In this “Ask Marti Davis Afield” segment, Marti describes how to get started using cast iron cookware, in Cast Iron Cookware 101.
I’ve been visiting some antiques shops and flea markets. I’ve noticed quite a bit of cast iron in some of the booths. I remembered one of your past columns you wrote about Dutch oven cooking. What about using cast iron in the kitchen?
Cookin’ with Gas in Chillicothe
Cast iron cookware isn’t just for outdoor cooking. In recent years, there has been a resurgence of interest in buying and using cast iron cookware. While some people are buying vintage pieces for their collections, others are buying new and vintage cookware to use on their stovetops and in their ovens. A lucky few are using vintage pieces that are decades or even hundreds of years old, passed down from family members. Cast iron cookware has actually been cooking humans’ dinners for more than 2,500 years.
There are several benefits to cooking with cast iron. With proper seasoning, the surface becomes naturally non-stick. Commercial non-stick cookware emits toxic fumes and if damaged can flake and peel-off, contaminating food.
Cast iron’s natural seasoning also makes for easy cleanup. No special utensils are necessary when using cast iron. Eating food cooked in aluminum cookware also has been known to be hazardous to your health, whereas cast iron has health benefits. Eating foods cooked in cast iron can boost your iron intake. Iron naturally helps maintain your energy levels and strengthens your immune system. It also takes less oil to cook in cast iron, therefore decreasing your fat intake.
Cast iron is less expensive compared to stainless steel cookware. It’s very sturdy and wears well. With proper care, cast iron can be passed down for generations.
Cast iron can also be used in emergency situations with any heat source.
Vintage cast iron
Recently I purchased a vintage Griswold Dutch oven from Randy Young, the vice president of the Heartland chapter of the Griswold & Cast Iron Cookware Association. Randy kindly shared his knowledge of vintage cast iron with me.
There were many early manufacturers of cast iron cookware. Between the 1880s and the mid 1950s, these manufacturers produced quality cookware — including skillets, various style roasters, Dutch ovens, teapots, stoves, irons and many more items. These items can usually be identified by the manufacturer’s name, logo, specific catalog or pattern numbers and the individual quality of the items. Additionally, the older cookware pieces are much higher quality (a smoother finish and sometimes much lighter in weight).
During the 1920s, some of the early cookware companies began to fade away.
After WW II there were few remaining. Starting in the 1950s, production methods began to change. Pieces from the 1960s, and later, were heavier and the cast iron finish was not as smooth (more grainy). Today’s iron cookware items are just not the same. Today, people and companies still introduce fakes and reproductions into the market place. These usually can be identified by less distinctive markings, gray in color, heavier, and in many instances, no markings at all. Many fakes are imports.
If you’re in doubt about the authenticity of a piece, you can email a picture to the largest cast iron collectors club in the world – the Griswold & Cast Iron Cookware Association or GCICA on the Facebook group page. Many of the collectors in this club have been at it 40 years or longer, and always happy to answer questions or help in any way possible.
Starter pieces for your kitchen
So, are you ready to make the switch to cooking with cast iron? Here are some pieces I recommend. While I prefer and mostly use the vintage Griswold iron, I also have some newer pieces of Lodge Mfg and recommend this company’s products highly.
The 6.5-inch skillet is a great piece for side dishes or frying a couple eggs. The 9-inch skillet is great for pies or cornbread in the oven and for stovetop use. The 12-inch skillet is a good size for meals for a family of 2 to 4.
If you’re still on the fence, here’s a great 3-quart combo piece to begin your cast iron journey. The collection contains a deep skillet with a lid/shallow skillet griddle top. This would be a great piece for your camp or hunt cookware also.
If you are going to invest in cast iron, you should also get these items, too. The hot handle holders, because the handles on cast iron skillets get HOT, and plastic pan scrapers to help with cleaning.
You can purchase glass or cast iron lids for your skillets, too.
Trust me … your wild game (and all food) will taste even better cooked in cast iron.
Visit the Griswold and Cast Iron Cookware Association.