How To Choose a Cast Iron Skillet

While looking for the best cast iron skillets in the market, there are many factors that you will need to consider.

These factors can help you decide how easy and comfortable it is to use that particular pan. Let’s check out how to find the best cast iron cookware.

1. Uncoated or Enameled:

There are two types of cast iron skillets available: uncoated and enameled.

Most of the cast iron skillets available in India belong to the uncoated category. Since most of the uncoated cast iron pans come pre-seasoned, you can start using the pans immediately. But, with additional use and seasoning, the pan becomes even more non-stick.

Before using the skillet, it is very important to go through the instructions that come with the skillet set to check if it requires extra seasoning. If yes, it also mentions the recommended way for that particular skillet.

The only disadvantage of uncoated cast iron skillet is it is a reactive metal. Hence, if you cook acidic foods in these pans for a longer period of time, the seasoning can be damaged and you might even get a metallic taste from the food. Nonetheless, with a well-seasoned pan, you might not face any problems while cooking acidic foods for a short period of time. But, if you are planning to braise tomatoes for a long time, you should use a different pan.

The enameled cast iron skillet doesn’t need any seasoning and a few of them can even be washed in dishwashers. The special enamel coating helps in preventing the food from coming in contact with the raw metal. Due to this, you can cook any type of food, including acidic foods like tomatoes or citrus foods in this enameled cookware.

The only con of the enameled skillet is that the coating might crack or chip over the time, making the cookware unfit for any further cooking. The enameled cast iron cookware can be used on the stove. You can even use it in the oven, but the knobs of the lids might not be able to handle the extremely high temperatures inside the oven.

If you are looking for an affordable option, you can buy an uncoated cast iron skillet. If budget is not a constraint for you, then you can go ahead with enameled cast iron skillet.

Uncoated or Enameled

2. Size:

The cast iron skillets are available in various sizes. The most versatile and commonly available sizes are 8-inch (20 cm) or 12-inch (35 cm). If you live in a large family with more than 5 members, we suggest you to buy a 10-inch or 12-inch skillet. But, if you live alone or in a small family, you can buy a smaller model.

While selecting the size, remember that the cast iron pans are a bit heavier than the usual non-stick pans. So, choose accordingly.

3. Weight:

Weight is one of the disadvantages of cast iron skillets. They are quite heavier when compared to other cookware of the same size.

Whenever you are buying a cast iron skillet, make sure you check the weight. Don’t buy a pan that is heavy for you to lift because after adding food to it, it will become even more heavier and you might not feel comfortable cooking in that pan.

The weight of the pan also has an impact on storage options. Not all the shelves are strong enough to bear heavy weight of the cast iron pan. Thus, store it in a place where the shelf can handle its weight.

The heavier skillets hold and distribute the heat effectively and evenly. Thus, if you like cooking in a traditional way, you might not mind the heavy weight of the skillet.

4. Thickness:

Most of the cast iron cookware is quite thick that helps in retaining the heat in the pain. But, this thickness also leads to an increase in the weight of the pan.

Some manufacturers have started producing cast iron skillets using thinner materials. Such cookware is light in weight and thus, is easy to handle. But, the heat retention properties and even distribution of heat are not the same as that of thicker cast iron pans. Thus, if weight is an issue, you can go for these lighter cast iron pans.

5. Easy to Maneuver:

Since most of the cast iron pans are heavy in weight, it is very important that they come with large and comfortable handles so that it is easy to use while the pan is hot.

It should have a comfortable handle along with a helper handle on the opposite edge of the pan. With both these handles, it becomes easy to remove the hot pan from the stove and empty the pan. These handles should be sturdy and should have large holes so that it easy to hang.

You might not find the helper handle in smaller or cheaper cast iron pans. In such cases, you must check if there is a two-handed grip on the long handle.

You must also know that the handle of the skillet can also turn hot. Even though oven mitts offer protection, they are a bit bulky. So, the best solution to this problem is buying a pan with a handle cover that is made up of either silicone or leather.

We would suggest you to buy pans that come with slightly rounded stick handles as they provide a natural grip around the base. This way, you can have better control too. Since both the handles become hot, having a good grip or control over them even with a bulky glove becomes important.

6. Large Pour Spout or Lips:

Most users prefer using a pan with functional lips or pour spouts to prevent the mess caused due to dripping. Using a hot and heavy cast iron skillet with smaller openings can make it even difficult to use. Thus, look for pans with larger pour spouts.

7. Price:

You can easily find a good quality cast iron skillet at a price range of Rs. 1,000 – Rs. 2,500. While testing these pans, we figured out that most of them perform in a similar way. The only features that make them different from the others are the weight and texture. While the inexpensive options are heavier and come with a pebbly texture, the costly options are a bit light in weight and have a smoother texture.

How to Season Cast Iron Skillet?

The cast iron cookware needs to be cured or seasoned – both inside and outside including the lids. Especially if the pan is new and has not been pre-seasoned by the manufacturer, or if the pan is old and the finish has worn off.

Seasoning the cast iron involves the coating of your new pan or skillet with grease or cooking oil and then heating it promoting the bonding between the oil and the pan.

Even though you can use any cooking oil, it will be best to use oil with high retention property otherwise it can smoke excessively while seasoning. Some of the best oils for seasoning are coconut, canola, grapeseed, flax, and vegetable oil.

Follow the steps below to perfectly season your cast iron skillet:

  • Take a small amount of oil and brush or wipe it properly, both inside and outside of the skillet or the pan. Even though you don’t cook on the outside of the pan, seasoning is required to prevent it from rusting.
  • Heat the pan on the stove until it becomes very hot or starts smoking.
  • Now place the pan in an upside-down direction in the oven at 450 degrees Fahrenheit. Placing it in the upside-down direction will help in letting the excess oil drip from the pan so that it forms an even coating.
  • You can even place a few aluminum foils on the rack below the pan so that the oil dripping falls over this foil.
  • By this time, you might notice the formation of smoke. Don’t panic and rush to open the door of the oven. Smoke is normal while seasoning.
  • Leave the temperature at 450 degrees Fahrenheit for half an hour and then turn off the oven. Let the pan cool for another 50-60 minutes.
  • If you don’t have to use the oven, you can leave the pan in the oven itself until it cools down completely. You can even remove it from the oven and keep it at a safe place. Since the pan is going to be very hot, you might need oven gloves or mitts to move the pan.
  • A well-seasoned pan will look black and shiny with a smooth texture. You might also notice drops of oil beading up on the surface.

Note:

If you are not going to use the pan right away, we would suggest you to perform a second seasoning. If you have some time, you can even perform third seasoning to improve the non-stick quality of the pan.

How do you Clean a Cast Iron Pan?

The enameled cast iron does not need any special care. But, that’s not the case with the uncoated cast iron. You need to give extra time and attention to these uncoated cast iron skillets.

To remove the bits of cooked food, scrape it out or boil some water in the pan so that it loosens up and comes out by itself. Use a scrubber sponge or a stiff-bristled brush to scrub the pan using a mild soap and hot water.

Don’t use metal scrubbers. Some people even suggest not using soaps but it is fine to use a mild soap to remove the grease from the food (and not the seasoning) from the pan.

You can now wash your hands and make sure that pan is dry completely. You can dry your pan by keeping it over low heat on the stove or in an oven. Wipe on a thin layer of oil to prevent the pan from rusting while you store it.

What are the Benefits of Using a Cast Iron Pan?

Even though it is a bit difficult to maintain or season the cast iron skillet, there are many benefits of using a cast iron pan while cooking. These benefits make your efforts worth it. Some benefits are:

  • The cast iron skillets can be used to do a wide range of cooking – you can use them on the stovetop, in the oven, or on an open fire or grill.
  • The cast iron pans can conduct heat properly and are safe to be used above 500 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • After seasoning, almost every cast iron skillet becomes non-stick, making it suitable for all types of shallow frying. Most of the cast iron items come pre-seasoned with oils.
  • The cast iron skillets are free of chemicals that are commonly found in non-stick cookware.
  • These cast iron skillets also add a small amount of iron to the food that you are cooking. This, in turn, increases your daily iron consumption.
  • Even though cast iron offers lower thermal conductivity, it offers great heat retention properties making it ideal for high-temperature cooking.
  • You can use cast iron skillets for years.
  • The cast iron cookware is almost indestructible. Even if the seasoning is damaged, you can re-season the pan easily. In worst-case scenarios, you can use it for your campfire or outdoor grill.

Disadvantages of Cast Iron Skillets:

There are a few downsides of cast iron skillets too. Some of them are:

  • It can rust. A good layer of seasoning can prevent the pan from rusting but if you use it carelessly like scrubbing hard or not letting it dry, you will soon start noticing spots of rust.
  • Until the skillet is seasoned properly with a good amount of layers, food will stick to the pan. This applies to even pre-season skillets.
  • It is not suitable for cooking overly acidic foods. Since acidic foods pick up the color and flavor from the iron, the food starts tasting metallic. Until the skillet is seasoned perfectly, you should not cook acidic foods on the pan.
  • The pans are quite heavy. Since the high density of the material helps in retaining a large amount of heat, manufacturing very lightweight cast iron pans are not really possible. Instead, most manufacturers provide large handles or helper handles to make it easy to cook.
  • Unlike cookware made using tri-ply stainless steel or aluminum, the cast iron is not great at distributing the heat evenly.
  • It requires special maintenance. Since the quality of the skillet depends on how well it is seasoned, you must be careful while cleaning. You must not scrub too hard because it can remove the layer of seasoning and you will have to start seasoning the pan again.

Things you Should not do to your Cast Iron Skillet:

Following a few maintenance tips can increase the lifetime of your pan. Some things that you should avoid doing are:

  • Never leave a cast iron skillet in a sink full of water overnight or for a long period of time. It can lead to rusting.
  • Avoid washing cast iron pans in a dishwasher as it might form rust.
  • Don’t put the hot skillet under a running tap of cold water. The drastic change in temperature can cause the pan to crack.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. How do I know that the skillet is well seasoned?

Most of the cast iron skillets come pre-seasoned. This means that they are already coated with multiple layers of polymerized oil that gives the pan a non-stick and rustproof finish. An unseasoned cast iron skillet comes in silver-gray color whereas the seasoned pans either come in black or brown color.
A pan is said to be well-seasoned when you see an even color all over the pan, without any dark blotches in between.
A well-seasoned pan almost looks like a non-stick pan and is deep black in color. A properly seasoned pan can be used to do any type of cooking and it prevents the food from sticking, just like a non-stick pan.

2. How to figure out a fake cast iron skillet?

If you are buying a cast iron skillet for the first time, these pointers can prevent you from buying a fake iron skillet.
Check if the handles of the pan are attached using screws or not. The handles in the cast iron skillets are a part of the same iron mold. Thus, if the pan has a handle that is attached using screws, it is a fake one.
Check the inside surface of the pan. If you notice a shiny or Teflon-like, or non-stick coating, it is not a real cast iron pan. The surface of real pans looks imperfect with a dull or rough surface.

3. What types of food shall I avoid cooking in the cast iron pan?

An uncoated cast iron pan can give a metallic taste to your food, especially if the coating has worn down. This happens when you cook a lot of acidic foods in the pan. Thus, it is better if you avoid cooking acidic foods like simmering tomatoes for making sauce.
Since the cast iron gets extremely hot, we suggest you to avoid cooking delicate dishes like fish as it can break apart easily.
Also, until your pan is seasoned properly, it will be better if you avoid cooking sticky foods like eggs.

4. How do I know that my cast iron skillet require re-seasoning?

After using your pan for a while, you might have to re-season the pan. Sometimes, the seasoning layer becomes thin. One of the first indications that it requires re-seasoning is food starts sticking to the pan or if you the color of the pan turns pale gray. In some cases, you might even notice rust spots.
As a rule, you should re-season your cast iron skillets at least once or twice a year.

5. Is it possible to remove the seasoning from the cast iron skillet?  

Generally, nobody would try to remove the seasoning layers from the skillet but, if you want to remove it, you can keep your pan in the oven on the cleaning cycle. Or, you can place it over the grill till it reaches high temperatures. This way, you can get rid of the seasoning.
Once the seasoning is removed completely, you can use it like a new pan.

6. Is it safe to cook in cast iron cookware?

Yes, it is absolutely safe to cook in cast iron pans. In fact, they are a very healthy alternative to the non-stick pans.
But, if you have any pre-existing health condition or if a new condition arises due to excess intake of iron, you must avoid cooking in the cast iron pans.

7. Why are cast iron pans so costly in India?

If you buy cast iron pans online, they are quite expensive. One of the first reasons behind it is the weight. It is costly for the traders to pack, store, and ship these heavy utensils.

8. Can I use butter in my cast iron pan?

Yes, you can use butter to cook your food. But, if you are planning to season the pan using butter, then the answer is no.

9. Is the rust that forms over cast iron harmful?

A little amount of rust is not harmful. But, the pan is kept like that for a long time, you must clean it properly and season it again.

10. What is the difference between iron and cast iron?

While buying an iron utensil, you must know that they are available in 2 types – cast iron and iron.
Cast iron is made using alloy i.e. mixture of metals. Here, you will get around 97% iron along with 3% carbon and silica.
Iron utensils, on the other hand, are made using whole iron metal.

11. Can I fry chips or other food items in cast iron skillet?

Cast iron cookware is considered best for shallow frying. Shallow frying is a healthy and tasty way of cooking where the food gets cooked evenly, without using excess oil.

12. Some cast iron utensils come with a coating of ceramic. Are they safe to use?

Yes, ceramic-coated cast iron pans are totally safe and healthy to use. This enamel coating provides a non-stick coat to the pan so that you can cook all types of foods without worrying about sticking.

13. What size cast iron skillet is the best?

The standard size that we would recommend is a 10-inch pan. It is the considered the best for baking items like most cake recipes and also cook and sauté meats and vegetables.

14. How to re-season a cast iron skillet?

Scrub skillet well in hot soapy water
Dry thoroughly
Spread a thin layer of melted shortening or vegetable oil over the skillet
Place it upside down on a middle oven rack at 400°
Place foil on a lower rack to catch drips
Bake 1 hour; let it cool in the oven

15. Are cast iron skillets sticky?

Cast iron skillets will act just like non-stick pans, when they are pre-seasoned, and also when you keep seasoning them.
We have discussed about seasoning cast iron skillets in our buying guide. You can refer it to learn more.

16. How can you tell if a cast iron skillet is good or not?

Cast iron skillets are heavy
Their handles will be a part of the pan and not attached with screws
They will not be rusted or discolored
If the surface of the skillet is shiny like Teflon or non-stick then it is not an original item

17. How to maintain a cast iron skillet?

The moment you are done with cooking on your cast iron skillet clean it with warm water. Do not leave it in cold water, as it may rust.
Also, wipe the interior surface with paper towel to remove the extra food and oil.
For further information, go through our ‘Buying Guide’.

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