Get that old cast iron pan out of storage; these tips and recipes may change your mind about the longtime cooking method

The virtues of cast iron cookware are several: It takes any heat, from very low to super high; it retains that heat, if necessary, for the recipe; over time, it develops a nonpareil non-stick surface; and it’s fairly easy to care for, by and large eschewing soaping and scrubbing. Backpackers often “clean” their cast iron Dutch ovens with gravel or river sand.

Cast iron cookware also lasts a lifetime — or more than a lifetime. George Washington’s mother “gave and devised” one-half each to her two grandchildren her “iron kitchen furniture,” her cast iron cookware.

So why is it that so many cast iron skillets and Dutch ovens while away their own long lives in the nether regions of the kitchen cabinetry?

I spoke to a few home cooks to find out why. “It’s not fashionable anymore,” says one; “too heavy,” says another.

One fellow doesn’t have “adequate ventilation” in his kitchen, believing that, for example, searing and then finishing steaks at the necessary high heat will trigger his smoke alarm. (Easily remedied or avoided, and to better end. See sidebar “Cast iron skillet steak.”)

And myths about cast iron persist: “I can’t reduce my (acidic) tomato sauce in it.” Or cook with wine or other acidic foods in it. Or, “cast iron is a pain to maintain.” Or clean, or keep from rusting.

As the first president’s mother might have said to these cast iron naysayers, “Pshaw!”

Cast iron’s non-stick surface, if lovingly established as the apex of a patina of any cooking metal, may not be as slick as fry-a-nude-egg Teflon, but nonetheless it will take higher heat than the latter, still be nearly as slippery and, to some folk’s minds, safer for it.

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