Cheat Sheet

Cast-Iron Cooking For Dummies

Cooking with cast iron is a satisfying experience that bridges the span from the days of hardy pioneers to current value for efficient, non-toxic cookware. If you’re new to cooking with cast iron, you need to know how to shop for and season your cookware. And, for cooking in general, it helps to have lists of ingredient and measurement equivalencies as well as ideas for spicing up your recipes in general. Cast-Iron Cooking For Dummies gives you all that and more.

How to Shop for Cast-Iron Pans

Before you cook with cast-iron pans, you have to shop for cast-iron pans. You may find your pots at a garage sale, farm auction, or antique store, but no matter where you find your cast iron, pay attention to the following features:

  • Uniform thickness of sides and bottom with no dips and valleys. Also avoid pieces that are warped. Dips, valleys, and any warping means that the pan is unsuitable for cooking.

  • Surface free of discoloration, blotches, and paint spots. Discoloration and blotches indicate that the metallurgy is suspect. Paint spots may signal that the iron has been repaired with epoxy. Also be sure that the surface is free from pits, chips, cracks, and scratches.

  • Manufacturer’s logos: American-made cast iron from now-defunct companies (specifically Wagner and Griswold) are collector’s items. The Lodge Manufacturing Company, the oldest family-owned U.S. producer of cast-iron cookware, puts the Lodge logo on every cast-iron piece that it manufactures.

  • Restoring possibilities: If you want to be able to cook in secondhand cast iron, you need to be able to refurbish it to cooking condition. Be sure that any imperfections don’t render the pan unusable for cooking and that you’re willing to work to repair it.

How to Season Cast-Iron Pans

Seasoning cast iron is simple and essential. A well-seasoned cast-iron pan provides a cooking surface manufactured, non-stick coatings can only dream about. To season your cast-iron cookware, follow these steps:

  1. Wash the new pan with soap and water to remove protective coating.

  2. Wipe the thin layer of vegetable oil on all the pan surfaces, including the sides, handle, lid, and so on.

  3. Place in a 350-degree oven for 1 hour; then let cool in the oven.

Don’t wash the good seasoning away with soap. To clean your cast-iron cookware, scrape off any stuck-on food, rinse, and dry.

Spice and Herb Suggestions for Cast-Iron Cooking

The fact that your cast-iron cookware is seasoned doesn’t mean that it imparts any flavor — far from it. However, you can change the taste of a dish you cook in cast iron — or any pot or pan — with herbs and spices. The following list recommends some fun spices and herbs that introduce some extra flavor in the accompanying foods.

  • Allspice: Beef roasts, pork, potato soups, and oyster stews

  • Basil: Beef, pork, fish, shellfish, fried chicken, clam chowder, beef stew, green beans, and squash

  • Chili powder: Shrimp, fried chicken, and beef stew

  • Cinnamon: Ham, pork, stewed chicken, carrots, and sweet potatoes

  • Cloves: Corned beef, ham, fish, roast chicken, baked beans, bean soup, carrots, squash, and sweet potatoes

  • Ginger: Beef roast, chicken, and duck, baked beans, rice dishes, seafood, bean soup, carrots, and squash

  • Nutmeg: Pot roast, fried chicken, beans, and carrots

  • Oregano: Swiss steak, veal, chicken, pheasant, fish, shellfish, and stews

  • Sage: Pork, veal, chicken, turkey, duck, stew, squash, biscuits, and cornbread

  • Thyme: Roasts (all types), clam chowder, stew, carrots, green beans, potatoes, biscuits, and cornbread

Start out using just a little bit of the spice and add more as you go.

Common Ingredient Substitutions for Cast-Iron Cooking

You’re elbow-deep in a recipe specially chosen for your new cast-iron pan and discover you’re missing a key ingredient. It’s a common scenario — you don’t always have exactly what a recipe calls for or the time to run to the store to get it. The following table shows substitutions you can use in a pinch:

What You Need What You Can Use Instead
Allspice, 1 teaspoon ground 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon plus 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
Apple juice Equal measure of white grape juice or white wine
Baking powder, 1 tablespoon 1/4 teaspoon baking soda plus 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
Buttermilk, 1 cup 1 cup plain yogurt
Chocolate, 1 ounce unsweetened 3 tablespoons cocoa plus 1 tablespoon oil
Cornstarch, 1 tablespoon 2 tablespoons flour
Egg, 1 whole 2 egg yolks plus 1 tablespoon water
Flour, 1 cup all-purpose flour 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons cake flour
Flour, 1 cup cake 1 cup all-purpose flour minus 2 tablespoons
Flour, 1 cup self-rising 1 cup all purpose flour, 1 teaspoon baking powder, plus 1/2 teaspoon salt
Garlic powder, 1/8 teaspoon 1 clove glove
Garlic, 1 clove 1/8 teaspoon garlic powder or minced, dried garlic
Herbs, 1 tablespoon chopped fresh 1 teaspoon dried herbs or 1/4 teaspoon powdered herbs
Herbs, 1 teaspoon dried 1 tablespoon chopped fresh herbs
Honey, 1 cup 1 1/4 cup sugar plus 1/4 cup liquid
Marsala, 1/4 cup 1/4 cup dry white wine plus 1 teaspoon brandy
Milk, 1 cup fresh whole 1/2 cup evaporated milk plus 1/2 cup water
Sherry, 2 tablespoons 1 to 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Sugar, 1 cup powdered 1 cup sugar plus 1 tablespoon cornstarch, mixed in blender
Vanilla extract, 1 to 2 teaspoons 2 tablespoons sherry or bourbon
Wine, 1/4 cup or more white Equal measure of white grape juice or apple juice
Yogurt, 1 cup plain 1 cup buttermilk

Equivalent Measures for Cast-Iron Cooking

When you adjust recipes as you cook with cast iron or other types of cookware, it helps to know measurement equivalents so that you can divide or double ingredients accurately. The following table lists some measurement equivalents:

This Equals This
3 teaspoons 1 tablespoon
1 tablespoon 3 teaspoons
4 tablespoons 1/4 cup
5 1/3 tablespoons 1/3 cup
1/4 cup 4 tablespoons
1/3 cup 5 1/3 tablespoons
2 cups 1 pint
4 cups 1 quart
4 quarts 1 gallon
1 pint 2 cups
1 quart 4 cups
1 gallon 4 quarts
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