Perfectly fine or tragically misguided cookware question
October 15, 2010 4:12 PM   Subscribe

How seriously should I worry about cooking acids in a cast iron pan?

I know the standard advise is 'don't' but I'm not sure if that means 'don't boil a quart of vinegar in there' or 'don't add a cup of wine to the osso buco'.

I have a cast iron dutch oven I want to cook osso buco in, but I'm wary of adding the required cup of wine if it's going to create an off taste or turn everything green.

How big a deal is this? I've added small amounts of wine to cast iron pans to create a quick pan sauce, but the osso buco requires some simmer time.

Do I have to go out and buy an enameled dutch oven? What if I just cooked it in a regular large soup pot?

But I really do want to know about the acid/cast iron thing. It seems like I see cast iron dutch ovens recommended pretty regularly, but all I do with mine is bake bread because I don't know anything else (other than fried chicken) to cook in it that doesn't require wine or tomatoes or some other acid.

To be clear, it's a non-enameled cast iron pan from Lodge.
posted by A Terrible Llama to Food & Drink (16 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Mine turns out fine. I wouldn't store anything acidic in my cast iron, but I cook acidic things (like spaghetti sauce with wine, etc) and it hasn't wrecked the pans seasoning.
posted by small_ruminant at 4:29 PM on October 15, 2010 [2 favorites]

I would do it. Even if not enameled, those Lodge ones are generally "pre-seasoned" anyway, aren't they? I drop all kinds of acid in my Lodge.
posted by xueexueg at 4:31 PM on October 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

Mine turns out fine. I wouldn't store anything acidic in my cast iron, but I cook acidic things (like spaghetti sauce with wine, etc) and it hasn't wrecked the pans seasoning.

My experience is the same. And even if you do manage to totally deseason your pan, reseasoning isn't all that hard. I don't let acids sit for hours in the cast iron, but I don't worry about using wine or tomato sauce in it.
posted by Forktine at 4:34 PM on October 15, 2010

The corrosive nature of high-acid foods will not react well to unseasoned cast-iron. Once a pan is well-seasoned, however, you can use it for just about anything. [Source]
I've never had any problems with acidic foods (tomatoes mainly) in my cast iron, but it's really well seasoned.
posted by rhapsodie at 4:37 PM on October 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

My understanding is that non-anodized aluminum and cast iron cookware is what is considered 'reactive' (forgive me, I'm a musician, not a chemist). If you cook acidic food in it for a long period of time, these pans may impart a metallic flavor and possibly discolor the dish.

I have one big ol' cast iron skillet that we regularly cook one tomato-based dish in; I forgot about the acid/reactive metal bit the first time and it didn't make a difference. That being said, they're canned tomatoes, they're the only acidic thing in the dish and it doesn't cook long.

If you want to cook large pots of acidic foods regularly, I'd invest in an enamel-coated dutch oven. If you don't to shell out for the Le Creuset, check out the Lodge version.
posted by pianoboy at 4:41 PM on October 15, 2010

If you were cooking in aluminum, I might suggest another pan, but cast iron should be just fine.
posted by Gilbert at 4:41 PM on October 15, 2010

IIRC, the issue with acidic foods and cast iron is that the foods can sometimes turn a weird color, not that you're going to ruin your pan or poison yourself. I think it's more of a cosmetic issue than anything. And nthing everyone else, if the pan is well-seasoned it shouldn't be an issue at all.
posted by Jacqueline at 4:41 PM on October 15, 2010

Best answer: I'm cooking tomato sauce in a cast iron pan right now. I never, ever, think about this, and I cook acidic dishes in my cast iron skillets all the time. In fact, I only own cast iron skillets, and I cook acidic dishes all the time.
posted by OmieWise at 5:03 PM on October 15, 2010

I've made osso bucco and other winey stews for years in a non-enameled Dutch oven, and I'm now doing it in enameled ones (the former having been removed from my universe). There is a slight difference in taste between these two (although I kept the iron pot well-seasoned), but I have never been able to decide whether it's a big deal or not; maybe the iron pot even gave better results...

The easy answer is: It's not toxic anyway, the seasoning is unlikely to be permanently ruined by a cup of wine simmering for a few hours, and I have never seen any substantial discoloring in my food, so yeah, go ahead.
The more complex solution, if you now have that "regular large soup pot", is to make two batches and to compare.

(Also, fry your bacon in that Dutch oven (off-duty, like) to maintain it. And you should add wine to your roast chicken too. Yum.)
posted by Namlit at 5:09 PM on October 15, 2010

Best answer: We were just talking about this exact thing today in a nutrition class I'm taking! Cooking in cast iron, especially with an acid, is actually really good because it helps increase the iron in your diet. Here's a little article about it.
posted by fresh-rn at 5:53 PM on October 15, 2010 [3 favorites]

While an enameled cast-iron Dutch oven would be ideal, I wouldn't worry about it too much. A seasoned cast iron Dutch oven should work fine. And if it needs reseasoning, well, no biggie. It's cast iron. Short of dropping it into a blast furnace or leaving it out in the rain for a few years, you pretty much can't ruin it.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 5:57 PM on October 15, 2010

I wouldn't worry about it if it's seasoned. Sometimes acidic stuff makes the seasoning start to come off a little into the dish. I would nth the recommendation of an enameled dutch oven or pan. They're pretty great.
posted by elpea at 6:07 PM on October 15, 2010

I cook EVERYTHING in my cast iron skillets. Never noticed any problems, ever.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 7:07 PM on October 15, 2010

To add to the chorus: I do this all the time, and with a recipe similar to osso buco. I make braised short ribs in my cast-iron Dutch oven, and I add about a cup of red wine before putting the whole thing in the oven for several hours. It's never an issue.
posted by rhiannonstone at 7:21 PM on October 15, 2010

Cook's Illustated says weaker acids (steak with a red wine sauce) are fine, but more acidic things like stewed tomatoes that also stay in the pot for a longer time will take on a tinny flavor.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 8:48 PM on October 15, 2010

Response by poster: Perfect; thanks so much for the reassurance everyone.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 7:53 AM on October 16, 2010

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