How to Pick the Right Pan for the Task
Can’t tell enameled cast iron from hard-anodized aluminum? Here’s your guide.
Cast IronOne of cast iron's great advantages is that it's so heavy―and therefore retains and distributes heat nicely. Of course, one of its great disadvantages is that it's, well, so heavy. Along the same contradictory lines: It lasts forever with proper care and seasoning, and for some this can take forever. (Seasoning means oiling and baking the pan to give it a nonstick surface naturally.) But one big advantage is affordability: A 10-inch cast-iron skillet costs about $14, while the same size stainless pan can cost up to $140.
How to identify: A cast-iron pot is extremely heavy and looks as if it should be hanging in Laura Ingalls's kitchen.
When to use: For nonstick sautéing or cooking dishes that need to go from stove-top to oven, such as potato gratin and frittatas. Also use it if you have to fry large pieces of meat straight from the refrigerator, because cast iron will not cool. Why does that matter? "When you've lost the temperature, you've lost the ability to sear and caramelize," says John Ash, a culinary teacher and the author of Cooking One on One: Private Lessons in Simple, Contemporary Food From a Master Teacher.
When not to use: While conventional wisdom says not to use cast iron with acidic foods because it releases a metallic taste, Ash says this reaction is barely perceptible and actually adds iron to the food.
How to clean: Use a nonabrasive sponge and water. Never use soap or steel wool.
Next: Enameled Cast Iron
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