I’m Cheating on My Cast Iron Skillet with This Pan and It’s Giving Me All Sorts of Feelings
I don’t want to brag, but I am going to brag: I’m kind of the cast iron queen. There are way cooler titles to lay claim to, I know, so you can be sure I mean it. I just really love cooking in cast iron. It’s been my pan of choice ever since 2012, when I lived and worked on a small farm in Upstate New York. We didn’t have much, but we did have well-seasoned cast iron pans (and an abundance of lard). Once I got started, I began cooking everything in cast iron, including eggs, desserts, pork chops, pasta sauces, and, well, everything in between.
One of my favorite things about cast iron is how well and evenly it distributes heat. It gets hot and stays hot, without any volcanic-lava zones. That’s a common problem in thinner pans, like stainless steel: They’re scorching in parts, and weirdly cold in others. It makes for an uneven sear, which is never desirable.
I love my cast irons so much that this spring, I purged my kitchen of literally every other pan. I felt elated for about a week and then a sense of deep remorse overcame me. What if I wanted to scramble eggs? Sear a piece of fish? Cook a steak … without spending the next hour scraping up crusty bits from the cast iron or worrying about the seasoning? I regretted my actions, and decided to replace my nonstick with something comparable, but higher quality. I wanted to invest in a pan that wasn’t harmful to the environment or my health (there are some dubious facts around Teflon).
After weeks of research (aka googling while drinking copious amounts of coffee) and crowdsourcing my friends, my search led me to Great Jones. Great Jones is a woman-owned company; Sierra Tishgart, former New York Magazine food writer, founded it with her childhood friend Maddy Moelis in 2018. Although the brand is possibly best known for its version of the classic Dutch oven dubbed The Dutchess, I was primarily interested in the ceramic pans, called Small Fry and Large Fry. The Small Fry is an 8-inch pan and the Large Fry clocks in at 10 inches. Both contain a stainless steel exterior with a smooth ceramic interior. Ceramic isn’t technically a nonstick pan, but it behaves like one. And unlike older Teflon pans, ceramic cookware doesn’t contain any chemicals or potentially toxic materials.
I ordered both size pans and was pleasantly surprised when they arrived a mere three days after ordering. Despite an uptick in pandemic-related sales, service was still speedy and efficient. It was a good sign. I was also tickled to see that Great Jones had emailed me a couple of recipes I could try once my pans arrived. It’s the little things, isn’t it?
For my Small Fry’s maiden voyage, I pan-seared a sweet potato and oat burger. With a little sunflower oil in the pan, my burger formed a beautiful crust that didn’t scorch or burn before the interior was cooked through. Cleanup was quick and a total non-issue: There were no burnt-on, crispy bits to labor over with a dish sponge.
After that, I quickly became obsessed. I used my Small Fry and Large Fry so much that, once, an entire week went by without ever touching my beloved 8-inch cast iron. I felt a little guilty, but mostly, I was thrilled for the ease of cleanup and the quality sautéed veggies I was whipping up every night.
I don’t claim to be a ceramic pan expert, but in the interest of learning and growing, I called someone who is: Sierra Tishgart, Great Jones’ CEO herself. She shared with me three secrets for cooking in ceramic pans. Interested in buying a ceramic pan? Here’s what you need to know.
3 Tips for Cooking in Ceramic Pans
1. You do need a little fat in the pan.
“You should still coat your pan with fat,” says Tishgart. She explains that the most common mistake people make with ceramic cookware is assuming they can skip the oil or butter (or lard!) all together. Although ceramic does a nice job of keeping the surface of the pan slick and slippery, fat will act as extra insurance. Plus, says Tishgart, “It makes your food taste more delicious.”
2. Avoid super-high heat.
While Great Jones’ ceramic pans can handle heat up to 500˚F, it’s not a good idea to place them under the broiler on the regular. “Ceramic pans will last much longer if they’re used with moderate or low heat,” says Tishgart. In other words: That blazing hot stir-fry you’re planning will be best made in your cast iron or wok.
3. Don’t beat ‘em up!
Ceramic pans won’t last forever and ever. That’s why they’re more affordably priced than stainless steel and enameled cast iron. (The Small Fry is $50.) But that said, you will definitely extend their lifespan if you give them a little TLC. Although they’re dishwasher-safe, they’ll last much longer and perform better over time if you wash and dry them by hand. You’ll also want to avoid using metal utensils on them, which could scratch the surface.
These days, I’ve hit a stride with my pan use. I still use cast iron for cooking quality cuts of meat, or when I want to go hot and fast with the flame. But I always reach for ceramic when I’m looking for a quick meal; they’re just so low-maintenance! They’ve become my de facto weekday cookware.
I will admit to a secret, as long as you promise not to tell the cast iron gods: I’ve since moved my 8-inch cast iron into the cupboard between uses, and given the small fry its place of honor on the back burner. Hey, people can change.