Cast iron cooking vessels have been around since the middle ages, and have taken many different forms over the years. Among the oldest of these forms is the cast iron cauldron, which is similar to a modern stock pot, but with a rounded bottom. Beyond these two basic shapes cast iron cookware comes in hundreds of different configurations, from skillets and fry pans to griddles, Dutch Ovens, muffin pans, and many other shapes.Why has cast iron survived for so many years? Several reasons. First, the durability of cast iron means that pots and pans often end up as family heirlooms that are passed down from generation to generation and used for decades. A good CI frypan is an investment that with a little care will last and last and not wear out like lightweight aluminum coated Teflon pans. Once seasoned, a cast iron pan can rival Teflon for non-stick abilities, and there are no worries about using metal utensils. Cast iron can also go directly over and open fire without worry about burning the pan.
Another feature of CI cookware that makes it desirable, is the even heating that the heavy metal provides. Because the mass of iron readily absorbs and spreads heat, food is cooked evenly. Aluminum pans and thin steel pans transfer heat rather than absorb and radiate it, so most of the heat from the burner goes immediately into the food. From a cold start, lightweight aluminum pans may heat up faster than cast iron and initially cook faster, but they will also burn foods faster and if the project involves repeatedly cooking a dish, such as making pancakes or half-a-dozen grilled cheese sandwiches, cast iron will be much easier and better to cook on than any aluminum or steel pan. When you are cooking over an open fire, this ability to heat up a bit slower and cook more evenly means less risk of burning a pan of cornbread or a fresh caught trout dinner.
Cast iron is also economical. While aluminum cookware often appears cheaper, the truth becomes evident when you consider that an aluminum pan will be worn out in a decade, but good CI will be around many times that long. Aluminum pans simply cannot compete in the long run because they are built only for the short run, as products that are designed to be replaced when styles change.
Speaking of styles, cast iron cookware comes in hundreds of different shapes, designs, sizes and even colors. Yes, some CI cookware is now made with and enamel exterior coating to give the pots and pans decorator colors.
There are a lot of reasons to choose cast iron, durability, economy, and even heating. But, some people just choose it because they like tradition. There is something about using a pan that belonged to a grandparent, or even using a new pan to try to replicate grandma’s recipes for cornbread. It is something that speaks of home, town and family. It is something that has been a part of us for generations.