If you haven’t noticed from my Facebook posts, I’m a huge advocate of cast iron cookware in vacation rental kitchens. They’re extraordinarily practical, not expensive and are a favorite among both professional chefs and home cooks.
Unfortunately, they’re tremendously uncommon in vacation rentals.
And this needs to change.
Why is cast iron perfect for holiday homes? First of all, let me describe a frequent scenario my family is frequently confronted with upon entering a vacation rental for the first time: We unpack, settle in, go into the kitchen to start preparing our first big communal meal. Yay! I go to search for a nice, dependable skillet to sear some rib eye steaks, and looking through the kitchen cabinets, this is way, way, waaaayyyy too often what I find instead:
A crappy, non-stick pan that looks like people took it camping and scrambled eggs with a fork in it! Yuck! Really?! And I paid how much for this rental?!
And no, this doesn’t only occur in lower priced rentals either. It happens just as often in the high-rent digs.
We find these in vacation rentals in all price ranges. Frequently. As a matter of fact, as a precaution, if we take our car, I’ve started bringing our trusty cast iron pan with us, just to be on the safe side.
Bogus, non-stick pans are a huge bummer. I mean… yuck! Who wants to cook in them? First of all, with all the research out there on the carcinogens released when these pans are (1) overheated and (2) scratched with a fork or a metal spatula, it’s a really bad deal. And we all know that guests are going to overheat and scratch the pan. Goes with the territory.
Secondly, these pans are usually light-weight. They’re meant for pancakes, egg dishes, delicate fish, and oozy, cheesy things like quesadillas. No way are they even remotely great for searing a piece of meat or a slow cook, let alone skillet potatoes (a vacation favorite).
Get cast iron instead!
Not only is cast iron almost as stick-proof as Teflon, it’s the answer for all kinds of crazy good cooking – crispy potato hash, buttery breakfast pancakes, perfectly seared steaks, pan pizza (yes, pan pizza!), corn bread, stir-fries, the list is long. My point is, cast iron’s a versatile workhorse and no other pan even comes close to its league.
So here’s the scoop on why I recommend cast iron pans in your vacation rental kitchen.
(1) It’s Reasonably Priced.
We all know the exorbitant price of cookware. That shiny new Williams-Sonoma copper core pan you manpower is $149! On sale. How about a Le Creuset Stainless-Steel Fry Pan? $130! Such prices might make sense in your own kitchen but certainly does not pencil out in vacation rentals.
Cast iron pans, on the other hand, are generally very reasonable. Here are two high-quality, low-cost options:
1. Camp Chef
Camp Chef is primarily an outdoor camping equipment company, but they also make some really high-quality cast iron cookware. I like how the undersides are embossed with emblems of US National Monuments too.
Lodge is the oldest family-run foundry in America and founded in the Appalachian Mountains of Tennessee by Joseph Lodge. They are eco-friendly too. In 1992, Lodge replaced its coal fire furnaces with an electromagnetic induction melting system, which cut hazardous waste production to a fraction.
And if having to season your own cooking pan is a bother, Lodge offers pre-seasoned cast iron cookware as well.
(2) It’s Easy to Maintain
Cast iron isn’t as much of a baby as you think it is. It’s tough! After all, there are 75-year-old cast iron pans kicking around at yard sales and antique shops. There’s a lot of misinformation about cast iron pans being delicate and requiring complicated care. Hogwash! According to the Managing Culinary Director of Serious Eats, and author of the James Beard Award-nominated column, The Food Lab, J. Kenji Lopez-Alt (who cooks for hours at a time in cast iron), you can do all of the following with a cast iron skillet:
- Wash it with soap and water – Soap is fine on cast iron. It’s not going to strip off the seasoning; seasoning is actually not a thin layer of oil that comes off with soap, it’s a thin layer of polymerized oil, a key distinction. In a properly seasoned cast iron pan, one that has been rubbed with oil and heated repeatedly, the oil has already broken down into a plastic-like substance that has bonded to the surface of the metal. This is what gives well-seasoned cast iron its non-stick properties, and as the material is no longer actually an oil, the surfactants in dish soap should not affect it. Go ahead and soap it up and scrub it out.
- Use metal utensils on it – There’s a theory out there that the seasoning in cast iron pans is delicate and can easily flake out or chip if you use metal utensils. Not true! The reality is the seasoning in cast iron is actually remarkably resilient. It’s not just stuck to the surface, like tape, it’s actually chemically bonded to the metal. Scrape away with a metal spatula and unless you’re actually gouging out the surface of the metal, you should be able to continue cooking in it with no issue.
- Stack your cast iron on top of each other – Cast iron is just as tough as stainless and copper, so you can stack pans one on top of the other without worrying about the seasoning coming off. Stack away. Stack high, stack big!
So here’s the skinny on taking care of cast iron:
- Wash it with a bit of soap and water, scrub it down and let it air dry or towel it dry.
- Once a month (or less in low season), season your pan by doing the following: Spread a thin layer of melted shortening or vegetable oil over the skillet. Place it upside down on a middle oven rack at 375°. (Place foil on a lower rack to catch drips.) Bake for one hour and let cool.
- If guests have put cast iron in the dishwasher, don’t worry! It’s not a big deal, just swish a little oil on the inside of the pan, then place the skillet over a burner set to high heat. When most of the water inside the skillet has dried out, add a half teaspoon of a neutral oil like vegetable, canola, flaxseed, or shortening. Rub it around with a paper towel. Continue heating the pan until it just starts to smoke then give it one more good rub. Let it cool and you’re done.
(3) It looks chic as it matures (which matters in vacation rentals).
The wonderful thing about cast iron is that unlike other types of materials, like stainless steel and aluminum, it doesn’t show all the burnt marks that guests leave on the inside and outside of pans. Removing those stubborn stains takes manpower and there isn’t always time to eliminate them before the next guests check in. And you know how important the appearance of cleanliness is in getting those 5-star reviews, right? Burnt marks aren’t acceptable.
Cast iron, on the other hand, is actually enhanced with stubborn “stains.” The more, the merrier! In fact, those dark spots play an important role in seasoning the pan, which is why food tastes so rich. Furthermore, the seasoning is what makes cast iron stick-proof (or at least relatively so).
Satin smooth, deep black, cast iron is beautiful. In fact, on a trip out to Atlanta earlier this year, I came across a stunning wall display of vintage cast iron in the trendy Miller Union restaurant. Quite a show stopper (don’t you love those guitar pans?)!
Convinced cast iron is the bomb? Here are some beginner pieces….
Here’s my rule of thumb:
- For a 2 to 4 person rental, one 12″ skillet is perfect. You can comfortably fit 4 burger patties, eggs, or french toast in the bottom and still have room to maneuver.
- For a 6 to 8 person rental, I’d get both a 10″ and a 12″ skillet.
- For more than 8 people, get one 15″, one 12″ and one 10″ skillet and the mob will all be fed. Well.
Once you get the hang of seasoning your cast iron, add more cast iron pieces if needed.
Now get cooking!
Pssttt… and please throw out the iffy non-stick!