Cast-Iron Cookware: The Good Cook's Companion

The pros and cons of cooking with cast iron, what to look for when shopping for cast-iron cookware, and how to care for cast iron are discussed here.


| September/October 1983



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Cast-iron cookware cooks food more efficiently, adds iron to your diet, and—with proper care—lasts for generations.

PHOTO: MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF

The phrase "like Grandma used to make" has become an advertising cliché. But many folks do swear that dinner at their grandparents' house was (and is!) a special treat. And one of the reasons for that celebrated tastiness may be that your grandmother ruled the kitchen with an iron pan! Years ago, cast-iron cookware was generally considered the best available, and many of today's great chefs, although they usually have a "mixed bag" of cooking utensils and pans, still agree that cast-iron cookware is, in a number of ways, second to none.

Cast Iron Pros and Cons

The foremost virtue of cast-iron cookware may be its durability. It lasts! Many a skillet and Dutch oven has been tended with loving care by one generation of cooks after another. Furthermore, cast iron is an efficient heat conductor, and thus saves time and energy in the kitchen. And it's even healthful: Why, just one meal a day prepared in these fine black pans will provide your body with all the iron it needs.

Unfortunately, there are disadvantages to this traditional cookware, as well. For one thing, it's heavy, and likely to be difficult for certain folks to lift, especially those individuals with arthritis or fragile hands and wrists. Then too, if you're the type of cook who piles dirty pots and pans in the sink while you dine, or if washing dishes always seems to be at the bottom of your priorities list, cast-iron cookware probably isn't for you. In order to keep the pots in top condition, you see, you must rinse them out with hot water and a sponge as soon as they are cool enough to be touched. If you feel that taking several minutes every week or two to coat your cookware with oil would be an unreasonable bother, you'd most likely be better off buying modern nonstick pans instead (but expect them to serve only as dog dishes 20 years from now).

If you'd like to start a family kitchen legacy, however, cast iron is an excellent choice. And, as for the care that's involved, good tools or furnishings of any kind require at least a bit of help if they're to remain in top condition. Your fine old black kettle can be no less an heirloom than a well-made lamp or chair, and it can be used and appreciated for many years to come.

Shopping for Cast Iron

Perhaps the best way to obtain your first cast-iron skillet or griddle is to turn to your own family. Just pass the word along the grapevine that you'd love to have an old iron pot or pan, and you may well find that a favorite aunt would be delighted to give you one she no longer needs.

Then again, most department stores carry cast iron, but often at greatly inflated prices. So if you plan to purchase the cookware, you might do better if you check out hardware stores, camping supply outlets, and mail-order companies. But since—as a general rule—the older the pan, the better the quality, used ironware may be your best choice. Estate sales, yard sales, and flea markets are possible sources, but be careful: Such outlets rarely offer a guarantee of any kind, so it'll be up to you to be sure you're buying a quality product.

roy_8
12/19/2007 9:01:20 PM

I founanyan old kettle,and on the top, the lid has rome stove company on it. it seems to be a 3 quart size. Can it be worth any thing.






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