some care with cast iron. These pans cannot be washed with soap and water because some of their unique abilities come from a coating on the pan that is made by cooking oil into a layer on top of the metal (referred to as “seasoning”). You must always use a hand towel or glove because the cast iron will allow the heat from the pan to work its way into the handle. And you do not want to use cast-iron pans to cook highly acidic foods, such as tomatoes, or dishes with citrus juices. Trust me; the pros outweigh the cons.

In the home, in the restaurant and even at a campsite, if I had to use only one pan, it would be cast iron. You can use it for frying, sautéing, searing, braising, roasting, to make omelets, bake biscuits or soda bread… the list goes on and on. And lastly, you’ll make your grandmother proud.

Meet Chef Eric Guido
After working in the New York City restaurant scene, Eric Guido branched out, organizing private dining and tasting events centered around Italian cuisine and wine. Here he began to incorporate food photography and recipe development.  His continuing work can be seen at www.theviptable.net. Eric’s passion for food and wine is fueled by the togetherness and satisfaction found at the table.

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  • I have several cast iron pans and a small griddle that I found at a yard sale and LOVE them! I have a newer grill pan with the ridges that is a problem though...when I cook meat it always has bits of meat cooked to the bottom and I have washed the pan to get them off. Is this normal?

    Nov 18, 2010 at 4:40 AM

  • Snooth User: Eric Guido
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    92549 196,453

    I have the same pan and I agree that it can be a little annoying. One way that we learned to clean these in the restaurant is to flip this pan upside down on the burners and turn the burners to high until they burn off all the stuck bits... However, this could get messy in your home. What I do at home, is that I use a wire brush to get between the grids. This does a pretty good job but never prefect and so whenever I do a self cleaning in my oven, I'll put the grill-pan in there as well (this works best) but make sure to re-season your pan afterwards.

    Nov 18, 2010 at 6:45 AM

  • Snooth User: Mailhot007
    613076 20

    Grid or no grid, the only thing that keeps me from using a cast-iron pan is definitely the cleaning. Tell me how, please HOW you clean it if not using soap!!! Scrub, scrub, scrub?

    Nov 18, 2010 at 1:43 PM

  • Snooth User: Ulogilv
    609739 2

    I also grew up with cast-iron pans in the kitchen! biscuits, cornbread, crunchy bread chicken and fish with a taste that can be improved on by cooking over an open fire!
    At one point I had 27 skillets, pans, muffin pans, and griddles...
    When I moved to Serbia I had to leave them State side... every farmers market or farm house I visited I looked for skillets, they were very hard to find cause most folks dont want to use them...then one day I went to feed some chickens on a farm that I was visiting at... I saw something half buried in the ground...a skillet that was being used for a water dish for the chickens!!!
    I talked with the lady of the house and asked her why she used the skillet for the chickens??? she said it was too heavy for her to use anymore and IF I really wanted it I could have it and she would find something else for the chickens water...
    I dug the skillet out of the ground, cleaned it up and re-seasoned it and now have been using it for three years!! everyone asks why my food tastes different than theirs when we both use the same ingrediants...

    Nov 26, 2010 at 8:06 AM

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