There’s cooking stovetop, and then there’s cooking stovetop with a cast-iron skillet. And for those of us who live and die by the iron throne (er, skillet), there’s no substitute. A well-seasoned skillet can crisp up pork chops and cornbread alike. You can make a homey pear-bourbon crisp or elegant tarte tatin in it, plush biscuits or tender cake. Let’s be honest: It’s a kitchen must-have that we just can’t live without.
We wanted to get to the bottom of what makes cast-iron cooking so very marvelous, so we interrogated our Williams Sonoma Test Kitchen Cook, Belle English along with Kris Stubblefield, the Test Kitchen Cook for Lodge, Americas oldest manufacturer of cast-iron cookware. Here’s what they had to say.
1. What do you love about cast-iron cooking?
“I love the color and char it gives what you are cooking. And how hot it gets!” says Belle English. “It just adds a dynamic edge to your food, flavor- and texture-wise. And the older it is, the better it gets. My mom’s cast iron is older than I am . . . and you can taste it.”
2. What is it best for?
“Honestly, everything. But my “must be cooked in cast-iron foods” are steak (duh), and cornbread (less duh but important!). Cast irons are good for anything you want an immediate crust or color on,” Belle says.
According to Lodge Test Kitchen Cook, Kris Stubblefield, “one of the only things I won’t do in my cast iron is boil noodles. Cast iron is a must for searing meats, baking, braising, frying, and a whole lot more.”
3. How do you choose which kind of pan works best for different foods and dishes?
“I think about my desired texture and how different pans will affect the desired texture. For example, I want a soft edge on my fried eggs, so I’ll use a more gentle surface like nonstick. Or for a stir-fry, I want high-heat retention and a quick sear, so I’ll use a classic aluminum. For the perfect steak, I want a hot pan that will give me a nice, seasoned crust, so it’s cast-iron all the way,” says Belle.
“Another benefit of a cast iron pan is how easily it moves from the stovetop to the oven,” explains Kris. Also, you can use any type of utensil on it, unlike non-stick cookware because there are no chemical coatings to damage.
4. What are 3 tips for mastering foolproof cast-iron cooking?
1) Heat and cool your cast iron cookware slowly.
2) Let the cast iron do most of the work, a.k.a., don’t move or fidget with the food while its cooking! It knows what to do.
3) The more you use it the better it gets.
5. How do you clean your cast-iron pan?
“My biggest tip is to never let your cast iron air dry. It will rust and stain your countertop and never forgive you. Dry it off and wipe it down with oil. Oh, and never soak it!,” explains Belle.
6. What’s the best way to store it?
“Well-seasoned in your (disastrous) normal pot and pan drawer. At home, I actually keep my cast iron skillet on my stove at pretty much all times. That way it absorbs all the kitchen grit,” Belle explains.
Kris Stubblefield of Lodge also likes to store his cast iron cookware on the stovetop or a kitchen cabinet, recommending to store it in a dry place. Also, “if you’re storing your cookware for a long period of time, it’s a good idea to use a paper towel to separate different pieces of iron. The paper towel will absorb any excess oil or ambient moisture,” he says.
7. Do you need less seasoning, salt, or oil in a cast-iron pan as other pans or not?
“No for salt and perhaps for oil. Depending on what you are cooking and how old your cast iron is, oil levels may change. Always start with a little oil, you can always add more!,” explains Belle.
8. Any myths about cast-iron cooking?
According to Belle, “The #1 myth is that you can’t use soap on your cast iron. A little soap never hurt nobody. The second is that cast irons are only for meats and things. I make cinnamon rolls in my cast-iron pan, even apple pies and giant cookies, ohh, and deep-dish pizzas. As Cady Heron once said, ‘The limit does not exist.'”