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Cooking Essentials: Cast Iron Skillet 101

Master chef: conquering the cast iron skillet If you haven't yet been introduced to the world of cast iron cooking, you're really missing out! This method of cooking is one that people have sworn by for centuries, and for good reason! Cast iron is durable, and if properly cared for, can last for years! It also retains heat well, making it perfect for long-cooking items like stews or braised meats, and features great non-stick qualities perfect for baking items like cake or cobblers! Check out these cooking essentials and buckle up for our crash course on cast iron skillet 101!

Types Of Cast Iron

Cast iron comes in a great variety of designs for just about any cooking method, including Dutch ovens, frying pans, griddles, woks, waffle irons, and more! There are two main types of cast iron cookware, which have their own advantages and disadvantages depending on your needs and maintenance levels!

Bare Cast Iron

Bare cast iron pans are pretty much exactly what they sound like: pans made of cast iron without any coating or enamel. Though they don't possess the nonstick properties that are so popular with Teflon, ceramic, or porcelain pans, cast iron pans develop a great non-stick quality over time, and come with a slew of other benefits including:

  • This type of cast iron retains heat really well, and keeps the heat even so food cooks better.

  • They can withstand high temperatures efficiently, making them great for searing and frying!

  • Bare cast iron is naturally non-stick, although you sometimes have to work to get it to that point.

  • Studies show that true cast iron can add a significant amount of dietary iron to foods, depending on the water content, acidity, cook time, and how old the cookware is.

  • It's fairly inexpensive—you can get quality cast iron pots and pans for a price comparable to cheap and mid-range cookware!

Bare cast iron skillet Bare cast iron isn't without its disadvantages, however, but luckily these factors are a matter of personal preference when deciding if bare cast iron is right for you!

  • For optimal cooking and preservation, bare cast iron must be seasoned to reserve non-stick qualities and to prevent rusting.

  • Rust will occur if you don't keep your pan seasoned. On the bright side, even if rust develops, you can remove it fairly easily and season the pan again to prevent it from coming back!

  • Cast iron is pretty heavy, which is definitely something to consider when traveling in an RV! Since you'll have to account for the weight in your GVWR (gross vehicle weight rating), depending on the size of your RV, you may have to limit your cast iron arsenal to just one or two pans.

  • Pans can potentially damage glass or ceramic cooktops if you're not careful.

Enamel Cast Iron

Enamel cast iron is very similar to regular cast iron, but has a nice coating that provides these pans with their own advantages and downfalls, but again, it's more of a personal preference!

  • Does less damage to stovetops than bare cast iron can, although the risk is still there.

  • You don't have to worry about seasoning, as the enamel provides a great non-stick surface that makes them easy to clean, much more so than regular cast iron.

  • They do not rust, as they are not susceptible to damage from moisture, so you can boil water in them, soak them for cleaning, and they can go in the dishwasher!

  • This type comes in a variety of fun shapes and colors, adding a little more fun to your kitchen!

Enamel cast iron skillet Consider these disadvantages as well when considering what type of cast iron is best for you:

  • You shouldn't use enamel cast iron for campfire cooking, as high temperatures can damage this type of pan. If you want to use this type in your RV's kitchen, it will still work great, however, but you'll want to avoid high-temperature cooking like searing and frying.

  • Because of the layer of enamel, these pans will not add a substantial amount of iron to foods like bare cast iron can. This is actually an advantage to those who have hemochromatosis, a surplus of iron in the blood.

  • Enamel cast iron is considerably more expensive than non-coated cast iron, sometimes costing hundreds of dollars versus anywhere from $20—$100 for bare cast iron.

  • If you're not careful or if your enamel cast iron has some years on it, you'll have to watch for chipping in the enamel.

Seasoning Cast Iron Pans

If you choose to go with bare cast iron, which is better for campfire cooking, you'll need to make sure that you keep the pan seasoned to avoid rusting and to preserve its non-stick quality! No, this doesn't mean sprinkling salt and pepper on your pan, but rather coating your pan in a thin layer of fat to keep it protected! These fats and oils polymerize, creating handy non-stick capabilities! Be sure to check before you cook for the first time, as many cast iron pans come pre-seasoned so that you won't have to worry about seasoning it before using it! After some use, if you start to see the dull quality of the iron, or cook with acidic foods like tomatoes, it'll be time to season your bare cast iron pan! Here's how! How do I season my cast iron skillet?

How To Season Cast Iron

  1. Scrub your pan in hot, soapy water. This removes oils and impurities from the surface! If rust is present, use an oiled piece of steel wool to scrub it away, along with any crust that may be present.

  2. Make sure the pan is dried completely, then add a light layer of oil, shortening, or any type of fat on the pan, coating the entire surface area, even the outside. This helps to prevent rust from forming! If you're coating an older pan, use fat with a smoke point higher than 350 degrees, like lard, canola oil, or vegetable-based shortening.

  3. Place the pan upside-down in the oven set at 200-250 degrees (350 for old pans). Place another pan or layer of foil on the lower rack to catch oil.

  4. Bake for 15 minutes (1 hour for old pans), then let the pan cool down while remaining in the oven.

Using Cast Iron On a Campfire

As with campfire cooking in general, you'll have to come up with a new strategy for cooking with cast iron on your campfire! It's not terribly difficult, and the results will be delicious! Here's how!

  1. Get a fire going and let it burn for at least an hour. You'll want a good amount of hot coals for cooking!

  2. Find four rocks, about the size of a softball, with tops as flat as you can find to help keep the pan stable. Set your pan on the rocks before putting them on the coals to make sure that the pan will sit level.

  3. Use a poker or stick to move coals to the desired cooking area. You'll want to build your fire strategically, as you'll need an area with coals for cooking, but you'll also want to keep the campfire going to produce more hot coals during cook time. If you want a lower temperature, use fewer coals, and more coals for a higher temperature.

  4. Place the rocks in the coals so they sit evenly, and set your pot/pan on the rocks. If the temperature starts to lower, scrape the cooled coals out from under the pot and replace with hot ones!

Cooking food over a campfire using a cast iron skillet

Cleaning Bare Cast Iron

To keep the seasoning on your cast iron pan for as long as possible, you'll have to be sure to clean it properly to avoid excessive moisture buildup and to keep that non-stick layer intact! There are a few different opinions on how to clean cast iron. Some say that you should never wash pots or pans, and instead you should simply wipe out the pan really well with a towel or rag. Others say that rinsing it with hot water and scrubbing with a stiff brush is best. Still other people believe that cleaning with mild soap and water and applying a thin coat of oil afterward is optimal. Another strategy is to use coarse salt and a clean rag to scrub out a dirty pan. When in doubt, consult the packaging that came with your pan or check the manufacturer's website to see what they recommend for your particular pan. Again, it also depends on what you're comfortable doing, and how your pan responds to certain cleaning techniques! How do I clean my cast iron skillet?

Things To Remember For Cast Iron Cooking

  • Always use metal, wood, or high-temperature silicone utensils, not plastic (avoid metal utensils on enamel cast iron).

  • Use a pot holder, oven mitt, or high heat-resistant material when handling cast iron, and use trivets on tabletops—pans get HOT!

  • Avoid strong detergent, the dishwasher, and scouring pads on bare cast iron. They will damage the pan and can remove seasoning quickly!

  • DO NOT use cast iron in the microwave!

  • Keep bare cast iron pans dry to avoid rusting.

  • When storing cast iron, layer with something in between to protect the cooking surface to help prevent damage and the seasoning from flaking off! Even a simple paper towel will do.

Take caution when using your cast iron skillet What do you think about cast iron cooking? Hopefully this informative guide to cast iron cooking will help you decide if these pans will be part of your camping cooking essentials! Do you have any other tips, tricks, or advice when it comes to cast iron cookware? Leave us a comment to share your knowledge!