Cooking with a Cast Iron Skillet

About a year or more ago, I began researching how to cook with a cast iron skillet. The charm of cast iron was presented while I was shopping for a solid but affordable wok. Cooks constantly touted cast iron as the material of choice for a skillet or wok. What I wanted to know was why? Why are cast iron skillets better for cooking than the moderately priced Calphalon stainless steel skillets in my 3 year old set? For Christmas 2011, I received 2 cast iron skillets, and in the past month, have seen the flavor enhancing and even cooking abilities of an American household staple. My initial searches for "best cast iron skillet" and the like directed me towards 2 varieties of skillets (both no longer manufactured): a Griswold stamped with Erie on the bottom and a Wagner. And in the luckiest of circumstances, I received one of each for Christmas!

Wagner Cast Iron Skillet
Griswold Cast Iron Skillet

The important features I read to look for in a cast iron skillet:

  • sits flat
  • does not have hot spots
  • thick enough sides and bottom (to assist with the above)

The great features I've noticed when cooking with the cast iron skillets:

  • eggs come out tasting better and rarely make a sticky mess in the pan, scrambled, fried or otherwise
  • steak, chicken and fish can form a tasty crust without going to a full on sear
  • the heat doesn't drop way off as soon as you pick the skillet up to turn or toss

A few things to watch out for when using a cast iron skillet:

  • it's OK to rinse and clean out the cast iron skillet with warm water, just don't leave it in the drying rack to dry (towel dry or dry on the burner)
  • cast iron skillets are heavy, so excessive lifting and shaking may wear on your joints
  • don't pour cold water on a hot skillet (it may crack)
  • washing under hot water will heat the skillet enough to burn any hand holding it