My mama can cook a handful of things well (lasagna, scrambled eggs, toast) and a great many things that still leave you wanting. But given that toast is my favorite food, quickly followed by eggs, she's pretty much the ultimate culinary goddess in my eyes. One thing she does exceptionally well is cook eggs in a cast iron pan. They never ever burn and they always taste better than anything I cook up.
Now I know the mom factor (the magical process that makes any food your parents cook for you taste better than food you make yourself) is at play here, but after watching her intensely a few times I realized that this woman has real finesse!
A while ago, I decided I was going to master cooking eggs in a cast iron pan like a pro, so I observed my mom's technique and then tested it out on my own and feel ready to report the things that make all the difference.
Step 1: Use a cast iron pan you're familiar with.
I have a few cast iron pans that I use depending on what I'm cooking, but of course there's one I love best. These aren't kids — you can have a favorite. I recently discovered mine is called a chicken fryer since it has high, sloped sides perfect for frying chicken. Best of all, it was my grandmother's, so using it makes me feel endowed with all of her culinary prowess. It's on the smaller side, spanning less than six inches in diameter, so I use it when I'm making no more than an egg or two.
My mom makes eggs in the same cast iron pan she's always made them in, so she knows this pan well. She knows when to turn the heat down, how long it takes to preheat, where the hot spots are (because they all have them!), and all the other familiarities that make her adept at cooking with it. She trusts the pan to do what it does because she's cooked with it for so long, and now I know my little cast iron pan just as well.
When it comes to eggs, knowing your pan is important because cooking eggs well in a cast iron pan — and I'm talking about scrambled or fried here — comes down to understanding how the pan performs.
Step 2: Thoroughly preheat the pan without oil.
This was the step that surprised me. I've watched my mom put a cast iron pan over fire many times and watched her scoot away to do other things. Like, 10 minutes! At first, I thought she was just being forgetful, but this long preheat was done purposefully. Cast iron pans take a while to heat and only then do they hold onto that heat for a long while after. So before anything goes in the pan, preheat it thoroughly.
Step 3: Add the fat, then give it a few seconds.
When you add fat to a well-seasoned cast iron pan you're taking advantage of its nonstick surface. I never skip the fat because I love the flavor of eggs cooked in olive oil, but even the most seasoned of cast iron pans will benefit from oil added to a preheated pan. You can go butter here, a neutral oil like canola, or even coconut oil. Delicious.
Step 4: Add the eggs and then turn the heat all the way down.
Remember: Cast iron pans hold on to heat, so the second you add your eggs, turn the heat all the way down. All the heat from the preheat has already heated the pan and oil and will continue to keep them hot in the amount of time it takes to scramble or fry an egg. Remember to let the eggs firm up just a bit so the proteins can coagulate before agitating the eggs (this prevents them from sticking as well).
You'll find that once set — even just after a few seconds — your eggs will slip and slide around the pan like you were cooking in a pan coated with Teflon.
That's my method for cooking eggs in a cast iron pan without burning them. What's your method?