I have always wanted cast iron cookware, lately I have been researching a purchase and thought I would share this information with you.
Cast iron cookware was especially popular among homemakers and housekeepers during the first half of the 20th century. Most American households had at least one cast iron cooking pan, and such brands as Griswold and Wagner Ware were especially popular. The Lodge Manufacturing company is currently the only major manufacturer of cast iron cookware in the United States, as most other cookware suppliers use pots and pans made in Asia or Europe. Emeril Lagasse and Rachel Ray also have lines of pre-seasoned cast iron.
The 20th century also saw the introduction and popularization of enamel-coated cast iron cookware.
Cast iron fell out of favor in the 1960s and 1970s, as teflon-coated non-stick cookware was introduced to the public and quickly became the item of choice in many kitchens. Today, a large selection of cookware can be purchased from kitchen suppliers, of which cast iron comprises only a small fraction. However, the durability and reliability of cast iron as a cooking tool has ensured its survival, and cast iron cookware is still recommended by most cooks and chefs as an essential part of any kitchen.
Cast iron's ability to withstand and maintain very high cooking temperatures makes it a common choice for searing or frying, and its excellent heat diffusion and retention makes it a good option for long-cooking stews or braised dishes. Because cast iron skillets can develop a "non-stick" surface, they are also a good choice for egg dishes, particularly scrambled eggs. Other uses of cast iron pans include making cornbread and pineapple upside-down cake.
Most bare cast iron pots and pans are cast from a single piece of metal in order to provide even distribution of heat. This quality allows most bare cast iron pans to serve as dual-purpose stove top fryers and oven baking dishes. Many recipes call for the use of a cast iron skillet or pot, especially so that the dish can be initially seared or fried on the stove top; the dish is then transferred into the oven, pan and all, to finish baking. Likewise, cast iron skillets can double as baking dishes. Cornbread in particular is seen as a food item that is best prepared in a cast iron skillet: the iron pan is heated beforehand in the oven, the ingredients are combined in the heated pan, and the dish is then placed directly into the oven for fast baking. This differs from many other cooking pots, which have varying components that may be damaged by the excessive temperatures of 400 degrees Fahrenheit or more.
The heat distribution quality of an iron pan also includes its handle or handles. For most cast iron pans, the handles become hot during cooking and can burn the hands of anyone attempting to handle them without protection, such as wearing heavy gloves or using a potholder.
Cast iron cookware leaches small amounts of iron into the food. Anemics, and those with iron deficiencies, may benefit from this effect, though those with excess iron issues (for example, people with hemochromatosis) may suffer negative effects.
A seasoned pan has a stick-resistant coating created by polymerized oils and fats. Seasoning is a process by which a layer of animal fat or vegetable oil is applied and cooked onto cast iron or carbon steel cookware. The seasoning layer protects the cookware from rusting, provides a non-stick surface for cooking, and prevents food from interacting with the iron of the pan. Enamel-coated cast iron pans do not need seasoning, as the enamel coating prevents rust in most instances.
Because ordinary cookware cleaning techniques like scouring or washing in a dishwasher can remove or damage the seasoning on a bare cast iron pan, these pans should not be cleaned like most other cookware. Some cast iron aficionados advocate never cleaning cast iron pans at all, simply wiping them out after use, or washing them with hot water and a stiff brush. Others advocate washing with mild soap and water, and then re-applying a thin layer of fat or oil. A third approach, advocated by television chef Alton Brown, is to scrub with coarse salt and a paper towel or clean rag.