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.