Why NOT cast iron?

I like my cast iron, though it’s not the only thing I use.  And after going a couple of rounds with some folk about this somewhere else, I decided it’s worth making a blog post.

Cast iron is not the right choice for everyone.

The first really big problem is that it eats time.  If you (and anyone/everyone living with you) work late or have a large stack of after-work activities, cast iron is a bad choice.  To get the non-stick effect from seasoned cast iron, you have to pre-heat the metal.  (Usually, but often enough we’ll leave that statement as true.)  Then you do the cooking, and then you need to clean it NOW.  Now I’ve washed some of my cast iron in soapy water, but when I do I immediately rinse THOROUGHLY, dry it, and lightly reseason it.  That last means a little grease and 20 minutes or so in the oven.  I can’t tuck it away to soak, I can’t use a dishwasher and forget it.  Cast iron adds half an hour to my total time in comparison to stainless steel, anodized aluminum, and so forth.

The second and third big problems are related to a big plus.  Cast iron holds heat REALLY well, giving me a consistent temp even as I toss more ingredients into the mix.  It does so by being heavy.  No, let me restate that: cast iron is HEAVY.  Arthritic wrists, weak grips, carpal tunnel syndromes… yeah, you’re getting the point. The weight can be too much for some people.

But I said there were two problems in the heat retention.  The second is, well, heat retention.  This comes into play in tight cooking areas, such as you find in small efficiency and starter apartments.  While the pan cools it has to set somewhere.  While it’s cooling it’s a hazard.  Heck, I’m practiced and have room and I still burn myself once ever few months when I grab a handle thinking it’ll have cooled “by now”.

I really like my cast iron.  That said, I shake my head at those who insist it’s the best choice for everyone.   Choose wisely.

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4 thoughts on “Why NOT cast iron?

  1. I concur.

    Another point is that while you’re cooking the handle also gets hot and you have to remember to grab it with something. Which can make the weight even more cumbersome and become a fire hazard if you’re not careful. Potholders are too bulky, towels too big. I finally bought some small (6″ square) kitchen towels to use to grab the handle, without risking starting a fire. Still I’ve been known to forget and, well, ouch.

    I rate having cast iron up there with a gas stove, different strokes for different folks. 🙂 (See what I did there? Started a whole new argument.

    BTW, I think I’m really doing the seasoning thing badly – so there’s that learning curve to consider, too.

    • For cooking, I prefer a gas stove. It’s also extremely useful as a last choice heat source in the winter.

      I had a stove develop a leak when I was younger. It cost a large chunk of money to fix, and if it had waited another day before developing I’d have been gone for a week and lost the house instead.

    • re seasoning badly… I’ve discovered that when you try to over-season a bad seasoning, you get those nifty black chips.

      If it’s not set, the first thing I do is clean the iron. The easiest way I know for that is to put it in the oven when running a self-cleaning cycle. Alternatively, put it over a grill that’s CLOSE to the coals — or even fill the iron with coals. Yes, the iron will almost glow (if it’s dark). When it’s done, ALL the seasoning will be gone. Hit it at the earliest opportunity with a bit of oil and let it cool, then continue the seasoning.

      As a by the way, I’ve got one pan I’m testing with mineral oil for the seasoning. That may earn another post down the road.

  2. Calphalon pots are pretty heavy too.

    I admit, I probably had your standard department store set of crap pots and pans before I married PH. I had a roommate who had all Calphalon, and also had a few bouts of arthritic type pain I was dealing with. I did all the dishes generally (cause she cleaned the bathroom, and that ROCKED) but I would often skip her heavy pans because it hurt my wrists to try and hold them to clean them.

    We now have Calphalon. Not sure how the weight compares to cast iron, but I imagine it is similar (with my experience with iron castings for the auto industry) Not a big fan of washing them, but at least I can let them sit and soak…

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