Homesteading, Organic Gardening, How to Farm, Preparedness, Self-Reliance
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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