Are you ready to upgrade your pots and pans for cooking? Are you wondering if a cast iron skillet is worth investing in?
Well, we think it is! Cast iron cookware is durable, inexpensive, and can handle high heat. But, it’s also heavy and requires some maintenance. So it’s important to decide what’s most important for your needs.
In this guide, we’re here to tell you exactly how cast iron cookware can benefit your cooking. We’ll look at the pros and cons of cast iron cookware so you can decide if it’s the right fit for you.
What is Cast Iron Skillet?
A cast-iron skillet is a flat bottomed pan molded from a single piece of molten iron, including the handle.
The single piece of metal isn’t pure iron. Cast iron is an iron-carbon alloy of grey iron and more than 2% carbon. This carbon content is what sets it apart from carbon steel, carbon steel cookware containing less than 1% carbon.
There are two types of cast iron skillets: bare cast iron, and enameled cast iron:
- A bare cast iron skillet doesn’t have a coating. So it can withstand high temperatures. It can also be seasoned to be nonstick. Some bare cast iron pans are pre-seasoned. Whereas others can be seasoned after purchasing.
- Enameled cast iron skillets have a cast iron body, covered with a vitreous enamel glaze that gives it a smooth surface. The enameled cast iron coating makes it sleeker and more modern than traditional cast iron. The enamel coating also protects the skillet from rust and prevents the need for seasoning.
Cast Iron Cookware Pros
Let’s look at the main cast iron cookware pros to help you find the right option for your needs.
Cast iron is extremely tough. With the right care and maintenance, cast-iron cookware can last generations of use (1).
Cast iron is considered one of the most durable cookware materials because of its construction. Its strength and thickness mean it can withstand plenty of use and wear in the kitchen. So you won’t have to worry about damaging your pan in any way while cooking with cast iron.
Pro: Great Heat Retention
Superior heat retention is where cast iron really stands out. With fairly low thermal conductivity and a high heat per cubic centimeter, it’s slow to heat up and cool down. So it retains the heat extremely well.
Once a cast-iron skillet gets hot, it stays hot for a long time. Its exceptional heat retaining properties mean it provides a constant high heat distribution.
Because it retains heat so well, it works best if you preheat before cooking with cast iron. This ensures that it distributes heat evenly while you cook. So you won’t have any cold or hot spots while heating with cast iron.
So a cast iron skillet is perfect for long, slow cooking or for quick, high-heat cooking. And it’s also great for browning large pieces of meat, shallow-frying chicken, or making cornbread.
Pro: High Heat Retention
Since cast iron is so tough, it can withstand extremely high temperatures. In fact, you can even use your cast iron skillet on a campfire. In fact, cast iron can withstand up to 2500F which is the approximate temperature of fire (2).
Its high heat resistance means you can use cast iron both on the stovetop and in the oven. And because it’s molded from a single piece of metal including the handles, there’s no risk of damaging them with high heat.
However, it’s important to note that only bare cast iron can withstand such high temperatures. The porcelain glaze on enameled cast iron skillets cannot withstand the same high temperatures.
For example, this enameled cast iron Crock-Pot can go in the oven, but it’s only oven-safe up to 500F. Whereas this Backcountry bare cast iron skillet can be used on a fire pit as well as the oven.
Cast iron is also extremely versatile. It can be used on any kitchen stovetop, in the oven, on the grill, under a broiler, and even on a campfire. So it’s perfect for almost any occasion when you cook.
You can also cook almost anything in a cast-iron skillet. You can grill, bake in the oven, or sear with it. So a cast-iron skillet gives you a lot of options with just one pan.
Pro: Induction Ready
As well as being oven, broiler, and grill safe, cast iron is also compatible with an induction cooktop.
Cast iron has a high ferrous metal content. So it’s one of the few cookware materials that are induction ready. The iron contained within the cookware draws in the electromagnetic current which makes the induction process work.
Cast iron is non-toxic, but it can leach iron (3). Cooking with cast iron can transfer iron content to the food, which then transfers to your body.
As iron is an essential dietary mineral, this can be a good thing. However, it’s important to note that too much iron intake can be harmful.
If your body consumes too much iron, it can’t get rid of it. This can produce free radicals in the body. And excess iron has been linked to diseases such as Alzheimer’s, heart disease, and colorectal cancer.
But it does take a decent amount of iron for it to become harmful for your body. And men and women need a certain amount of iron every day. However, it’s something to consider when buying a cast-iron skillet.
Seasoning protects your skillet from leaching a lot of iron. So if you’re concerned about the levels of iron in your food, make sure your pan is well-seasoned.
Pro: Boosts Your Iron Status
As we mentioned before, iron is an essential dietary mineral. So iron that leaches into your cooking can be beneficial if you’re iron deficient.
Many studies have shown that iron content in pots and pans can boost your daily iron intake (4). As a lot of people, especially in developing countries, have an iron deficiency, more iron can be beneficial for your health. And it’s an easy way to boost your status if you need that extra bit of iron!
Pro: Naturally Non Stick
Well-seasoned cast iron skillets have a naturally formed non-stick coating. The process of seasoning the surface with heated fats or oil produces a natural layer of nonstick coating.
If seasoned properly, your cast iron skillet becomes naturally nonstick. So there’s no ceramic or Teflon (PTFE) non-stick coating that contains chemicals that could leak into your food.
Pro: Displays Food Beautifully
A lot of chefs and home cooks find cast iron aesthetically pleasing. A cast iron dutch oven or skillet will display your dishes beautifully. Especially when used for bread or pies.
So they make a nice display option for your cooking. You can use your cast iron pots and pans as serving plates on the table at dinner events.
Pro: Many Types Available
There are a lot of different types of cast iron cookware for you to choose from. From a cast iron grill, wok, crepe, dutch oven, pizza stone, skookie, to cornbread pan. There are a lot of options available!
Because cast iron is a popular great material and widespread, there are a lot of inexpensive models available. So there’s also a lot of choice for any budget.
Cast iron skillets are one of the cheapest options for cookware on the market.
For example, this cast iron Lodge skillet costs less than $20. And Cuisinel offers 3 cast iron skillets for less than $40.
And because they last so long, the long-term investment is small compared to other cookware options.
Pro: Environmentally Friendly
Cast iron is a recyclable material (5). So it’s environmentally friendly and can be easily recycled.
Although cast iron is a recyclable material, it can depend on your local state recycling law. So make sure you consult your local recycling authority to find out how to properly recycle your cast iron cookware.
Cast Iron Cookware Cons
Cast iron is a popular material for cookware. But there are some drawbacks to consider before choosing cast iron cooking.
Con: Slow Reaction To Temperature Changes
As we mentioned before, cast iron has low thermal conductivity. Because of this, it has low responsiveness. So cast iron isn’t able to respond quickly to any changes in the heat source.
This means it won’t respond to a decrease in heating temperature by cooling off quickly. Once a cast iron skillet is heated, it stays heated for a long time. So it’s not ideal for cooking delicate dishes that may overheat quickly.
Cast iron cookware tends to be on the heavier side because it’s made thick. The construction of cast iron cookware is thick to avoid hot spots on the cooking surface.
Because it’s hard to avoid any hot spots on the whole pan surface, most pans are quite large. Most cast iron skillets are 6 to 7mm thick which is a lot thicker than carbon or stainless steel cookware. For example, carbon steel pans are 2mm thick.
So cast iron pans are naturally a lot heavier than most pans. For instance, this carbon steel 10-inch Lodge skillet weighs 3.4 pounds. Whereas this Backcountry cast iron skillet weighs 5.61 pounds.
Because of their heavyweight, cast iron cookware can be difficult to work with. Cookware needs to be easy to handle and maneuver in the kitchen when you cook. There’s also a safety risk with heavy-weight cookware. You could drop the heavy pan onto your foot, or injure your wrist while handling it if it’s too heavy.
It also makes it inconvenient for certain types of cooking. For example, it’s not suitable for stir-frying which requires cookware that’s easy to handle for tossing and flipping. And this is difficult with a heavier pan.
Con: Reactive to Acidic Food
Cast iron is a reactive material. So if you cook with acidic foods, the reactive surface can alter the color and flavor of the dish (6). This means you need to season your pan to counter the acidic reaction.
But it’s important to note that even if your pan is seasoned cast iron, heating a lot of acidic foods can eat away at the seasoning. For example, if you cook tomato sauce. Heating large amounts of acidic or alkaline food like wine or tomato can ruin your seasoning over time.
So if you’re cast iron cooking with a lot of acidic food, you might have to re-season your pan regularly.
Con: Susceptible to Rust
Cast iron is prone to rust if exposed to humidity or moisture for too long. So an unseasoned bare cast iron skillet can be highly susceptible to rust.
Because cast iron is an alloy of iron and carbon, it possesses extreme hardness and brittleness. This makes it more susceptible to corrosion and rust over time. And the increased carbon content and oxygen can react and form an oxide layer.
So cast-iron pans need an enamel coating or seasoning to prevent damage from rusting.
Con: May Be Sticky
A cast iron dutch oven or skillet can be sticky if they’re not coated or seasoned. So food may stick to the surface of your pan while cooking with cast iron.
For example, if you don’t use enough fat or oil when frying, food can be hard to release. This can happen if your pan isn’t well-seasoned. Food can also stick when breaking in your new pan if it hasn’t built up additional layers of seasoning.
So it’s important to season your cast iron pan well. Especially if you’ll be cooking sticky dishes such as eggs or pancakes.
Con: Not Dishwasher Safe
Manufacturers don’t recommend putting your cast iron skillet in the dishwasher. This is because the amount of hot water and detergents may ruin your seasoning.
Plus, because cast iron is prone to rust, it’s not good to expose your pan to a lot of moisture. So the long exposure to the water in a dishwasher can make your cast iron skillet rust.
Con: Difficult to Clean
Cast iron requires a different cleaning method to most other types of cookware. Because cast iron is sensitive to humidity and water, you can’t let it soak. This could cause rust or ruin the seasoning.
While you can still wash your cast iron pan with soap and water, it will remove the seasoning. To protect your seasoning, you’ll have to follow a different cleaning method to clean your cast iron cookware. For example, cleaning it with salt.
So you’ll have to be careful when cleaning your pan. Make sure you read the manufacturer’s instructions to properly clean and care for your pan.
Con: Regular Maintenance
Bare cast iron cookware needs seasoning to prevent it from rusting and to add non-stick qualities. Seasoning also protects iron from leaching into your meals.
So a common complaint of cast iron is that it can require a lot of regular maintenance to make sure it’s properly seasoned.
Maintaining your seasoning can require a bit of extra effort too. For example, although you can use cast iron on high heat, it’s not recommended. High heat can burn and damage the seasoning. So it may be useful to keep an un-seasoned cast iron skillet around for your extra-high-heat cooking situations.
Con: Residues, Flakes and Odors
Cast iron can be prone to residue buildup as residue from the seasoning may come off your cookware (7). However, the residue is not harmful in any way and will decrease over time after use.
Residue can also appear when simmering liquids or boiling water. As well as when using soap or heating acidic or alkaline dishes in your pan.
Also, your cast iron pan may occasionally flake. The seasoning can break down and leave black specks or flakes. But this is not harmful and can be prevented if your pan is well-seasoned.
Lastly, if you cook foods with a strong smell such as fish in cast iron, it may leave a lingering odor. Especially if you don’t clean your pan properly before storing it.
So it’s important to make sure your cast iron cookware is well-seasoned and cleaned after use.
Con: Rough Surface
Finally, cast iron cookware has a rough surface that’s not recommended for use on a glass stove-top. If the skillet has a rough or burr or spot it can scratch the glass ceramic surface.
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And because it’s also slow to heat up, cast iron can hold a huge amount of heat which is then to the cooktop surface. This can impact the temperature limiters on a glass stove. And eventually can cause the cooktop to shut down.
But, this won’t be a problem if you handle your cast iron cookware with care on the stove-top. Make sure you don’t slide the pan across the surface, and always remove it from the stove-top after cooking.
Porcelain enamel cast iron coated cookware is suitable for glass stoves, because it has a smooth surface. But this is only true if the cookware is covered completely with a porcelain enamel glaze.
So make sure you take caution if your cast iron cookware is not completely covered with enamel. It can scratch the glass-ceramic cooktop if not used with care.
Read Next: How To Use Cast Iron Cookware On A Glass Top Stove?
Casting A Decision On Cast Iron Cookware
Upgrading your pots and pans comes with a lot of decisions to make. But now you know what cast iron cookware has to offer!
Cast iron pots and pans have many benefits. They’re inexpensive, durable, and versatile for the kitchen. If you like to cook on high heat for searing or browning your food, cast iron is a good option for you.
But there are some disadvantages to a cast-iron skillet to consider. It’s heavy, slow to heat, and requires regular maintenance. So it’s important to consider the cons of cast iron to find the best option for your needs.
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