A cast iron pan is staple equipment in any busy kitchen, professional or domestic. These heavy, durable items don’t tend to come cheap but are a serious kitchen investment. They are made according to a rather simple, low tech concept that needs little updating because the basic heat retention properties of cast iron are hard to beat. Modern cast iron cookware is forged in the appropriate shape and given a non-stick coating, and often enamelled on the outside in decorative colours.
Cast iron pans are also popular for their versatile applications – they can be used on any heat source including gas, coil electric, vitroceramic and induction hobs or on ranges fired by wood, gas, coal or oil and in the oven.
Although the purchase cost can be higher than some more modern materials, cast iron pans rarely need to be used on a high heat, with lower or medium heat settings suitable for most cooking needs including searing and frying. The pan will heat up relatively slowly but once cooking temperature is reached the heat will be retained for a long time and be evenly distributed.
Make sure you match the size of the pan to the heat source, avoiding overhangs. This cooks more efficiently and avoids overheating the sides of the pan. Even so, remember that the handles of cast iron pans can get very hot so you should use an oven glove or other protection for your hands when moving the pans.
Can you put cast iron pans in the dishwasher?
Many pans are sold as dishwasher safe these days, particularly enamelled models, but you should follow manufacturers’ instructions. Traditionally hot soapy water or even just a wipe with a cloth are considered the best way to care for your cast iron. Remember that a true cast iron surface will need seasoning annually to retain its properties.
Your essential cast iron pans
If you can’t afford to buy a complete set of cast iron cookware, you can buy piece by piece and add to your collection slowly. Arguably your first essential purchase would be a round grill pan. These are suitable for dry frying so cooking is healthy and can be used for a variety of kitchen staples, even to bake a pie. You will use it on the hob top, in the oven and under the grill. Its non-stick surface will only get better with age and the robust manufacture makes it almost indestructible. Wares of Knutsford’s 24cm version is an ideal starting point.
With Christmas coming up, a cast iron pan makes a great gift for foodies.