The Cast Iron: A Chef’s Best Friend

If you ever want to get a chef talking, ask about cast iron pans (ideally after handing them a drink). The trusty steed of the kitchen, I’d go as far as to say a chef has a relationship with their cast iron. They have strong opinions on what to do with it, how to treat it right, what its favorite song is–you get the idea. Chefs take their irons seriously, as they should: it’s less of a pan and more of a lifelong investment in their future. 

I sat down with Truffle Shuffle Studio Chefs and cast iron enthusiasts Connie and Tucker to get the insider scoop on the elusive cast iron. I cover all the important topics: the best cast iron pan on the market, how to properly care for your cast iron, and whether or not it’s even worth the investment (spoiler alert: it is).

Scroll to see their insider’s guide to the wonderful world of cast iron pans!

Why invest in a cast iron pan?

Cast iron pans are prized for a few reasons: 

  • They’re durable: sturdy and virtually indestructible if you take care of them, your cast iron will last you a lifetime.
  • They’re hot: and, just as importantly, stay hot. Kick up the stove to high to act like a griddle or plancha in your home kitchen, giving you that perfect high, even heat for a golden brown & delicious sear.
  • They’re versatile: both oven and stovetop safe, you can use your cast iron for everything from pan-searing to baking bread to roasting chicken. Plus, if you take care of your cast iron (see “How to Clean your Cast Iron” below), it will even have non-stick properties.
  • They’re the “seasoned” pan for the seasoned professional: over time, any fat you’ve added to your cast iron as you cook creates a layer of nonstick deliciousness in your pan, making cooking not only easier but tastier too. Think cast iron cornbread: a lot of the best flavors come from the delicious dishes you made over the years! It’s like flipping through a memory book for your palate. Pretty cool if you think about it! 

But before you run to your kitchen and throw away all your non-sticks, there are a few dishes we wouldn’t cook in our cast irons.

What Not to Cook in a Cast Iron Pan

  • Eggs & fish: sticky and smelly, eggs and fish are best enjoyed fresh, and less appealing flavorings over time. Stick to teflon. 

What are the best cast iron pans?

  • For a workhorse | Lodge Cast Iron Pans: Super durable and tried and true, this is the pan you’ll see most chefs cooking with at restaurants (and on our live cooking classes)! 
    • Pros: durable, affordable 
    • Cons: slightly more work to take care of, not as pretty
  • For a splurge | Staub or Le Creuset: The porcelain enamel coating is not only good-looking, its functional too: these cast irons don’t require seasoning at the bottom.  
    • Pros: good looking, less work to clean 
    • Cons: can chip, expensive

How to Season a Cast Iron Pan

The first step in your cast iron journey is to season: even if a company boasts a pre-seasoned pan, it’s always worth getting off on the right foot and seasoning your cast iron before you cook with it.

But before we get to it, in case you’re wondering what seasoning means for cast iron pans, it’s simply a slick layer of oil and fat that bonds to your pan when it’s heated (aka when you cook) and gives it a nonstick coating. 

To season a cast iron pan: 

  1. Preheat your oven to 500F.
  2. Coat the entire pan, outside and all, in a thin layer of neutral oil like canola or grapeseed. 
  3. Place in your oven, upside down, for one hour.
  4. Repeat any time your pan looks dry.

How to Clean a Cast Iron 

I’ll get the big question out of the way: while old school chefs may throw you out of the kitchen at the first sight of soap, modern cast iron pans can handle a small amount of gentle soap and a very gentle scrub. 

Okay, now that’s out of the way, the most important thing is to always clean your cast iron right away. You’ll need to get off any carbon or burned bits in your cast iron before cooking with it again:

  1. Give it a nice rinse under hot water. 
  2. Dry and set on your stove. Turn the heat to high and allow any stuck pieces of food to completely burn. 
  3. Add 2-3 tablespoons of salt and use a paper towel to scrub the salt into the cast iron pan. This will both absorb any extra grease and work as an abrasive, getting rid of any stubborn bits. 
  4. Rub a small amount of neutral oil over the cast iron–including the handle and underside if it’s uncoated. One common mistake in caring for a cast iron is to leave the underside unlubed, causing rusting. 
  5. If your pan is particularly dirty, you can use a small amount of gentle soap, like dawn, and carefully scrub away any grittiness (they even make special brushes for this).

The Fun Part! How to Use a Cast Iron Pan 

Cinnamon rolls! Dutch babies! Bread! Meat! Connie’s California Cheesesteak (recipe here!)!  Cornbread! Puerto Rican Chicken Stew at the Beach! Fried Rice! Tacos! Steak! Fried Chicken! Pork Belly!

SO. MUCH. DELICIOUSNESS. Can be achieved in a cast iron. I’ll leave the rest to you, Chef! 

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