What is Cast Iron Good For?

(For the Horde!) #61

What I learned is that I cannot put condense (original) wine or tomato or vinegar into the seasoned carbon steel/cast iron cookware.

Let’s take my sweet and sour recipe. One of the steps is to melt the brown sugar into vinegar. Heating 1-2 cup of vinegar in high heat will chew up a lot of seasoning layer. I learned that. However, when I add the sugar and water first, and then vinegar, then that problem did not occur.

Frankly, neither bare cast iron nor enameled cast iron cookware are good for making sauce.


Yes, but the problem is, after several months, I forget.

(For the Horde!) #63

Bare cast iron cookware is not a familiar sight in many American restaurants. However, there is a difference between professional restaurant kitchens and home kitchens. Bare aluminum cookware is by far the most popular cookware in professional kitchens, but you don’t see that very much in resident kitchens. Dexter-Russell and Victorinox are two of the very popular knives in professional kitchen as well. Many home cooks have never even heard of Dexter-Russell.

Second, bare cast iron and bare carbon steel cookware are often used in non-European professional kitchens. Cast iron and carbon steel woks – the most important cookware in any Chinese restaurants. Cast iron grill. Sukiyaki cast iron hot pot, Dosa pans – many restaurants still believe the best dosa is from cast iron or carbon steel…etc.



As for the ghost flavor you talked about, it is so little you won’t taste it most of the time. Yes, when you cook something very favorful, you can smell the residue afterward – a little bit. However, that is an empty cookware with nothing else in there. You can smell half a drop of extra virgin olive oil if I put it on an empty pan too – and stronger. The real question is: can anyone realistically taste the residual flavor in a full pot/pan? In few cases, yes. In most cases, no.

Conversely, any home grill or professional grill station has residual taste, and people aren’t complain about that.

I don’t remember a time I went to Chinese restaurant and I said to myself: oh I knew what the previous customer has ordered and still lingering in my kao pao chicken.

(Robert Sacilotto) #64

Great points, Chemicalkinetics.

Of the four or so kitchens I worked in/for, none used enameled or bare cast iron, mostly due to the need for speed and advantages of relatively lightweight aluminum and thinner steel pans. Think dishwashers carrying stacks of pans and dumping them in a big sink. (Not the Terrine molds, though!)

Every type of material has advantages and cons. The comments on flavor retention and loss of seasoning is more about the seasoning layer than the underlying metal. It is relatively easy to use high heat to re-season many types of metal. I don’t know how wise it would be to rub an empty enameled pan with Flaxseed oil and heat it to smoking, in order to create the varnish/seasoning layer. In an oven, that might be even enough distribution, but on a stovetop, there will be uneven heat and the possibility of differing expansion rates. Unlike a metal wok, I’m sure enamel ware would crack if taken off a high flame and rinsed with water to remove remnants of the last components, in order to return to high flame for the next ingredient.

When reducing large quantities of tomato puree for sauce, or long cooked acidic foods, like chili, I grab a Never Burn, which is excellent for slow cooking without constant stirring or supervision. However, the seven layers can warp if heated too quickly without a lot of contents; it’s not designed for frying, browning, etc. When you grow 50 or more tomato plants, certain tools make life easier!

A good assortment of tools makes a happy cook. The more varied your recipes, the more stuff will be useful.


I’m reading through this thread, and I think I’ve done every single thing one is not supposed to do with cast iron, enameled cast iron and carbon steel, but everything is fine.

(Memory) #66

Dear JustCharlie,
This argument devolves into flames.
I hear you. Learned how to mess up a fond using anodized aluminum. Yuck! And I’m sure that you are trying to tell us something that is worth heeding about residual flavors.

The folks who use CI love love love it. I don’t use it because 1) it’s too damn heavy. 2) Why worry about seasoning when there are other options? 3) And — Aluminum and copper get Really Freaking Hot Enough, don’t they?? Answering my own question: I don’t cook blackened meats, or Chinese cuisine. …or big batches of proteins for a large family.

There is something sort of mystical about the relationship between some cooks and their CI/ECI and I have to respect it because it comes from legit personal experience.

Cook happy, people!


I’m just happy there’s a forum in this world where people care enough to debate something like this. Wish I had real life friends to argue with. Today I was in a Walmart in Beijing explaining to a worker why all the expensive non-stick woks were abominations, and she just remarked “the one my grandmother uses is in the next aisle.” Different country, same eye roll.

(For the Horde!) #68

Yeah, it is unfortunate that nonstick woks are now more popular in China than in US. I agree.

(For the Horde!) #69

Yes, I think cast iron and carbon steel cookware are difficult for professional dishwashers – cast iron more so. Aluminum cookware are great in professional kitchens. They are cheap, great heat response, good heat evenness, light-weight. Yes, they easily dent, but at least they don’t break. Drop an aluminum pan vs drop an enameled cast iron pan on a kitchen floor.

Wok cooking is different. Carbon steel can take on the seasoning very easily and remain nonstick at high temperature. Carbon steel can also take on a lot of physical and thermal abuses which are unavoidable in wok cooking: sudden heating and cooling, banging the wok at all angles. These are parts of the techniques.

An even cooking temperature surface is not needed for a wok – unlike a fry pan or saute pan. The idea is to move the foods around quickly so that no food stays at one spot…etc. This is also why the nonstick seasoning property is important. Adding all of these together, bare carbon steel and bare cast iron coowkare are the two top choices. In my experience, I have little trouble seasoning the carbon steel and cast iron cookware. However, I could not do a good job on my stainless steel. The seasoning on a stainless steel is uneven and they are not durable. They fall off easily.

Nice to hear about the Never Burn, a few years ago we were discussing the Never Burn on the CHOWHOUND too. It looks to be a super even heating cookware. Afterall, movable liquid conduct heat even better than metals. However, this only ensure a very even heating surface, not a very even movement within the pot. e.g. for thick liquid, convection may not be sufficient to move the liquid from top to bottom and bottom to top. Are you stirring the pot often by hand or do you have one of the automatic pot stirrers?

Like you have said, knowing when to use what tools based on the need is very important – finding the correct cooking material for the cooking technique is the key.

(John) #70

Is Never Burn a brand name? Never mind - I found it. Interesting. Does it work as advertised?

(Robert Sacilotto) #71

I purchased a Never Burn from a Chef’s catalog, years ago. I’ve since seen more suppliers of the same or similar design, the seven layers with a silicone inner layer.

In practice, if I start with, e.g., two gallons of tomato puree, I can set the pot on low heat and bring it up to simmer, without stirring for quite some time. Once the food gets thick, yes, one needs to stir it, but much less frequently than if using a regular pot. I’m usually using a flat spatula to hand stir. The key is to always use a gentle heat, especially when the pot is going from cold to hot. Do not heat it empty and browning, frying, etc. is apt to warp the bottom.

This is not as useful a pot if you are in a hurry, as it takes longer to heat the base materials. However, I really appreciate being able to walk away from the Never Burn, which is often on our wood stove during the winter, and attend to something else. I haven’t scorched anything so far. The lack of “hot spots” is a big plus. The 3.75 gallon capacity is great for processing larger batches.

“Never Burn” is an overstatement, I’m sure if food is heated dry, it would eventually burn!

(For the Horde!) #72

Sound good. Talk about an ultimate even heating surface. The fact that you can work 2 gallons of tomato without stirring (for some time) is pretty nice. Because the pot is based on silicone oil, one indeed has to be careful not overheating it (like you said, heating the pot empty).

(Charles Stanford) #73

Thanks for confirming your experience. Le Creuset is very nice cookware.

(Charles Stanford) #74

I love to do large batches of tomato sauces in a big, thin SS stockpot specifically for the caramelization that occurs on the sides, which I scrape down into the sauce repeatedly during the long cook. Try it! It adds a wonderful deep dimension to the sauce.

(Charles Stanford) #75

The love part for bare CI escapes me, but you are no doubt right. I agree with everything you’ve written.

The 1980s are calling and want its blackened everything back! I appreciate the craftsmanship and care that go into the various cuisines of Asia, but most of the flavor profiles leave me cold to lukewarm at best.


Wow, as the OP I’m tickled to see how this subject has attracted so many informative responses. (OTOH, my Sodium Citrate Cheese Sauce thread has been all but ignored…sobs)

I have a confession to make: the simplest thing about cast iron, seasoning, eludes me. I almost always end up cleaning my cast iron with baking soda and water. I don’t really understand how to season.

Any tips? On cleaning and seasoning?

Also, what’s the story about tomatoes & cast iron? I never knew that at all.

(For the Horde!) #77

If you don’t know, then you probably have a seasoned cookware and don’t know about it. Most manufacturers sell seasoned cast iron cookware. If your cast iron cookware look black and dark, then it already has a seasoning layer – a layer of polymerized and carbonized coating.


A cast iron cookware without the seasoning layer actually is grey. I have stripped my cast iron cookware a few times. Real cast iron cookware are grey. :slight_smile:

Some people believe you should never clean your cast iron cookware except with water. I am not that strict about it. I think it is fine to clean mine with detergent, just not aggressive detergent. As for tomatoes and cast iron, it really isn’t about tomatoes and cast iron. It is really that strong acidic solution (tomato sauce can be acidic) can remove/weaken the seasoning layer of the cast iron.

Well, try this new title next time. Do I need to tip my waitress for a Sodium Citrate Cheese Sauce?


Yeah, my cast iron cookware is black. But I need to add grease for things not to stick. I thought seasoned meant you didn’t have to do that.

Maybe “Why Does Sodium Citrate Sound So Great But Suck So Bad?” At least people would have paid attention.

(ChristinaM) #79


(For the Horde!) #80

A little yes and a little no.
First, there is a wide range of “seasoned” cookware. Not all seasoned cookware have the same degree of seasoning. Just like, not all sharp knives are equally sharp. :laughing: Most manufacturers sell their cast iron cookware with a bare minimal seasoning on them. As the seasoning layer grows deeper and denser, the cookware becomes more stickless. A well-seasoned cast iron pan is unlikely to as stickless as a Teflon nonstick pan. However, a seasoned cast iron pan can be used at high temperature. You should able to use less oil/grease compared to other types of cookware (e.g. stainless steel or bare aluminum or enameled cast iron…etc).

Second, some people never use anything to wash their cast iron cookware other than water (no soap, no detergent and no baking soda…etc). Consequently, their cast iron cookware always has some residual oil compare to yours. They do not have to add oil to keep food stickless, but that would be the same as you adding 1 teaspoon of oil. Moreover, some foods release oil as they are cooked.