Explore the Healthful Benefits of Cast-Iron Cooking

Once upon a time, long, long ago, I hated cast-iron cookware. To me, it was awkward, heavy and smelled funny when I cooked in it. Not only that, everything I cooked turned black and crusty, stuck to the bottom of it and fell apart. Cleaning it afterward required large amounts of soap, Brillo pads and elbow grease, making me wonder why I ever used the stuff in the first place. I figured people in the old days must’ve used it because that’s all they had! They didn’t have the benefit of our newfangled modern day stainless steel cookware with nonstick Teflon and shiny chrome-like surfaces that seemed so much better! But those days have changed and so has my attitude about cast-iron cookware. When you look in my kitchen now and see the array of cast-iron cookware that I use for meal preparation you might think that I’m old-fashioned. Well, that might be true, but I got smarter and I learned my lesson in cast-iron cooking. As far as I’m concerned cast-iron is what real cooks use!

My husband and I both love cooking. When we take our turns in the kitchen, one form of cast-iron cookware or another is used. It might be the large griddle that covers both burner surfaces on the stove. On other nights it might be our 6 quart Dutch oven weighing in at over 15 pounds and worth every ounce! Our 12″ x 3″ deep fry pan has sautÃ?©ed, baked, fried, braised, seared, and served up some of the most scrumptious meals from this side of the equator! From beef dishes simmered in savory sauces to crispy delicately fried chicken and fish, cast iron has become an integral part of our food preparation routine. If I had to choose between my extremely expensive stainless steel pots and pans, and cast-iron cookware, cast-iron gets it hands down!

Cast-iron cooking affords an even cooking temperature that is extremely versatile– from low temperature cooking to high temp frying and searing. As food is prepared on a cast-iron surface, it leaves within the porous surface remnants of each and every meal. That is why it is important when cleaning your cast-iron after food preparation to never clean it down to the bare surface. If you do, it must be re-seasoned — a process by which the iron surface is coated with oil to protect it from rust and corrosion, and allowing a nonstick cooking surface for subsequent use. Seasoning your cast-iron is very simple and is done by simply wiping the surface (inside and out) with either olive oil or a good quality vegetable oil on a paper towel. Put the pan inside the oven for one hour at 300 to 350Ã?° and let it “cook” into the surface of the iron. When you take it out, use an oven mitt, or simply let it cool inside the oven on its own. Use only water after cooking on cast-iron along with a nylon brush or a spatula as a scraper to remove heavy chunks of cooked on food and re-season as necessary. Some people recommend using soap very sparingly, however try to avoid it when possible. Wipe dry immediately and re-season.

Traces of iron are notably higher in foods that are prepared in cast-iron cookware. This is especially beneficial to people that are anemic and women who benefit by additional iron supplementation. Unlike aluminum, there are no known health risks associated with cast-iron cooking, with the exception that if you drop a pan on your foot you may need to see a doctor!

The variety of foods that can be prepared with cast-iron cookware is virtually limitless, providing the surface of the iron is well seasoned and cared for. Some of the most common items for cooking in cast-iron include:

SautÃ?©ing — onions, garlic, stir-fry vegetables, and sauces.

Deep frying — chicken, fish, potatoes, okra, shrimp and most seafood, doughnuts and deep-fried flatbreads.

Baking — cornbread, muffins, cakes, cookies, and even whole Chickens!

Soups and stews — from your favorite Brunswick stew to Grandma’s famous pot roast, chicken and dumplings, corned-beef and cabbage, Chile, and spaghetti sauce.

Virtually anything that you cook in other type of cookware can be cooked in cast-iron even better. Cast iron is extremely durable and will never wear out. In fact, your cast-iron will be around a lot longer than you, and chances are it will be thriving happily and performing beautifully for your grandchildren once they get a taste of the benefits of cast-iron cooking.

Cast iron cookware taken on camping trips serves to provide some of the most tasty outdoor dishes prepared over campfires, and with the ease of cleaning without the use of large amounts of water, can be used repeatedly. According to

A few points to ponder:

Foods with a high acid content such as tomatoes or fruits, should be avoided in cast iron until the surface is well seasoned.

If you absolutely must use soap on your cast iron for cleaning purposes, rinse very thoroughly and dry the surface immediately. Apply olive oil or vegetable oil to the inside and outside and season as described earlier in this article.

In summary, cast-iron cooking is an acquired skillful art. Once you learn the simple seasoning techniques, application of oils and the benefit of allowing food to settle into the surface, the tasteful quality of your food and the process for cleanup will become much easier than you could have ever imagined. And be aware of uninvited dinner guests who simply follow their nose to your door! FieldAndStream.com, cast-iron cookware is the only way to go when camping, and offers the most durable and cleanable cookware for outdoor living. Unlike aluminum camping cookware which has been connected with toxicity to the human being, cast-iron cooking provides no health risk and actually promotes an increase in much-needed iron for the body.

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