As you have been reading and learning about living on a homestead or farm, you have seen articles about cooking with cast iron. You may already have skills and knowledge, and hopefully this article will teach you something new. Most likely, however, is that you have never even tried or perhaps tried and feel like you failed when you cooked in cast iron. There is a specific set of skills you need and I will teach you as I taught my own children. I didn’t have much to give them when they grew up and left home, but they got an iron skillet and knew how to use it.
A Brief History of Cast Iron Cookware
For my family, cooking in cast iron goes back for generations. We didn’t skip a generation, since Grandma Honey and Farmer Graybeard have always appreciated the old ways. Our mothers & grandmothers fried our taters nearly every day in a Cast Iron Skillet.
Hint Number One
Preheat your skillet before adding food. Put your empty skillet over a medium flame and heat it until it turns. This is a term my sister uses that does describe it, and you will begin to recognize it as you get more familiar with your skillet. You will know it when you shake a few drops of water on the hot skillet and they dance across the surface.
At this point, add your oil, bacon grease, or whatever fat you are going to use and swirl it carefully around the bottom of the skillet, then add your food. For me, that is quite commonly small pieces of potatoes for fried potatoes, or my corn bread batter. I will add my corn bread recipe for your enjoyment.
Once the potatoes are in, I often add diced onions and/or green peppers to the top, a bit more bacon grease, and then put the lid on. The steam helps make them more tender. Every few minutes, turn the potatoes over to cook on all sides.
Hint Number Two
Add meat to a cold pan. This seems to contradict my first hint, and I guess it does. This is why cooking with iron seems tricky.
When I am pan frying bacon, sausage, hamburgers, franks, or other meats, I typically start with a cold pan. Adding meats to hot pan can cause them to stick to the pan from the shock of the temperature change.
Note that the meats I mentioned do not require additional fat to cook in your iron skillet. Cook them on low heat, and use a lid for most of them. The steam created will help the sausage, burgers, and franks cook thoroughly. Sometimes, you may want to add a bit of water to breakfast or smoked sausages.
Bacon is a bit different. Once you have a family, one skillet of bacon isn’t enough, sometimes even two won’t get it, so you have to add bacon to a hot skillet as you take out the already cooked bacon. That’s the only way there is to do it. I like to take the cooked bacon out of the hot oil and put in a cold iron skillet or griddle to drain. I then use that pan to cook the eggs once the bacon is done. Just move the drained bacon to the serving platter to cook the eggs.
Cook your eggs gently in a warm skillet, not a hot one. If your eggs get browned, you are overcooking them and that explains why they may not be a favorite food! Cook them through, but not browned. Watch for a post that shows how to cook them properly.
Hint Number Three
Yes, wash your iron skillets in hot, soapy water! Don’t let them soak in the water, but most certainly wash them. Personally, I don’t want today’s fried taters tasting like yesterday’s smoked sausage or hamburgers.
If you are letting your skillet get really hot before adding food, and using your oil, you are going to find that they become non-stick with use. This means that clean-up is easy to do.
If you find that you need to scrub the pans, start first with Nylon Pan Scrapers and then use a Scrubber Sponge or Scouring pad. You do not need something harsh like stainless steel or copper scrubbers. There is no reason to scratch your ironware. That just makes the prone to making food stick.
After washing in the hot, soapy water, rinse with really hot water. Let them air dry upside down, and you really won’t need to baby them with retreating or heating on the stove/in the oven, or any of those other steps that make ironware seem to be more trouble than they are worth!
With that said, you definitely want to hand wash your cast iron. Never, ever put your iron pans in an automatic dishwasher.
Hint Number Four
As you are accumulating your iron cookware, you will find yourself needing several pieces. Two or three 10″ skillets, 1-2 round griddles , and maybe a larger, two-burner griddle.
I don’t have any cast iron Dutch ovens for use in the house, although I have considered the enamel-coated version. Some day, will write about cast iron to use in your firepit, including how to use a Dutch oven there.
In the house, I typically use stainless steel stockpots and saucepans. I will write an article about them another time.