Cast iron cookware—an excellent choice for practical preppers

The Practical Prepper

With a fair amount of concern about whether non-stick coatings on modern cookware is healthy or not (e.g., this Consumer Report article), it's nice to know that the is a reliable and healthy alternative: cast-iron cookware.

Why choose cast iron? First, it's well known for its heat retention and ability to cook evenly. Aside from that, it's very durable. With proper care, cast iron can last generations. That means that you might be able to use cast iron from your parents or grandparents, but also that you can pass your cast iron on to your grandchildren.

As mentioned it's necessary to properly care for your cast iron in order to keep it well seasoned. Seasoning (or curing as some people call it) involves baking oil into the pores of the iron. This prevents rusting and provides a natural, non-stick cooking surface.

Unlike the questionable synthetic coatings of non-stick cookware, it is possible to maintain, and even restore, the seasoned cooking surface of cast iron. It is very important to replenish the seasoning by applying a thin layer of oil to the cast iron after each cleaning. Seasoning must be maintained through an ongoing process. The good news is that the more you use your cast iron, the more the seasoning is improved.

To season your cast iron, you can use standard vegetable or canola oil. We've also used a Camp Chef's cast-iron conditioner to season our cookware, which is 100-percent food grade palm oil.

Another part of protecting the cooking surface of the cast iron is how you treat it while cooking and cleaning up afterward. Generally, we use only wood, silicone, or high-temperature plastic utensils to avoid scratching the cooking surface.

And, if your cast iron gets a little rough-looking, you can easily re-season it. We've written a pretty thorough post on how to re-season used cast iron cookware in 12 easy steps, which is available on the Self-Reliant Info blog. That post is very helpful for cleaning up and re-seasoning any inherited cast iron, or pieces that you find in garage or estate sales (both good ways to get nice cast iron for a low cost).

When cleaning up, we avoid detergent, harsh chemicals, or scouring pads. Occasionally, we might use a little mild dish soap to help, but we avoid that as much as possible in order to avoid removing the seasoning. Basically, we just use hot water and a sponge to clean the cooking surface. Of course, wiping the cast iron out while it's still hot and washing it as soon as it cools off is ideal, so that the food doesn't dry on.

Another great feature of cast iron is that it can be used with a variety of heat sources. It can be used on either gas or electric cook tops. We've read that it can be used on ceramic- or glass-top stoves, but we've been leery of that. Cast iron can also be used in ovens or on grills. Plain (non-enameled) cast iron is also very versatile for prepping, since it can be used in coals and over an open fire.

When using our cast iron, we avoid cooking only foods which are very acidic (i.e. beans, tomatoes, citrus juices, etc.). Cooking high-acid ingredients on their own will likely result in metallic-tasting food and can result in damage to the seasoning. Cast iron must be highly seasoned to successfully cook these types of foods.

It's also important to use your cast iron as much as you can to get practiced in how it cooks. That's doubly important for alternative methods of heating, such as over an open fire, or using charcoal. Fortunately, you can find cast iron cooking recipes on Self-Reliant Info, like easy cast iron skillet biscuits, milk- and wheat-free bread, or no-knead, whole-wheat bread. You can also find more information on cast-iron cooking and related recipes in any number of books on the topic .

Have you done much cooking with cast iron? If so, please share your advice or experiences, along with your favorite cast iron cooking recipes!



Believing that preparedness and self-reliance are key to individual freedom, Atticus Freeman is the founder of the Self-Reliant Info blog, in addition to authoring The Practical Prepper weekly blog here on Farm Dreams. Thanks for reading! 

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Tags: alternative, cast, cooking, cookware, iron, preparedness, recipes, seasoning

Comment by Kristin Griffin on April 14, 2012 at 5:02pm

I'm hooked on cast iron and a lot of people say they'd like to use it but are afraid of the clean-up. Normally, after serving but before the pan has cooled, I put water in it and simmer while we eat. When we're done all I have to do is dump the water and dry off with a dark towel and it's clean. But if I've been lazy or if something has gotten stuck I take my coffee grounds for the day and a rag, scour it with the grounds and rinse. The grounds don't scratch it and they leave a bit of oil making it nice and shiny for the next use. I've heard to use salt, but this gives the grounds a second-life before being tossed into the compost.

Comment by Andrea G on April 16, 2012 at 11:32pm

I use my cast iron on my glass-top stove and have never had a problem.  I am very careful to place the pan on the stove gently and not slam it down.  I got most of my cast iron from my mother-in-law.  She got a glass-top stove and was afraid to use the cast iron on it.

Comment by Atticus Freeman on April 17, 2012 at 8:42pm

Hi Kristin, thanks for commenting! (I apologize for the delayed response.) Coffee grounds... what an interesting idea! As you mentioned, we use salt. The grounds seem like a logical alternative. Do you have any issues with the grounds affecting the flavor of the next meal?

Comment by Atticus Freeman on April 17, 2012 at 8:46pm

Hi Andrea! An awesome way to get some cast iron! (I've gotten a couple of my pieces from my parents' old camping gear.) Thanks for sharing about the glasstop stove. I'd like to try it, but my wife has threatened me with grievous bodily harm if I damage the cooktop. (Plus, I'd have to replace it, to boot!)  

Comment by Elizabeth Seymour on April 20, 2012 at 12:10pm

I have LOTS of cast iron cookware which I inherited from my sweet father who passed just recently. But I was looking to expanded to a few pieces that I didn't have so I bought a "Lodge" cast iron griddle. Well, I’ve never had brand new cast iron cookware so maybe I’m just spoiled but this new stuff is not very impressive. The cooking surface of the griddle is gritty and is hard to clean even after a good seasoning. After I discovered this fact, I noticed that all the new-in-the-store Lodge cast iron cookware is gritty on the cooking surface. I’ve only had the griddle for a few months so maybe it will just take time to wear off, but I tend to not use the Lodge because the very bumpy cooking surface is so hard to clean.  Has anyone had similar experiences or maybe some suggestions?




Comment by Atticus Freeman on April 21, 2012 at 1:48pm

Hi Elizabeth! Thanks for the comments! I have a mixture of old and new cast iron too. The main difference is that some cast iron in the past was machined after the casting process, which provides the smooth surface that is preferable.

Honestly, I've had pretty good luck with the new Lodge Dutch oven and Camp Chef bread loaf pan that I've purchased. Will both pieces, cleanup has gone well and I've been pleased with the results.

If you want to read a lot more about using and caring for cast iron, check out this page from Paul Wheaton's permaculture site: 

Comment by Elizabeth Seymour on April 21, 2012 at 5:52pm

Yup.... I know Paul. He doesn't live too far from me (about 2.5 hours). Actually, I should say that I'm a big fan of his and am really excited that his has been able to bring Sepp Holzer here to Whitefish next month!

Thanks for the link. I'm familier with the care of cast iron but just not too impressed with the Lodge stuff.



Comment by Atticus Freeman on April 22, 2012 at 12:22pm

I do like the fact that Lodge's "regular" cast iron is made in America. Their enameled cast iron, which might be (arguably) easier to use and clean, is unfortunately made in China. On their website, they insist that their enameled cast iron is monitored and regulated, and is safe to use.

All other modern cast iron (including Camp Chef) is made outside the US, so far as I know. IMO, that's another argument for finding good used cast iron.

Comment by Kristin Griffin on May 2, 2012 at 7:01pm

Sorry for the delay. No, the coffee grounds don't add flavor as far as I can tell.

Comment by Dianne Finnegan on September 3, 2012 at 11:42am

I Love my cast iron cook ware.  I started with a pan I found for FREE at a yard sale ending.  I then bought a LARGE Lodge pan since I like to cook large amounts for company, I got a grill pan when one mysteriously broke (how do you break cast iron when it's not being used?)  This lead to several more pots and kettles for Christmas last year - I actually told my husban I needed a "special bean pot" to make him pork n beans .  Just yesterday I found a used frypan for 25 cents at a yard sale.  I can't say enough about how much I love my cast iron.  I hardly ever use my other pans anymore except a few pots I have for cooking pasta etc. . .

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