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Cooking with Cast Iron

Tips, suggestions, and recipes for healthy cooking in cast iron skillets.

[Editor's Note: the oldest of my several cast iron pans is one I picked up used around 25 years ago--the pan I use most of all my kitchen goodies. I do occasionally use detergent on mine, but hand-dry them immediately after washing.

Remember the wonderful smells of onions frying, eggs cooking, and gravy on the stove along with biscuts in the oven coming from Grandma's kitchen? What wonderful childhood memories... those heavy black iron skillets that Grandma used to cook in -- how was she ever able to lift them?

Today we live in the land of expensive, brightly colored telfon coating, non-stick skillets, and shiny stainless steel pans. Does anyone use cast iron anymore? Old-timers haven't given them up! And the younger generations should consider what makes these skillets so loved.

Cast iron skillets are a economical and heathly way to cook.

I recently purchased three cast iron skillets for under $15 at KMart! Try finding shiny, color new non-stick pans at such a bargain! Many newer style sets of skillets cost $50 or more.

Cast iron lasts for years when cared for properly. It never warps or dents and cooks well at a wide range of temperatures. It can be used to fry foods on top of the stove or to bake in the oven. Its uniform conductivity makes cast iron the ideal choice for slow-cooking desserts, as well as for frying and sautees.

Cast iron skillets also add iron to our food, which many Americans lack in their diets today. Doctors often recommend cast iron skillets for patients who are anemic or borderline anemic (low iron levels in the blood).

Seasoning Your Cast Iron: Raw cast iron is a porous material which needs to be "seasoned" before use. Seasoning your cast iron will create a non-stick surface, prevent the food from acquiring a metallic favor as it cooks, and help the pan to resist rust and corrosion. The non-stick surface will improve over time. To season your new pans, preheat your oven to 300 degrees. Wash each pan in hot, soapy water and hand-dry immediately. Using a paper towel or cloth, coat the pan with a thin layer of olive (or vegetable) oil or melted shortening. Be sure to coat all surfaces, including the handle. Place the pan in the oven for one hour. Remove while hot and let cool to room temperature. When cooled, hang your pan to store. If stacking, place a paper towel between your pans.

Cooking With Cast Iron: Once your pans are properly seasoned, they should be fairly non-stick. This quality will improve the longer you use the pan. For the first little while, you may need to add a bit of oil each time you cook in the pan. Never forget your potholders! Cast iron pan handles get HOT when cooking!

Cleaning & Caring For Cast Iron: You need not wash your pans with soap and water. After use simply rub them clean with oil and a paper towel or dishcloth. To remove stuck-on residues, place salt and vinegar or oil in your pan and heat in on low heat for a few minutes, then rub clean. Alternatively you may scrub it clean with coarse salt and water. Be sure to always dry your pans throughly immediately after use. Never place cast iron in the dishwasher -- this will cause them to rust.

Now that your pans are seasoned and your ready to cook, here is one of my favorite recipes to get you started.

Skillet Corn Bread

You Will Need:
- 2 cups Corn Meal
- 1 egg (beaten)
- 1 cup milk
- 1/4 cup oil
- 1 tablespoon sugar

To Prepare:
Heat oven to 425 degrees. Grease the inside of your 8-inch cast iron skillet and place it in the oven to warm. In a medium or large bowl, beat your egg and add milk and oil. Stir in sugar and cornmeal, just until moistened. The batter should be lumpy - do not overmix. Carefully remove your skillet from the oven and pour in the batter. Put it back in the ove and bake for 20-30 minutes. The top of your cornbread should be golden-brown and a toothpick inserted in the center will come out clean when the bread is done. Serve warm.

Enjoy cooking with your cast iron! Care for them properly and they will be one of the best (and smallest) investments in your kitchen. Frugal and healthy - what better way to cook?

In addition to cooking with cast iron, Michelle Shaeffer has been a work at home mom for more than 10 years and loves to share the tips and strategies she's learned to help other entrepreneurs and small business owners. Catch up with her at

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