Cast iron pans are ideal for cooking and baking with some pros and cons. The benefits are that the cast iron is a non-stick surface that can take high heat. I have also read that a small amount of iron will meld into your food which is a health benefit. Cast iron pans, if cared for properly, will out live your other pots and pans. Lastly, they are inexpensive and versatile. However, the disadvantages are that they make it easier to burn yourself, they are heavy and (if not cared for properly) they are susceptible to rust which will require more maintenance. But I feel the pros outweigh the cons.
So how do you take care of cast iron pans to prevent rusting? The answer is to keep the pans adequately seasoned. There are two ways to acquire cast iron pans. You can buy them brand new and chances are good the pans will already be pre-seasoned. Or the other alternative is to buy them used at a yard sale or antiques store. To prevent rusting of your pan, after each use, be sure to hand wash with soapy water, rinse and dry with a paper towel. Season the pan with some canola or similar oil and wipe off excess with a paper towel. Now it’s ready for the next use.
If you buy a rusty cast iron pan or if your pan rusts at some point, do not worry. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Wash cookware with hot, soapy water and avoid scouring pads. However, you can use a soft, gentle brush to clean. If you encounter some stubborn baked on stains, kosher salt is also good for scrubbing.* Then rinse and dry completely. Using a paper towel, apply a thin layer of oil to the entire pan (inside and out). Place the pan upside down in the oven on the upper rack. Beforehand, place a baking sheet lined with foil on the lower rack should any oil drip down. Heat for one hour. Turn off the oven and leave the pan to cool with oven door shut. Once your pan has cooled it is seasoned and ready to go!
So now it begs the questions, what surfaces should I cook on and which foods cook the best using cast iron? Seasoned cast iron pans can be used on all cooking surfaces including your oven and grill. However, do not use them in the microwave. Cast iron is ideal for frying chicken, baking peach cobblers, pan pizza, casseroles like macaroni and cheese, grilled panini sandwiches or baked lasagna to name a few. And lastly, I like to serve my food in a cast iron pan as it makes a wonderful presentation for my guests!
*Never clean cast iron pans in the dishwasher.