Whether you’re thinking about purchasing your first piece of high-quality cookware made from premium cast iron, or you’ve already started a collection in your kitchen, there are clear benefits to using the precious metal for Southern cooking. There is also a bit of simple-but-dedicated work required to maintain and increase the quality and value of your cast iron cookware.
If you’ve recently upgraded to premium cast iron cookware, or have recently considered the investment, you understand and appreciate why it makes sense to spend a little extra.
Well-maintained cast iron will give its owners years, decades and even generations of flavorful, gorgeous food. Still, you probably also want to see a little delicious ROI on your dinner plate sooner rather than later.
No need to postpone your enjoyment; get started immediately using this basic guide on how to use and take care of high-end cast iron cookware. Like any worthy investment, the more you use and take care of it, the better it gets with time.
Caring for Cast Iron Cookware
When people use the term “seasoning” for cast iron, they are referring to the creation of a patina, or a thin layer of bonded or polymerized oil, on the interior surface of the metal cookware. Seasoning high-end cast iron cookware is the first thing you’ll need to do after you’ve made your purchase and have your product in your kitchen, freshly unpacked. This rule applies even if your cookware came pre-seasoned from a factory, since you’ll want to wash it before using it for the first time.
Start by rinsing the interior surface of your cast iron with hot water, which you’ll always want to use going forward since cold water on a hot cast iron surface can cause cracks in the metal.
Following the rinse, use either a sturdy plastic dishwashing brush, a scouring pad or a stainless-steel scrubber, depending on the level of cleaning necessary (you can use steel wool if your cookware has any areas of rust). Either method is safe, and you can even use a small amount of soap if desired. Be sure not to allow the water to sit for too long, as it will soak into the surface and potentially cause rust to develop.
Use a cloth towel to dry the cast iron, making sure to remove all spots of moisture. Heat one of your stovetop burners to medium-low heat and place the dried cast iron product on top.
Once your cookware is warmed, add enough oil to create a thin layer across the entire interior surface of the pan, skillet or other cookware item, and wipe it across the surface, making sure it touches all areas. Wipe away any extra oil – there shouldn’t be any puddles – and let it cool before storing.
Using Cast Iron Cookware
Cast iron is known not only for its ability to take high temperatures but also its ability to hold that heat for longer time periods than standard kitchen cookware. This means it’s easier to prepare dynamic dishes similar to what’s served at your favorite restaurants, whether you’re cooking beef, poultry, fish, vegetables or breads. Southern Kitchen’s recipe editor Chef Jeffrey Gardner provided advice on putting your cast iron cookware to work.
“It takes some time – about ten minutes – to properly heat a cast iron pan,” Chef Jeffrey advised. “The benefit isn't that it heats evenly (this is a myth; it’s actually quite the opposite), but that once it's hot it stays hot throughout.”
Depending on what you’re preparing, some suggest preheating your cast iron cookware by starting at low temperatures, which gives you more heat control since you’re gradually raising it. Remember, it’s quicker and easier to make cast iron hot than it is to quickly cool it down once it’s scorching – that’s just the nature of the material.
“It does take several seasoning attempts to reach anything resembling that mythical ‘nonstick’ state of your cast iron pan,” Chef Jeffrey said. “I might start with something like steak, burgers, or griddle cakes. They're more forgiving, as opposed to eggs or a delicate piece of fish, and the exposure to fat over heat can help build up the seasoning.”
You’ll also want to be particular about the type of oil you use, according to Chef Jeffrey. “Flaxseed oil is the most recommended these days, while vegetable oil or shortening is also common,” he offered. “I would advise against a nut oil, or something that burns at a low temperature or carries a particular flavor, such as olive oil.”
Taking care of cast iron cooking products may be intimidating to beginners, but ultimately it’s just a process – one that’s not much different than using a new favorite tool to do anything else you enjoy. Today’s premium pans, skillets and Dutch ovens are not only making functional improvements on established version from mainstream brands – they’re giving us new ways to interpret a visual style. With proper care and constant use, you’ll be preparing new favorite versions of meals you love with tools you love using for a long time to come.
Top two images: Courtesy of Nest Homeware
Bottom two images: Courtesy of FINEX
Chef Jeffrey Gardner is a native of Natchez, Miss., and a graduate of Millsaps College and Johnson & Wales University. He lives in Atlanta and has served as sous chef for popular restaurants South City Kitchen Midtown and Alma Cocina. In 2013 he became executive chef for East Cobb restaurant Common Quarter and was named one of ten “Next Generation of Chefs to Watch” by the Atlanta Business Chronicle. He has appeared on TV shows including Food Network’s Chopped and Cooking Channel’s How to Live to 100, and also filmed a series of healthy cooking videos with retired pro wrestler and fitness guru Diamond Dallas Page. In his spare time, he enjoys traveling the world with his wife Wendy, watching game shows and “spending all his money on Bruce Springsteen concerts.”
Mike Jordan is Southern Kitchen's associate editor. His work has appeared in a variety of publications including The Huntsville Times, American Way, Upscale, Time Out, NewsOne, Fatherly and Thrillist, where he served as the founding Atlanta editor. He lives in East Point, Ga., with his amazing wife and daughter, and loves writing, playing alto saxophone, cooking, craft beer, and cocktails. He is admittedly much better at these things than basketball, so never choose him for your pickup team.