For the majority of my life, I've been able to avoid using cast iron products while cooking. Growing up, my mother refused to use them. "You have to constantly season it," she said in a way that made the common cleaning process sound like an arduous, sinister ordeal.
As an adult who cooks regularly, I fully understand where my mother's sentiments came from. While browsing through a Williams Sonoma store one day, I picked up a 10-inch diameter skillet and nearly dropped it on my foot from the shock of its weight.
My immediate thought: "No wonder cartoon characters hit bad guys with frying pans; one blow to the back of the head with this thing and you're definitely not waking up."
Tentatively I put the pan back, vowing to keep it out of my kitchen as long as I could. My husband had different ideas, however; he'd grown up with cast iron cookware, his relatives swearing by how even everything cooked, and how food just tastes better after using one.
How I Became a Reluctant Cast Iron Skillet Owner
I somehow managed to keep it off our wedding registry, but we were gifted a second-hand pan after helping a friend move to a new home in Wisconsin. On the day we flew home, my husband's bag was too full, so I ended up lugging it around the airport in my flimsy duffle bag.
"Ma'am, are you planning to cook on this flight?" a TSA employee asked after doing a random bag check at security.
"Are cast iron pans not allowed in carry-ons?" I asked, honestly not sure if I had just broken a law. After all, I viewed this thing as a weapon of mass destruction.
She laughed, and waved me through. But back home, the cast iron pan presented a whole host of problems. The biggest challenge for me was its weight. Cast iron skillets can weigh anywhere between six to eight pounds. Add a lid, and you're looking at 13 pounds total — and that's without food inside. It doesn't sound like a lot of weight, but when you're used to the lightness of cheaper cookware, there's definitely an adjustment period.
3 Reasons My Cast Iron Pan Scares Me
1. It's too heavy and somehow not sturdy enough.
My cast iron skillet makes me anxious. I don't like how short the handle is compared to other pans, and I feel like the weight is not evenly distributed. The result is a very wobbly, stress-induced journey from the stove to the table, wondering every second whether I'm going to drop my pan and break a bone, or if it will tilt too far to one side and scald me with the contents.
2. It's too damn hot.
Cast iron pans take a long time to heat up, but once they're hot, they stay hot for a long time. I learned the hard way (battle scars on my hands and fingertips to prove it) that you have to wait at least 20 minutes before you can pick it up again to clean it or store it. I've invested in thick oven mitts, and a silicone pan handle that helps absorb the heat. But moving a pan from the oven still takes a lot of planning; once false move and my hands start to burn, even when sheathed.
3. Seasoning it is actually kinda awful.
The seasoning, in my opinion, is the worst thing about cast iron cookware. It's not so much labor intensive, as it is it is sensory intensive. Seasoning a pan requires the application of oil, which uses heat to set the finish. It makes the entire apartment smell like burnt oil, a smell I for some reason associate with something chemical. I haven't found any information as to whether or not the fumes are lethal, but I wouldn't be surprised if I come across a headline one day proclaiming all of the dangers involved with seasoning cast iron cookware.
The One Bright Spot of My Cast Iron Anguish
So far, breakfast in a cast iron skillet is the only meal I feel warrants the use of such products. Bacon cooks to perfection, sunny-side up eggs come out with that nice, crips brown finish, and the grease helps season the pan. But apart from that, I don't notice the difference between cooking with cast iron and cooking with any other pan. Everything tastes the same — nothing feels elevated or cooked better.
I guess if I don't die from using cast iron, at least I know how to wield one against intruders. Can anyone help convince me otherwise? What am I missing?