Cast iron, once a common material for pots and pans, has tended in recent years to be used most visibly by either pro chefs or campers. Now it’s trending again in this fall’s kitchenware product previews.
Options range from basic skillets to grill pans to pots both diminutive (for sauces) and expansive (for stews and soups).
Beyond durability, cast iron’s big selling point is heat retention. But bear in mind that it doesn’t heat evenly initially, so always let the pan come to the needed temperature before adding ingredients. That way, you’ll get a nice crisp sear and a consistent cook with your cast iron.
New finishing methods are improving the wearability and performance of cast iron.
Today, makers like Finex in Portland, Ore., smooth and polish the pans’ interiors so that eggs and sauces don’t stick. An ergonomically designed, coiled-spring, wrapped-steel handle stays cooler than traditional handles. Cast-iron lids provide a flavor seal for steaming, simmering and braising.
Williams-Sonoma stocks the French brand Staub: There’s a red or blue-enameled two-handled skillet that goes nicely from stovetop or oven to table, and a glass-lidded braiser in black, grenadine or sapphire. Also at the retailer: a little iron saucepot with a platform base, designed to use on grills.
Seasoning is key to optimizing cast iron’s performance; it helps “cure” the iron so food doesn’t stick, and over time helps impart layers of flavor.
To season a new pan yourself, lightly wash it as directed, then add a tablespoon of oil and massage it thoroughly into the iron, wiping any excess with a paper towel. Place the pan in an oven at 350 degrees Fahrenheit and let it “bake” for about an hour. Remove and wipe off any excess oil before using or storing.
You can buy pre-seasoned pans, which just need a little refresh once in a while.
While some people prefer not to use soap and water to clean cast iron, thinking it removes the oil coating, Serious Eats’ chief culinary consultant Kenji Lopez-Alt says it’s fine to do so.
“The one thing you shouldn’t do? Let it soak in the sink,” he says. “Try to minimize the time it takes from when you start cleaning to when you dry and re-season your pan.”