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earthduzt's avatar

Why do things taste better when cooked in a cast iron skillet?

Asked by earthduzt (3218points) June 7th, 2010

So I’m just wondering if there is reason things taste better in a cast iron skillet? A steak for example, I will cook a steak only on the grill most of the time but if it’s bad weather outside I will cook indoors only using an iron skillet. Is there some scientific explanation as to why the use of one is better than you average metal skillet? Maybe something to do with distribution of heat?

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13 Answers

dealrrr's avatar

cast iron skillets are best when there “seasoned” meaning having flavor from everything cooked in it previously.

josie's avatar

You are right on target. The upside to cast iron cookware is even distribution of heat-minimization of a hot spot where it touches a flame or coil, and uniform radiance if it is in the oven. Downside is weight and you have to be careful about grabbing the handle when it is hot.

stranger_in_a_strange_land's avatar

@josie has it right. The mass of iron ensures that there will be no hot spots.

perspicacious's avatar

I don’t think they necessarily taste better, but iron is good to cook in if frying.

13thpagoda's avatar

This might sound a little nutty, but I think it also has something to do with the alignment of the magnetic field around a cast iron pot. The field is only slightly stronger than anywhere else, but it is enough to affect the chemical changes that occur during the cooking process. This is because there is a lot of iron in blood, and as a consequence, red meat is affected more strongly than less red meats, which retain less iron after being slaughtered. Our taste buds are affected by this change enough that we think the food tastes better.

CMaz's avatar

THe “seasoned” process as @dealrrr said. And, Hot and fast. Searing the flavors in.

hannahsugs's avatar

@13thpagoda: I’ve never heard of cast iron pans having any kind of magnetic effect before. I’d be fascinated if that was true, so may I ask where you’ve heard this before? I ask because it goes against my expectations: Scientifically, when you heat a magnet very hot you will weaken or destroy the magnetic field, so I wouldn’t expect a cast iron pan, which gets heated all the time, to have any magnetic properties at all. if this isn’t true, I’d love to know why.

sneakatoke420's avatar

I think it’s psychological.

ipso's avatar

As for me, I put a sliver of unsalted butter into the pan before I fry a steak. That alone may answer your question. (I’m told that is how most restaurants cook steaks, by the way – not grilling.)

Ultra traditionalists will insist that you can get a much better MEAT flavor if done correctly on an open flame. No dry rub, or butter, or even marinade: only salt and freshly ground black pepper, if you have great meat. Save the fluff for the cheap stuff. I’ve actually read somewhere that charred meat creates enzymes that humans go bonkers over on many levels, and open flame is apparently the best thing to achieve that – if done correctly. That explained a lot for me. I just can’t do it very well because I only have a little 1’ coal hibachi. So what I do is disconnect my smoke alarm and burn both sides on Hi+ using a trusted Lodge.

Try increasing your grill heat to where you only have to cook the meat for 2–4min a side; and then the key – the absolute critical thing – is letting the steak sit for 5+min on a plate with a cover to allow the steak juices to gather and condensation to happen under the cover. Some people serve steak from a grill directly, or let the steaks sit on a higher level in the grill and dry out. Meat should be served from a serving plate (covered, if you have one).

Good luck!

Dr_Dredd's avatar

@ipso Unfortunately, the charring is also carcinogenic. But it tastes really good!

Rufus_T_Firefly's avatar

I’ve always used my cast iron skillet to produce the perfect steak.

The best way I’ve found (other than cooking them on an open grill) is to place a cast-iron skillet in the oven, preheating both oven and skillet to 500ºF. When the oven reaches 500ºF remove the skillet and place it on a burner set to high. Sear both sides if the steak for about 1 minute. It is very important that you DO NOT move the steak during the searing process. When both sides are properly seared, place skillet back in oven and continue cooking the steaks for another 3–4 minutes per side. Then, you have to ‘tent’ the steaks with aluminum foil and let them rest for another 3–5 minutes (depending on how you like your steak cooked), as a steak will continue to cook for a few minutes after it’s removed from the oven. If you cut into a steak without letting it set, it will lose a lot of it’s juiciness. Sheer perfection is the result.

Rufus_T_Firefly's avatar

Also, I forgot to add that I usually use a little butter or a little bit of an oil with a very high smoke-point (like peanut oil, sunflower oil or a light olive oil) before searing the steaks.

tlcraftj's avatar

I know that if you fry potatoes in a steel pan and simultaneously fry some in a cast iron skillet-same size burners, pan, same flame- the iron skillet potatoes come out crispier and, IMHO, tastier. There is something going on with heat being stored in the iron skillet which is added to the heat from the burner, maybe? It’s like the energy passes right through the steel but hangs around in the iron and adds to the cooking experience. I should also add that my steel pans have aluminum bottoms.

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