Cast Iron Cooking: Know When Your Skillet is Ready for Cooking

If you are not familiar with cast iron cooking, you may not be aware that cast iron is one of the best utensils for nonstick cooking. Providing you take proper care of your skillet, it will last you a lifetime. There is a trick to knowing when it is ready for you to add food, though, and it is not the same for everything you cook.

Besides being nonstick, a cast iron skillet cooks more evenly than other pans that may have hot spots and warps. This means that foods will cook evenly and not overcook in one area of the frying pan. Another bonus is that it can handle a lot more heat than a coated nonstick skillet. Too much heat tends to warp the latter, and it can cause the coating on the pan to emit toxins that are harmful to pets.

A cast iron skillet is good for cooking on low heat, which is best for eggs, and it is good for cooking on high heat, which is great for searing steaks. Most foods cook well on medium heat. Here is how to know when your skillet is ready for cooking:

If you need to cook something on low heat, turn the empty skillet on to allow it to warm up before adding food. After a few minutes, place your flattened hand a couple of inches over the bottom of the pan. If it feels warm enough to cook something, the utensil is ready. If you need to cook on medium heat, the pan should be hot enough that you have to pull your hand away from the heat to avoid discomfort.

If you need to cook something on higher heat, such as steaks, burgers or chops, test the skillet with a few drops of water. Run your hand underneath the faucet to get a little water on it, and then sprinkle a few drops of it into the pan. If the water dances a bit and separates into droplets, the skillet is ready. If it runs together, the pan needs more time to heat up.

Important: This is not the method to use for testing cooking oil. When you are frying foods, use the method of holding your hand over the heat. Water added to hot oil will pop and splatter, and it may cause a mess or burn you.

Cooking Tips for Cast Iron

* Never use cast iron cooking utensils for a recipe that includes tomato product. The product can cause oxidation in the utensil.
* Only use the highest heat for searing foods and not normal cooking. Cooking meat for too long on high heat damages it. Only sear the meat for a minute or two on each side, and then reduce the heat to complete the cooking.
* Only wash the utensil with soap and water if you really have to. That removes some of the oil necessary to keep the skillet or pot nonstick. The best way to clean it is to wipe it with a paper towel or a cleaner designed for nonstick cookware. Do not use a scouring pad. Sprinkle a little salt inside the utensil to help loosen food particles. If you do have to wash it with soap and water, use a paper towel to recoat it with cooking oil, and then put it on the stove on medium heat for a few minutes to make sure it dries completely and absorbs the oil.

Once you become familiar with cast iron cooking and get a couple of skillets and a Dutch oven, you will wonder why you ever thought nonstick cookware was the only way to go.

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