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What is Cast Iron Cookware?

Cast iron cookware has been used for centuries to provide hearty, wholesome food to rich and poor alike. Cast iron is non-toxic and durable. Iron is easy to mold into anything from a saucepan to a large Dutch oven. This material can withstand high temperatures and can retain heat, keeping food warm for a long time after removing it from the heat. The qualities inherent in iron make a pan that diffuses the heat evenly throughout the entire surface even if the heat source is not even.

Cast Iron History

Historically, cast iron cookware has been used since about 513 BC in China and since around 1100 AD in England, when each of those regions developed the technology to heat iron to the melting point. Cooking pots were originally made with three small legs so they could sit in the hearth or fireplace. Once stoves with tops were made available in the 1700s, the variety in cookware expanded.

In his book, "The Wealth of Nations," Adam Smith wrote in 1776 that the "actual wealth of the nation was not its gold but in its manufacture of pots and pans."

Cast iron was the primary cookware that was used in settling the United States and Australia by the Europeans. This is the type of cookware that was proven durable enough to travel the Oregon Trail as pioneers traveled to the West coast of the United States by wagon train. And some of that cookware could still be used today!

How Cast Iron Is Made

Cast iron is made by making a mold from sand and pouring the molten iron into the mold. Once the metal has cooled and solidified, the sand crust is blasted off, revealing the pan. Next, any rough edges are removed and smoothed. This tried and true method has been around since the beginnings of cast iron. Even today, the makers of the finest cast iron pots and pans use the sand mold method.

Cooking in cast iron also adds dietary iron to the foods you cook, which helps prevent anemia. Moreover, this iron is more readily assimilated by the body than when supplements are taken. How many types of cookware can you say help maintain your health?

Seasoning a Cast Iron Pan

Most people who balk at using cast iron cookware point to the extra time needed to season the pan. In reality, seasoning a cast iron pan is easy. You simply apply a thin coating of vegetable oil on the pan and set it in a hot oven or barbecue for about an hour. The oil will smoke as it gets hot, so make sure the area is well-ventilated. Let the pan cool gradually afterwards.

Make sure that the first few times you cook with the pan you make something that contains oil, like using it to fry chicken or bacon. Each time will add to the layer of seasoning. Before you know it, you have a natural nonstick surface. If your pan gets rusty or damaged, a simple reseasoning will usually fix the issue. This cookware can be passed down to your children because it really lasts forever.

The other argument often heard is in regards to the weight of cast iron. While it is true that cast iron can be heavy, it is this feature that helps the pan retain heat so well. Other types of cookware can also be described as "heavy." High quality stainless steel is heavy more often than not because of the core metal in the pan's base, which is also responsible for the pan's ability to retain heat well.

Cast Iron Pots and Pans

Cast iron cookware certainly comes in many shapes and sizes. You can find something for every possible use in the kitchen! Dutch ovens are wonderful to use indoors or out for soups, stews, baking and other cooking methods.

Skillets come in sizes small enough for a single portion to large enough to feed an entire family. Sauce pans, griddles, and waffle irons are also available. Bake ware for muffins, cornbread and desserts round out the possibilities.

Some items are available in both bare cast iron and enameled in bright colors. The enameled pieces can be used on the stove and in the oven and do not need to be seasoned. Some manufacturers of cast iron cookware are also selling preseasoned items as well.

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