Cast iron cookware has been seeing something of a resurgence of late, and I for one am pretty pleased about it! After decades of non-stick pots and pans being all the rage, it’s nice to see something that is actually built to last being made more widely available. Of course, those “in the know” who have been using cast iron for years know just how well good quality cookware should wear. In fact you might be using your grand-mother’s hand-me-downs, and if you are, I for one am not just a little jealous!
If, however, you are considering buying new cast iron items for the kitchen, what should you look for? How much should you pay? And which brands will produce the results you want? Hold on to your hats then, for the Cast Iron Cookware Buyers Guide…
There are several things to consider and the first one is just how suitable cast iron is going to be for your style of cooking:
Benefits of Cast Iron Cookware
- Cast iron can take and maintain very high temperatures making it perfect for quickly searing or frying foods, such as my favorite sea-food pasta.
- Because it holds the heat over a long time (and evenly) it is equally at home when creating slow cooked braised or stewed dishes.
- Cared for correctly the surface will develop a non-stick surface making it able to deal with even the stickiest scrambled eggs.
- As small quantities of iron will leach out of the pot into your food, cooking in cast-iron is perfect for those with low iron levels.
- Long lasting – if you buy reasonable quality cast iron there is no reason for it not to last at least for your life-time.
- Price – simple bare cast iron isn’t really cheap, but compared to the price of equivalent quality stainless steel or non-stick pans it is a far more economical choice.
- Useful in the modern kitchen because cast iron will cope with all types of stove top and oven.
Draw-Backs Associated with Cast Iron in the Kitchen
- The weight is significant. This is part of the reason such pots and pans last a long time and stand up to serious heat, but it is a consideration if injury or illness mean your wrists are particularly weak.
- To maintain that non-stick seasoning you do have to be a little more careful how you treat these heavy pots and pans. You don’t want to scratch the surface, so wooden or silicon utensils are best, and the washing up needs to be done with some care (and no scourer).
- Rust can form if the surface is left damp, particularly if the seasoning is lost.
- The iron that is added to your foods using such cookware is not quite such a benefit if you already suffer from inflated iron levels, such as associated with haemochromatosis.
- The look of traditional bare cast iron is not to everyone’s taste. Personally I love a little bit of rustic charm added to my modern kitchen, but I know others eschew the idea of such basic looking items in their kitchen.
- Whilst enamelled cast iron (such as that produced by Le Creuset) is a good juice if you want to brighten up the kitchen, it comes without the same non-stick and iron giving properties of bare cast iron. And, of course there is a significant price-tag associated with such stylish cookware.
The Best Cast Iron Cookware
Of course the “best of anything” is always a little subjective, but we do try to give you the low-down on the names to look for when choosing your kitchen tools. There are many names well-known for offering cast iron pans, casseroles and skillets, but quality and price vary hugely. And, a company that is fantastic at producing one item, might be far less adept at producing another. This is why you need to decide just what kind of finish you are looking for (bare, or enamelled) before you hit the shops.
With this in mind we bring you the best few names to look for (and some details on which cookware they really excel at:
1. Best Traditional Cast Iron Cookware – Lodge Pre-Seasoned
Lodge are real winners in terms of both price, and quality but for the very best deals, you might want to plan on sticking with their bare pre-seasoned cast iron cookware. It is made traditionally in the US and though extremely cheap, will probably out-live you!
The pre-seasoning involves the cookware simply being covered in a vegetable oil and baked at a high temperature. This means you shouldn’t need to season at home. But, seasoning (whether done in a factory or at home) is liable to fail if the pots are not looked after correctly. Not that this is really a problem as re-seasoning is simply a matter of re-applying oil and baking in the oven at home.
Choosing traditional cast iron allows you the versatility of being able to cook in, or on just about anything (including the camp-fire), and at any temperature.
The company do produce brightly colored enamelled cast iron ware too. This, however is produced (still using traditional methods) in China. It isn’t bad quality (and it has been tested to confirm it is lead free and up to FDA standards), but there is no getting away from the fact that the French do enameled cast iron quite a lot better! Whilst many customers confirm they are more than happy with their cut price pots, a significant number report problems with the enamel chipping. To be fair, this is always a risk, and one reason why you should only choose enameled cast iron if you are prepared to treat it gently. But, it seems that Lodge can produce enamel better than other budget ranges, but not quite on a par with Le Creuset.
What Lodge really excel at, is basic, affordable and above all durable pre-seasoned cast iron. The chances are you won’t be looking to buy a whole range of cast iron pieces anyway. Key items that are worth investing in, include Lodge Dutch ovens, skillets and woks. But their range is enormous, and you are likely to find something to suit your shiny kitchen or camp-site. Particularly useful are their Dutch ovens with lids that will double as a skillet.
For those wanting a little more style there is a professional range, featuring stainless steel handles that will stay a lot cooler, but to be honest for me at least it has to be the traditional and rustic look of the more simple Lodge cast iron cookware; the Logic pre-seasoned range.
2. Best Enameled Cast Iron – Le Creuset Cookware
Of course, we have to include Le Creuset in our top picks of cast iron kitchen stuff. The company produce a vast array of products today, including a lot of stoneware, which is very pretty but perhaps a little over-priced. Their enameled cast iron products however are quite honestly second to none.
The two “issues” you might have is that a) they are pretty expensive, and b) the lid’s knob is not safe in a hot oven. My answer to both is that a) you should keep your eyes peeled for special offers, and keep the brand firmly on your Christmas list, and b) buy a stainless steel knob to go with any Dutch oven purchased so that the whole thing can go into a very hot oven without worry.
Key to their success is the quality of enamel used. This is far stronger and harder to chip than anything else I have laid eyes on. Frankly my Le Creuset skillet is a total work-horse, being used virtually every day, and being washed up and put away by a less than delicate bloke on an almost daily basis. So far, he has yet to make a mark on it which only goes to prove (to me at least) that these are particularly tough items for the kitchen!
Key Le Creuset items to look out for are skillets, casseroles and griddles. Remember these aren’t going to cope on an open camp-fire, but the extremely tight fit of the lid will give you far superior results when slow cooking on the stove or in the oven.
Cast Iron Cookware Best Price
Well, with even our budget best buy, the price of cast iron cookware can sometimes be a little off-putting. Remember though, that if you buy the right item it will be versatile enough to serve several purposes, and made well enough to keep on working for years and years.
Also, if you stick with reputable brands such as Le Creuset and Lodge you are likely to find significant savings offered from time to time. I have to be honest I won’t pay full price for Le Creuset, but that’s because I don’t need too. Every few months amazon announce reductions across the range, which are often pretty good. But also, both these brands are of high enough quality to make buying second hand a good choice too.