All you need to know about Iron and Cast Iron Cookware

In this blog, I will share my experience of cooking with iron and cast iron cookware. Our grandmas used to cook with iron utensils such as cast iron kadai, iron tawa, iron dosa tawa, iron pan, and iron skillet. However, somewhere along the line, we transitioned to using aluminium utensils, non-stick cookware, and steel utensils. In the past decade, there has been a rising awareness of Indian traditions and healthy cooking. As a result, old traditions are making a comeback, and the popularity of cooking with iron cookware is also on the rise.

Some of the Iron and Cast Iron utensils in my house

What is the advantage of Iron and Cast Iron cookware ?

  • Health Benefits: Cooking with iron utensils is beneficial for our health. Iron and cast iron cookware is 100% natural and adds the desired iron nutrients to our body.                            
  •  Chemical Free: Iron and cast iron utensils are free from harmful chemical coatings unlike non stick cookware and are food safe.                                               
  • Cost Effective: You can expect to pay a similar price for a cast iron kadai as you would for its non-stick counterpart. However, a cast iron kadai, known for its durability, can last for generations. Non stick cookware turns out to be expensive because of its frequent replacement.                                                               
  • Ease of Cooking: Cast iron cookware can become almost as non-stick as non-stick cookware when properly seasoned and maintained. It allows for effortless cooking, preventing food from sticking to the surface and requiring less oil to be used.

Food items like paniyaram and vermicelli can be quite challenging to prepare, as they tend to stick to cookware. However, using cast iron  cookware makes the process significantly easier and more convenient.

  • Heat Retention: Iron and cast-iron cookware is known for its exceptional heat retention capabilities because the cookware is heavy. When a iron pan is heated, it effectively stores a significant amount of heat. This property enables it to evenly distribute heat, resulting in uniform cooking and minimal loss of nutritional value in the food being prepared.
  • Gets Smoother with use: Iron cookware develops a smoother surface with regular use, which enhances its non-stick properties. As you continue to utilize and maintain the cookware, it further improves its non-stick capabilities.      
  • Scratch resistant: Iron cookware is highly scratch-resistant, allowing you to confidently use a metal spatula while cooking. Its durable surface can withstand the use of metal utensils without compromising its quality or appearance.
  • Tastier food: Food in iron vessels comes out tastier because it can be roasted well. Food is cooked evenly as the heat distribution is even. Vegetables are beautifully roasted in iron utensils, enhancing their overall texture. And how can we forget the yummy, crispy parathas cooked on an iron tawa.

What is the disadvantage of Iron and Cast Iron cookware ?

  • Cast iron pans are heavy, which may not be preferred by some individuals. Some may not have proper handles, and you may find it difficult to use. 
  • Iron cookware needs seasoning initially. If not maintained well can get rusted and would need re seasoning. So, it needs some amount of special care and maintenance.
  • Cast iron cookware can break, if dropped from a considerable height. Due to its brittle nature, a significant impact can cause the cookware to fracture or break. However, if properly maintained and cared for, cast iron cookware has the potential to last for generations.
  • Cast iron does not distribute heat evenly. First time users may notice that the dosa on cast iron tawa gets more cooked in the centre than at the edges.

This happens if you use the tawa on high heat initially or do not pre heat the Tawa sufficiently. To cook perfect crispy dosas apply a thin layer of oil and pre heat the dosa tawa on low to medium flame for 8 to 10 minutes. This way it gets sufficient time to heat the tawa evenly. Then before pouring the batter sprinkle some water on the centre. Once you start spreading the batter the high heat at the centre spreads evenly along with the batter to the edges. A non stick tawa can never replicate the crispy dosa one can make on cast iron Tawa.

Why do Iron and Cast Iron cookware need to be seasoned?

The purpose of seasoning cast iron cookware is to develop a surface that mimics non-stick properties as closely as possible.
Seasoning also involves the process of removing any excess surface carbon that may have accumulated during the manufacturing process of the iron utensils. Additionally, a layer of oil needs to be applied, which forms a thin coating on the surface of the iron pans to avoid rusting.
This coating of oil serves three purposes:

  • It helps prevent rusting, thus extending the lifespan of the iron cookware 
  • It provides a protective barrier that minimizes food from sticking excessively during cooking.
  • It avoids food from turning black

How to Season an Iron and Cast Iron skillet/cookware

As you read, don’t think that it is cumbersome to season a cast iron cookware. These days mostly you get pre seasoned iron and cast iron pans. Seasoning also depends on where you purchase the iron cookware from. Some iron and cast iron cookware is machine made and are pre-baked with mineral oil in ovens. Such iron pans are ready to use.

When you purchase a cast iron cookware, the seller provides you with the information on how to season.

Some brands sell traditionally hand made cast iron cookware which may need some seasoning.

For seasoning

  • Scrub the cast iron pan using a mixture of salt and oil with a scrubber. ensuring you cover the entire iron pan, inside and outside.
  • Wash the iron pan or iron tawa or iron kadai thoroughly.
  • Use a cloth or tissue paper to completely dry the iron pan.
  • Heat the iron pan to remove all moisture.
  • Add 2 to 3 spoons of oil and spread it evenly across the entire iron cookware.
  • Wipe the iron pan and check if there are any remaining blackish or brownish residues on the cloth.
  • If there are residues, repeat the entire process the next day.
  • Depending on the condition of your iron cookware, you may need to repeat this process for 3 to 4 days.
  • Once the wiping cloth shows no brownish marks, fry onions in the iron cookware for about 10 minutes.
  • Discard the onions.
  • This seasoning process will remove any excess carbon from the iron cookware and make it ready for use.

Seasoning not only enhances the performance of your iron or cast iron cookware but also adds a shine to it. It creates a non-stick surface, and, with proper care and maintenance, your seasoned iron cookware can last for generations.

What if you see black particles on Cast Iron pan?

If you notice black particles on your cast iron pan, consider it a positive sign as it indicates that you have one of the traditionally handmade ones. These black particles are carbon particles. However, it’s important to remove these loose particles by following the seasoning process described in this blog.

How do you cook in a Cast Iron cookware?

I have come across many friends who attempt to cook with cast iron cookware such as iron kadai, but they give up because they notice their food turning black. Initially, I also had doubts when I started cooking with a seasoned iron kadai.

Fortunately, my house help gave me a valuable tip on using an iron kadai, and ever since then, I have been cooking in iron pans. When you purchase iron utensils, the seller provides instructions on how to season them. However, even after following those instructions, you may still find that the iron pans rust. Here are some simple tips:

  • After cooking in an iron or cast-iron cookware, soak it in water for some time, then use a mild scraper to clean it. Avoid using soap.
  • Remember to never leave water in the pan after cleaning. Wipe it with a cloth, as water can cause rusting. You can also keep it upside down to ensure there is no water in the iron cookware. You may even heat it on gas or keep it in sun to completely remove the moisture.
  • Most importantly, oil the iron utensils after cleaning. If you do this step, you will never have any issues while cooking in iron or cast iron cookware. If you use iron cookware on a daily basis, there are instances where you can even skip the oiling step.                             

Before starting cooking with the iron pan, it is recommended to wipe it with a cloth or tissue paper dipped in oil. This will remove any excess carbon residue from the cooking surface. The food will not turn black. I fry boiled rice in kadai. Doesn’t it look yum!

  • After cooking the food, remove it from the iron pan and proceed to soak the pan in water for a few minutes. This helps all the food residue to come out easily.
  • Try not to leave food in iron pan for long.
  • Cast iron cookware gets better with usage. The more you use the smoother and non stick it becomes.

Watch my video to see how easy it is to cook Sewain in cast iron kadai.

Will Cast Iron skillet Rust?

It is a natural property of iron to rust when exposed to water. So, in case rusting does occur in your cast iron cookware, simply scrub the affected area with a mixture of oil and cooking salt. Clean it thoroughly with water, wipe it dry and then apply a layer of oil, and store as usual.

In certain instances, when I’ve been pressed for time, I have left the iron kadai soaked in water overnight also. However, I always ensure to apply oil afterwards.

By following these tips, you will feel as if you are cooking in non-stick cookware. I successfully cook pasta, veg vermicelli, noodles, white gravies, red gravies and numerous vegetables in cast iron kadai without any issues.

How to clean Iron and Cast Iron cookware?

Cleaning iron utensils is a straightforward process.

Begin by soaking it in water before you commence cleaning. Utilize a gentle scraper or cloth to wipe it clean, followed by rinsing with water. Avoid using soaps.

For optimal results, dry the cookware thoroughly with a cloth and then apply oil. It is crucial to ensure that no water remains in the iron pan, as this can lead to rusting. If you are pressed for time, then keep the iron cookware upside down to let the water drain.

Can we reuse Cast Iron cookware once its rusted?

If your cast iron cookware has rusted, there’s no need to worry. Simply re-season it by following the same procedure described earlier. Once you’ve removed the rust, your cookware will be ready to use again.

How to fix flaking on Cast Iron?

Flaking can occur on cast iron pans, particularly on flat-bottomed ones. The black flakes that peel off a cast iron pan are usually layers of oil that have been used for seasoning. These flakes consist of carbonized oils or fats that did not properly bond with the iron. While the flakes themselves are not harmful, it is important to clean them. The best approach is to scrub the pan to remove the flakes and then re season it with oil.

What to avoid cooking in iron cookware?

Foods that you should not cook in iron cookware are:

  • Tamarind based food
  • Delicate Fish
  • Sticky dessert
  • Rice

When using new cast iron cookware, it is advisable to limit the use of highly acidic foods such as tamarind and lime. These acidic ingredients can cause the cookware to leach excessive iron into the food, potentially altering its taste. However, with regular usage and seasoning of the cast iron cookware, its leaching capabilities are typically reduced.

There have been numerous articles cautioning against cooking tomatoes in iron pans due to their acidity. However, many individuals, including myself, have found that after using an iron kadai for multiple cooking sessions, it is possible to cook onion and tomato-based gravies without encountering any issues. Similarly, eggs can be cooked on an iron tawa without adverse effects. It’s important to note that individual experiences may vary, and it’s always a good idea to exercise caution and observe the reactions of your specific iron cookware to different ingredients.

Can I cook regularly in Cast Iron Cookware?

Cast iron vessels get better with usage. So, it is recommended to use it frequently.

Cooking in cast iron utensils enhances the taste of the food. Personally, I use my iron kadai and iron tawa on a daily basis for all my cooking needs.

Types of Iron/ Cast Iron cookware

Some different types of iron cookware available in different sizes are:

  • Tawa for making chapatis or rotis
  • Dosa Tawa
  • Appam Pan
  • Paniyaram Pan
  • Kadai
  • Frying Pan
  • Wok
  • Tadka Pan
  • Skillet
  • Grill Pan
  • A flat based iron cookware can also be used on induction

Where to purchase iron cookware from

I have purchased different sizes of cast Iron kadai, iron tawa, iron dosa tawa, iron tadka pan from Indus Valley and Zistha brand. I have been using iron utensils for couple of years now and very satisfied with the quality.

The iron and cast iron cookware from Zishta and Indus Valley are of exceptional quality. I appreciate the fact that these brands prioritize traditional and sustainable manufacturing methods, which adds to the authenticity and value of their products.

Using these cookware pieces on a daily basis has been a joy. Whether it’s frying, sautéing, or simmering, these cookware items have proven to be reliable and efficient companions in the kitchen.

Warning: Be cautious when purchasing iron and cast iron cookware. Some sellers may apply a coating to the cookware to give it a smooth appearance, making it appear like genuine iron. To test its authenticity, they may use a magnet to convince you that it is indeed made of iron. However, this coating can gradually wear off with use and cooking.

To ensure you get authentic iron cookware, it is best to look for items that have a rustic and not overly smooth or shiny appearance. Authentic iron cookware tends to have a more rugged and traditional look. When in doubt, it’s always a good idea to buy from reputable and trusted sellers who are known for selling genuine iron cookware.

So, friends, it’s time to embrace our traditional wisdom and not be overly influenced by the West.

This post includes affiliate links. If you click the link and buy the iron cookware, I may receive a small fee from the seller. This small fee goes towards maintaining the site so I can continue to give you great content. 

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