The best tools for the trade, cast iron cookware

A good craftsman has the right tools for his trade. It makes his mission to create easier and allows him the freedom to explore his creativity without limitations. The same is true for a home chef, with the right tools, your cooking experience at home will be pleasurable and one that has little boundaries.
I came to this realization very quickly about 10 years ago when I decided to take the plunge and invest in a few cooking vessels! Now to be honest, when I first started my search, it was all about the aesthetics, functionality was an afterthought. However, as I dived deeper into my research, it became apparent that my eyes had behold, true cooking gems.

Let us explore a few of my favorite cast iron cooking vessels and why they are at the top of my list as some of the best tools for the trade of cooking!
Cast iron is one of the best materials to cook in and so, excellent for making pots. Made primarily of iron, cast iron has a natural nonstick surface that is durable, nontoxic, holds heat well and distributes heat evenly. Pots made of cast iron are typically easy to clean, safe and versatile regarding the cooking surfaces that it can be used on. There are two types of cast iron pots, raw cast iron and enamel coated cast iron.
Raw cast iron pots are the simplest of the two. They are made by pouring a mixture of molten iron alloy into a sand mold, sand casting, and then left to cool. The main benefit of using raw cast iron is that it naturally imparts tiny amounts of minerals into the food being cooked. So, it can be a good source of iron. Additionally, it brings out and intensifies the natural flavors of the foods that are prepared on its surface, and it is the most nontoxic form of cookware available on the market today.
The downsides to using raw cast iron cookware are that cast iron requires constant seasoning, a method that involves rubbing the cast iron surfaces with oil and then baking at constant heat, to maintain its nonstick surface and ease of cooking, special tools and efforts may sometimes be required for cleaning and the cookware is usually heavy.
Popular and notable brands for raw cast iron pots include Lodge, known best for cooking performance, affordability, durability, and quality; Victoria Cookware deemed best, based on the variety of shapes, sizes and uses in pots that this band offers and Smithey Ironware, known distinctly for producing unique, ornate, high-quality pieces.
Enameled cast iron cookware has become a favorite among many cooking enthusiasts. It is simply cast iron that has been coated with a thin layer of enamel. This enamel coat creates a smooth, non-porous finish that serves to protect the core material of the cooking vessel, giving it a colorful and attractive finish. The enameling process involves the cast iron surface being prepared by being cleaned, then sandblasted to create a rough surface to increase adhesion of the enamel. The enamel coat, prepared by mixing glass powder with a water-based solution to create clay, which is then aged and pressurized, is then applied evenly across the entire pot by spraying. The sprayed pots are then placed in a furnace, with temperatures up to 1600 F, to be cured and then cooled.
These enameled cast iron pots are one of my favorites to cook in, specifically the Le Creuset brand. They are versatile and can be used to prepare meals in just about any fashion, roast, fry, braise, boil, sear, or stew. They are also durable, I have had a few of my pieces for about 10 years, they have been used extensively but they look just as new as when they first came out of the box. These pots cook evenly on any cooking surface and can handle high temperatures up to 500F. They really can! I have even used them on the grill. Enameled cast iron pots are also non-toxic and not reactive to acidic foods. This prevents metal leaching. One of my most favorite things about enameled cast iron pots is that cleanup is usually a breeze, even if you have managed to burn a few of your dishes that have polymerized and become hardened. Now the note-worthy thing about these enamel pots is that they are simply beautiful! They are showstoppers, with vibrant colors that shimmer and shine! To be honest, cooking in these pots can be addictive. Once you start cooking in them, you will never want to stop!
The disadvantages to cooking with enameled cast iron pots are very few. Like with raw cast iron pieces, they are on the heavier side, and they are susceptible to thermal shock, which can cause cracking if the enamel coating. These types of pots can also be on the fragile side and easily chip if dropped or banged into something that is equally as hard and solid. They also hold heat very well and can get hot very quickly, so watch out with those bare hands! Lastly, because of their beauty, performance, and appeal, enameled cast iron pieces are typically on the pricier side when compared to raw cast iron cookware.
There are many brands that rival each other to be number one in the enameled cast iron cookware category. The most popular brands are Le Creuset, known for its relatively lightweight pots that are high quality, excellent in performance and have outstanding craftsmanship; Staub, also popular for its high quality and high performing pieces that have unique shapes, colors and patterns and Lodge known for producing budget friendly pieces that perform similarly to its high-end counter parts.
For the experience, the quality, the artistry, and owning items that spark joy, consider upping your cooking game and exploring the best tools for the craft you are honing. Consider choosing and cooking with cast iron pots, especially the enameled ones. Happy cooking!

Previously published on the on September 24, 2023.

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