One of my Christmas presents this year was a set of three cast iron skillets of different sizes. I've been wanting to try cooking with cast iron for awhile, so I was particularly excited to get Christmas dinner started on one of those.
Mine came preseasoned, thank goodness. You see, I'm pretty intimidated by cast iron. There are so many instructions! So many things you're supposed to do! So many things you're not supposed to do!
For instance, you're supposed to preheat them slowly, starting on low heat before moving up to the temperature you want. Because they're heavy, they take longer to preheat than my old teflon pan does. You're also supposed to heat them on a burner before putting them away, to make sure they're completely dry. If you have a glass-top stove, which I do, you can't scootch them across the stove - you have to lift them and set them down carefully.
You can't use any metal implements on them. You can't pour cold water on them when they're hot. You can't soak 'em. You can't scour 'em. You can't use soap on 'em. In fact, pretty much everything that actually works to get gunk off, you can't use.
After a few battles to get off gravy with nothing but lukewarm water and a soft rag, I made a new rule: they are only for dry things. Sauces are just too dang much trouble and I can do them in a pot.
What does work well in my cast iron? Steak. Pancakes. Corn pone and cornbread. Crepes. And no greasing is required. As someone who used to have to add more butter before each pancake to keep them from sticking, I do appreciate that. Though I don't like to test fate, either, so I oil them lightly before most uses.
My major fail, though, was eggs. John made me fried eggs in the big skillet that turned out perfectly. So I got daring and tried scrambled the next week. And you know how every time you try to scramble an egg, you look away for one second and when you look back, the eggs are cooked to the pan? Yeah. That happened.
So I tried all of the approved methods. Immediate cold water is called for with cooked-on eggs, but that's not allowed with cast-iron. So I let it cool down on its own and then tried to wash it with a soft rag and no soap. No luck. Another tip was to scour with salt. That got some off, but left a lot. I had heard to boil water in the pan to loosen cooked-on food, but that of course made it worse. I scraped a lot off with my fingernails. And then I said "What the heck" and soaked it for awhile.
When I came back, there was a bit of rust forming. What?! So I dumped the water out, scoured the egg, seasoning, AND rust off the pan and set to reseason it. I rubbed it with oil (olive, because that's what I had) and put it in the oven for an hour at 350. It made the whole house smell, like melting plastic, but it seemed to have worked. Until I touched it later and found it was now sticky. Apparently I had used too much oil. So I heated up the pan and wiped it down with a paper towel. Now it's only a little bit sticky. Sigh.
I'll admit it: those pans are high-maintanence. They're fussy. But I don't think I care to go back to making cornbread any other way. The brown crust it forms is just too good. Crepes that don't stick are another plus, one I've never achieved with another pan. And it is nice to be able to cook a steak just right without it sticking or being drowned in oil. I like the way they can go from the stovetop to the oven, and the way they keep the food warm while you're setting the table.
So, they're worth the trouble. But for eggs and anything sticky or saucy, I'm keeping my old pan. There may be a way my cast-iron could handle those, but I think I would get grey hair trying to find out the secret.
Do you use cast iron? How do you like it?