How to Buy Cast Iron Pans

Cast iron pans have been used for cooking for hundreds of years. There are a number of advantages to using cast iron for cooking. Since pans are cast as 1 unit, there are no separate parts to break, so they are very durable. Some pans are passed down in a family for generations. Cast iron pans conduct heat well, and can be used on the stove, in an oven, or on an open fire. Cast iron comes in a variety of sizes and shapes for many different types of cooking. There also are some disadvantages to using cast iron pans. They are heavy, and can rust quickly if exposed to moisture. Cast iron pans also require seasoning and regular oil applications to maintain a nonstick surface, and they can't be washed in a dishwasher. If you're considering a purchase, here are some tips on how to buy cast iron pans.


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    Decide whether you want traditional or enameled cast iron pans.
    • Consider the fact that traditional uncoated cast iron must be seasoned (covered in oil and baked at a high temperature) to create a nonstick surface. Pre-seasoned cast iron pans are available, but they are generally more expensive than unseasoned pans. Once a traditional cast iron pan is seasoned, it should not be cleaned with soap or put into the dishwasher. Scraping the food out of the pan, coating it with a thin layer of oil, and keeping it away from moisture to prevent rust are the best ways to care for traditional cast iron. These pans can last for decades if properly cared for. A 12-inch (35 cm) uncoated cast iron skillet costs approximately $15 to $70. Pans from well-known manufacturers cost more, but have features like tighter-fitting lids and cooking surfaces less prone to sticking to food.
    • Choose enameled cast iron if you want pans that are easier to care for than uncoated pans. They don't require seasoning, and can be washed with soap and water. They also can be used to cook acidic foods; using uncoated cast iron to do so can produce a reaction that creates metallic-tasting food. However, the enamel can chip, and the color you choose may go out of style. Unlike traditional cast iron, enamel-coated cast iron cannot be used in a campfire. Enameled cast iron pans are more expensive than uncoated versions; a 12-inch (35 cm) enameled skillet costs approximately $40 to $200. The price varies widely depending on whether the inside of the pan has enamel as well as the outside, and the degree to which you might experience chipping on the enamel over time. Well-known name brands tend to be more expensive, but have enamel that is less likely to chip.
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    Decide whether you want to buy a used or a new pan.
    • Buy a new pan if you prefer to season the pan yourself. This allows you to make your purchase at any time, rather than waiting for a used pan of the size and shape you want to become available.
    • Consider buying a used pan. Since traditional cast iron pans can last for generations, there is a strong market for antique pans. If you don't mind using a pan that's been seasoned by someone else's cooking, you can save time and effort in getting your cookware to the point where it's worn smooth enough to discourage food from sticking. Used pans are often well made and well seasoned from many years of use. Prices vary widely; certain brands and models from the early 1900s can cost $100 for a 12-inch (35 cm) skillet. Brands that are no longer made will generally cost more because they are scarce, and unusual sizes or shapes (like muffin-shaped pans) will also cost more because they're harder to find.
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    Decide what type of pan you want. There are 2 common types of cast iron pans: skillets and Dutch ovens. When considering the size of the pan, keep in mind that larger pans will be heavier, so choose the smallest pan possible to meet your needs.
    • Choose a skillet if you intend to fry or sauté meat. Skillets are also good for making frittatas and oven pancakes. 10.25-inch (26 cm) or 12-inch (35 cm) are the most common and most versatile sizes. Some have an extra handle on the front of the pan to allow you to more easily lift the skillet out of the oven.
    • Buy a Dutch oven if you want to cook soups, stews, sauces, and roasts or other baked dishes. Dutch ovens are deeper than skillets, and come with a lid. A 5-qt. (4.7 L) or 6-qt. (5.7 L) pan is the most common choice, and will generally hold 8 servings of soup or stew or 6 large baked potatoes. Choose a Dutch oven with legs on the bottom (called a "spider") if you want to use your pan over coals or in a campfire.
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    Shop for your pan. Specialty cookware stores, department stores, and camping-supply stores are good places to shop for new cast iron pans. Used pans can be found at estate sales, auction websites, antique stores, and occasionally at yard sales or flea markets.


  • Use an oven mitt or silicone handle cover when handling a hot cast iron pan. The entire pan, including the handle, gets very hot when in use.

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Categories: Pots and Pans