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Cast Iron A Go-To Cookware For Outdoor Cooking

Cast Iron A Go-To Cookware For Outdoor Cooking

There’s a good reason why cast-iron cookware conjures up images of cooking over a fire or outdoors on the grill. You see a black cast iron Dutch oven and instantly imagine chili cooking on the fire by the chow wagon on a cattle drive. If a cast iron frying pan is displayed on the wall of a cabin kitchen, you get a sense that you are roughing it. That perception, however, has historic significance, but is out of touch with today’s campers and RVers who still use these heavy, black metal pans.

Cast iron cookware has been used for decades, even centuries. The first cooking vessels made from cast iron date to 220 A.D., first used during the Han Dynasty in China. Europe followed, with casting techniques evolving over the centuries, with the 18th and 19th centuries noted as the boom periods for cast iron cookware for everyday use. First designed to be used in a hearth, either suspended over the fire by a handle or perched on molded legs in the ashes or in the fire, new designs came into popularity. Modern developments have moved home cooks away from cast iron in the 1950's and 1960's, although some continue to prefer these tried and true cookware.

Cast-iron is made from iron and steel that is melted together. Other steps in the process include using chemicals to raise the carbon level, molding the molten materials into shape, then finally smoothed before it is ready to be sold.

This process makes this cookware efficient to cook at higher temperatures and retain heat longer when removed from the heat source. It resists warping caused by exposure to high heat because it is metal, and it’s thick. Cast iron is also durable, proven by the fact that many skillets and Dutch ovens from the 1700's and 1800's are still in use. Even cast iron cookware that has been neglected for years can be brought back to useable condition easily.

There are no harmful chemicals like those that can come from Teflon-coated surfaces. In fact, cast iron provides a health benefit. According to an American Dietetic Association study, iron from the pots leaches into foods which ups the iron levels in the body. Lack of iron causes anemia. The recommended daily amount of iron recommended for women is 18 mg and using cast iron can contribute to this iron intake.

Cast iron is also versatile. It is commonly used for searing and frying and works well with recipes that require longer cooking times, such as stews. It can even be used to bake cornbread and cobbler.

One of the ways to get the non-stick benefits in a cast iron skillet or pan is to make sure it is seasoned. This process makes the cooking surface non-stick, aids in clean up and keeps the pans stain and rust free.

Seasoning involves coating the pan inside and out with a layer of lard, or cooking oil. Include the handle too. The pan is then placed upside down in a pre-heated 350-degree oven for 60 minutes. Then, turn off the oven, letting the pan cool inside the oven. Some cast iron sold today is enameled and these pieces do not need to be seasoned, although some cooks prefer to add extra protection with the seasoning process. Seasoning is not a one-and-done chore for cast iron cookware. Seasoning cookware on a regular basis keeps it usable for a long time.

There are other things to remember when using cast iron that will preserve its use over time.

Don’t use harsh detergent to clean your cast iron cookware. It should also not be placed in a dishwasher and put away that scouring pad. A simple wipe or scrubbing with a soft bristle brush, soap and water should be all that’s needed to remove food from the cooking surfaces. Another washing technique is to scrub with coarse salt followed by wiping with a paper towel or clean cloth.

Dry it thoroughly. Because it is metal any spot of water can cause it to rust, even if it has been well seasoned. Experts recommend drying with a towel and then heating it on the stove for a few minutes. This will quickly evaporate any left-over water and keep the skillet or other pot rust-free.

With proper care and regular use, cast iron cookware is a good choice for those campfire meals as well those prepared on the grill. Use it in the oven or on the stove top, too. Versatility is cast iron’s calling card.

Aug 19th 2020 Lois Tomaszewski

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