I’ll never forget the first time I made the mistake of taking soap and a sponge to my dad’s cast iron skillet. I’d never seen anyone get so … passionate … about cookware. I only made that mistake once.
Many people have heard of cast iron, and maybe even rumors of its superiority—so what’s all the fuss about?
For starters, cast iron cookware has been around for hundreds of years, and it’s durable enough to last that long. When properly cared for, cast iron pots and pans can last for generations—the one I treacherously scrubbed was one of my grandmother’s wedding gifts.
Cast iron distributes heat more efficiently and evenly than all other cookware materials (with copper as a close second), making it ideal for pan frying, searing, and griddle cooking. It’s also great at holding high heat and often used in open-fire cooking.
Various versions of the cast iron Dutch oven, which was the implement of choice among cowboy campfires in the frontier days, has been used all over the world since the 17th century and continues to be popular for baking, stewing, and frying today.
Cast iron is naturally nonstick once you build up a “seasoning” by rubbing it with oils or fats, and by cooking with it over time. That seasoning is hard-earned and hard-working, keeping ingredients from sticking and enhancing the texture and flavor of what you cook in it. That’s why scrubbing it away is akin to a kitchen crime.
Instead, clean your cast iron gently with water only, or by using a paper towel to rub coarse-ground salt around the pan. You can do this over low heat to loosen and remove debris.
Its versatility, durability, and strength makes cast iron longer-lasting and more prolific than comparable aluminum, Teflon, or other chemically-treated pans. It’s therefore the most eco-friendly type of cookware, and even offers a tiny iron boost to your meal.
That said, it’s no wonder that my pops got so worked up about my unintentionally abusing his cast iron skillet—nor that George Washington’s mother included hers in her will.