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Cast Iron Beauties in my Kitchen :-)

February 22, 2014

Updated Nov 25 2015: Many are querying me about the differences between Cast Iron and Wrought Iron. I refer to the ‘Vaarpatta’ kadai here as cast iron because it is brittle as it is cast in mold essentially to get the desired shape. Regular Iron kadai is Wrought Iron which is not so brittle for obvious reasons. Both are equally good but Vaarpatta kadai or Cast Iron kadai/wok/tawa is still better with enhanced taste and less rusting quality.

In this post, I have dealt with only Cast Iron and not Regular/Wrought Iron cookware.

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Not only in Chennai, even in Doha I have moved over to Cast Iron kadais/woks/shallow to deep frying pans and Tawas from Teflon-coated Non-stick pans/woks/tawas.  Cast Iron is what my grandma used as I remember from very young years, and my friends in Kerala rebuked me for switching over to the chemical (Teflon) coated cooking pans/woks in last few years.   Could this be a reason for increasing incidences of cancer in India?  Because Indian cooking essentially needs direct cooking over fire to highest temperatures.  We cook for hours together like this almost everyday which also includes a substantial amount of pressure cooking.  So in these cases, how reliable is even  two or three coats of teflon in the non-stickware we use in our kitchen? Won’t the teflon melt or atleast smoulder?  The manufacturers say ‘no’ but I am a housewife, a full-time cook for my family and challenge me!  Teflon surely smoulders giving out the nastiest chemical/pungent odour and thinking of that going into our intestines spooks me completely.   Using stainless steel spoons is unavoidable in our cooking – because our cuisine demands so.  We are not the sauce and soup type cooks.  Unfortunately our cooking involves lots of deep frying, shallow frying, wet grinding, dry grinding, roasting, sauteing, seasoning all at nearly 100 degree centigrade.  What do you think is the best kitchenware under the circumstances?

Never discarded cast-iron totally from our life all these years, was only toying with Teflon pans as they come with good finishing and are cook-and-serve line mostly.This is not so possible with cast-iron.  Using the non-stick pan every morning to make omelettes always stayed at the back of my mind and I wanted to put an immediate stop to that – and have almost. Got back to cast-iron so the texture (of cooked food, in this case omelette) is different and better.

Alongwith cast-iron, I also use regular Iron/Wrought Ironware in my kitchen. This is easily rusty and needs greater maintenance.

CAST IRON WARE – THE TASTE ENHANCER

As for dosas and rotis/chappathis, anyway I was using mostly cast-iron tawas because right from the start, I have had this strongest opinion that the taste changes in non-stick pan and the browning does not happen the way it does with cast-iron. Dosas come out dry in nonstick tawas.

Ofcourse a mild single coat of oil is required for use in cast-ironware from time-to-time which is minimal/negligible.  I use a fresh cut onion instead of tissue paper everytime to swipe the cast iron pan/tawa with a tsp of oil which gives it a special aroma especially while making dosas.  (eco-friendly thus, cutting out on tissue use).

From making daily omelettes in my cute tiny cast-iron wok to cooking chicken curries and gravies to vegetable stir-frying to bringing stews to a boil and doing the dosas/chappathis/parathas and even toasting bread, cast iron it is for us now completely.  Nonstick ware is mostly reserved for use when we have guests as it is quick and easy and user-friendly.  Naturally cast-iron takes time and also a bit of oil – healthy oil.  A minimum of 1-3 tsps of healthy coconut oil/olive oil/blended sunflower-corn seeds oil/mustard oil is good for our skin in my opinion.

WORLD’S MOST ECONOMIC COOKWARE

Cast Iron ware is brittle – in the sense will break if dropped with purpose.  I got it to Doha in hand luggage.  But cast-iron is very cheap and is available with some old stainless steel utensil sellers in Chennai.  Unbelievably cheap but limited in edition. A cast iron wok smallest size will not cost over 150 bucks and the biggest one, not over 350/- bucks.  Whereas one has to shell out 5-10 times these prices for the same size/volume Teflon nonstick ware.

I recommend everyone to think of cast-iron in place of teflon coated non-stick ware in order to have a truly healthy kitchen.  I am also using ‘matka’ (clay pots) wherever its possible like when cooking greens/paalak (spinach).  Thinking of bringing down some copper utensils especially the tumblers from the loft.  I have inherited quite a good collection of brass/copper cookware, my family heirloom from mother’s side.  This includes a 5 box tiffin carrier (lunch box), plates, big pots and pans etc etc.  Antique, high value today and also healthy choice.  Want to include some of these in everyday cooking from now on.

Maintenance and Usage:

Note:  Cast Iron is very heavy for handling.  Needs to be dried completely everytime after usage.  Requires good/adequate space for storing and must not be stacked one over another.

When you buy cast iron, it will look mostly very rusty.  Wash it and scrub it thoroughly a number of times after immersing in water for 1-2 hours. Then wipe dry, coat it in oil and leave for a day.  Again scrub it and wash it and dry it and oil it. Repeat the process for a week for the rust to wear off totally and for the black colour to set in.

Takes time to practice in cast iron.  At first it will be sticky entirely.

For first time use, heat the cast iron kadai/wok/tawa/pan, oil it generously and fry boiled rice to remove the remaining rust off the cast iron.  Repeat the process if necessary.  Cool the pan/tawa, wash it again and dry it.

Next, use oil generously and deep-fry papads/potato chips first to get it into cooking mode once the rust is worn off completely.   Deep fry atleast a couple of times.

Use next to do chappathis or toast bread as the third step.

These three are the essential ‘conditioning’ steps to make fit the cast iron ware for our regular kitchen use.

By now, the cast iron tawa/pan is almost adapted for likely usage for shallow frying etc.

The final qualifying test is when you can roast potato/aloo curry comfortably in your cast iron wok without the curry sticking to the sides and /or make a first thick ‘kal dosa’ nicely without tearing/breaking with the watery rice-urad dal batter in the cast iron tawa that comes out free with ease.  When your cast iron pan/wok/tawa passes this ultimate test, then both of you are winners and friends for life!!!

For the cast-iron woks/pan/tawas to get completely non-sticky in character except for a minimal use of cooking oil, it will take time.  Atleast a month of regular use for deep-frying and chappathi/roti making is recommended before this non-stick mode sets in.  Once it does, the cast ironware will put all No.1 quality teflon coated branded nonstick ware to shame.  Best Indian kitchenware in my opinion.  Traditionally followed for millenniums.  Why we Indians don’t bother with patenting beats me.

Cast Ironware must not be scrubbed everyday.  A mere slapping and rinsing well with running water must be enough – once the cast ironware cools off to room temperature the natural way.  Never attempt cleaning/scrubbing it when it is hot/warm.  This will turn the cast iron to sticky mode once again so that the tedious re-conditioning has to be done with no option.  Always rub in a tsp of oil after use to keep off rust on both sides.  Keep over newspaper sheets or other papers on storage shelves/cupboards.

Health Benefits:

Needless to be told, Cast Iron is an indirect source of iron.  We source it the way we source vitamin D from direct sunlight.  Nowadays iodine is added to our cooking salt. Iron is likewise best consumed this way through our kitchenware for whatever shortfall we may find in our food intake.   This is what doctors here say, repeating what our grandmas used to say.  Atleast Cast Iron is not a chemical like ‘teflon’ in nonstick ware.   We do not know exactly the health risks from long term usage of nonstick ware.  But using it at very high temperatures for a good length of time does make one nervous.  Atleast makes me nervous.  Cast Iron is a healthy choice that way.

Wrought Iron (regular iron) kadais/woks/tawas which are easily available in all parts of India are a good substitute for Cast Iron in case the latter is not procurable.

Please Vote Your Choice:

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49 Comments
  1. nice post on Cast Iron Beauties but these are all very heavy to handle as well as these all are sticky but cooked food from this is good for health…

    • Thank you for visiting my blog. Yeah heavy but can’t be an issue when compared to pressure cookers for instance. Not at all sticky. Cast ironware needs some preparation before regular use in our kitchen. We will feel comfortable with usage. Even nonstick ware/teflonware is not entirely non-sticky, they do need a mild coating of oil.

      • Saroja Ranganathan. permalink

        There is another variety called ‘dhandavala kal dosa tawa means made of railway trac steel. It is very good and can make excellent dosa from the very first day. Does not need much seasoning . I bought from Kumbhakonam Kumbeshwar temple shop for ₹250/-. You have to bargain. It does not rust easily. May be available in Chennai also.

      • Thank you. I shall try that one. May be our restaurants all use it? They make in batches upto 10-12 at a time.

      • Nice article. Where do you get cast iron pots and Pans in India? I got a lodge one online but was very very expensive as it was made in the US. Thanks

      • In all Indian cities and towns it is possible to get cast iron pots and pans in stainless steel utensil shops. These are located in all busy bazars or shopping areas. Very reasonable rates.

  2. Hello I can’t help thinking/worrying someone from west getting the traditional Cast Ironware of India patented in their names.

  3. I am convinced that we need to stop using non stick cookware. however i am clueless where to buy them in bangalore

    • You may buy cast iron ware in any traditional stainless steel or steel utensil shop in Bangalore. Or they are available very cheap in Ratna Stores, Pondy Bazaar, T.Nagar in Chennai. They need to be trained proper before use. Healthy option!

  4. Sindhuja permalink

    Hi, I wanted to buy cast iron tawa and the rate in amazon was 3K.but after reading ur blog I’m waiting to go to chennai and buy it.Can you teme the tamil name of cast iron so that i can enquire in ratna stores.

    • It is called ‘vaarpatta kadai’ in tamil. Any stainless steel utensil shop in Chennai will have it. To name a few, Ratna Stores in Pondy Bazaar, T Nagar and Amara Stores in Pulla Avenue, Shenoy Nagar. Price is less than 500 bucks any size. The kadai will look rusty so don’t get discouraged. It is in your hands to give it the ‘oil treatment’ and make it operational.

      • Really happy to know people want to switch over to cast iron cooking range. Happy for the little role I have played here: please post feedback after conditioning it and using it. Thank you for visiting my blog.

  5. Geetha permalink

    Where from can I get cast iron pans and tawas on online India…???? Please help me with this…!!!! 😦

    • Cast iron pans/tawas/woks/karais are available in many stainless steel utensil shops in Chennai. Pl visit Ratna Stores, Pondy Bazaar in T. Nagar, the main shopping district. The cast iron ware will look very rusty, they need good preparation to get them into proper cooking shape. Refer to maintenance in the blog post.

  6. 9757491388 permalink

    From where i can get cast iron tawas or pans in mumbai, i searched a lot..

    • They are available in Chennai. Please look for them at Ratna Stores, Pondy Bazaar, T.Nagar or at Amara Stores, Pulla Avenue, Shenoy Nagar. They look rusty – ask for Cast Ironware by their tamil name ‘Vaar Patta Kadai.’ Shop assistants do not know the English names.

    • Not sure whether they are available in Mumbai. If you buy them from Chennai, please condition them for use as I have detailed in the blog post. It takes time to train the ‘vaar patta kadais’ and ‘vaar patta tawas’ for regular use, please do not lose patience.But once they are inducted into your kitchen, you will never touch the non-stick ware.

    • Komal permalink

      Hi…did u find these cast iron cookware in mumbai?

  7. brij permalink

    Very nice article and very good informative blog. Congratulations for all your efforts and inheritance & preserving the good practices.

    Learnt so many things!!

  8. ani permalink

    very nice post..after reading this I bought a kadai and a tawa from a local shop(Gujarat).it was rusty here and there, but looked dark grey in color and very smooth to the touch except for the rusty parts.is it normal? back at my home in Kerala we have black cast iron pans and kadais…how do i make sure that mine are cast iron?

    • Vaarpatta kadai/tawa or cast iron tawa/kadai is breakable and the shop assistance will tell you this. It is very heavy compared to normal/regular iron tawa/kadai. It is possible that you have got yourself Wrought Iron cookware.

  9. ani permalink

    I bought a kadai and tawa after reading this post and they have rust here and there but mostly smooth with dark gray color. how do I make sure that I bought cast iron?

    • There are 2 types of Iron tawas & kadais. Simple/regular iron which is Wrought Iron & the Varpatta kadai/tawa which is Cast Iron. Both may rust. The first kind is unbreakable that we regularly use in south Indian cooking for deep frying Murukku etc. The second one is Varpatta kadai/tawa which is brittle iron, easily breakable if dropped deliberately. Both kinds initially look deep red/rusty. It is only on usage they acquire the black colour with time. Oil your iron tawa/kadai inside out and leave for the night. Rinse in the morning. Repeat it for a week. Even after you start using the iron kadai/tawa in your kitchen in regular basis, keep the tawa/kadai slightly oiled with the help of a tissue always. No harsh scrubbing. This will keep out the rust. Splash water and clean with your hands or very mild sponge on cooling. Never rinse when the tawa/kadai is hot.

  10. Vaarpatta Kadai, the brittle variety is limited edition. I doubt if you can get it anywhere outside Tamil Nadu. What you are using is perhaps regular iron kadai/tawa (wrought iron) which is also good.

  11. Pravin permalink

    Very well explained. It will surely help people to choose healthier option. Thank you for such a informative and nice blog.

  12. Tanuja permalink

    Plz share is there any difference between the two outcomes of the recipes when prepared in vaarpattu (cast iron) cookware as compared to iron utensil (wrought iron) cookware… Especially dosas prepared in cast iron tawa as compared to iron plate… Which one gives better outcomes?

    • Very tough to make dosas in wrought iron but comes easy in cast-iron tawa once it is set. For rotis, both are fine. Cast iron cooking takes time as it is denser. Wrought iron or regular iron tawa/kadai is lighter in weight. But it is possible for the dish to get stuck to the cookware in the case of regular/wrought iron. Dish will come out clean and crispy in cast-iron once you condition it right.

    • I personally prefer cast iron to wrought iron even if the former takes time. If you are in a hurry, both may not help you.

  13. Tanuja permalink

    Plz share is there any difference between the two outcomes of the recipes when prepared in vaarpattu (cast iron) cookware as compared to regular iron utensil (wrought iron) cookware… Especially dosas prepared in cast iron tawa as compared to iron plate… Which one gives better outcomes?

    • Definitely cast iron is better but wrought iron is also good. Wrought iron is thin, so needs even more practice. Cast iron is dense and sturdy. Once practised, it is best.Rust is more in wrought iron.

  14. Vijaya permalink

    Hi, where can we buy cast iron tawa and wok from in Mumbai?

  15. Anita permalink

    Does anyone know what cast iron is called in Marathi?

    • No idea sorry 🙂

      • Sanj permalink

        Very useful post. Does anyone know where I can buy cast iron pans etc in Kerala? I’ve bought one online, but it was sooo expensive.

      • You may get them from Chennai. On the other hand they must be cheapest. Not sure but my friends in Thrissur use only cast iron in cooking. So there must be shops selling ironware. Please try at traditional stainless steel utensils shop – old ones.

      • Vasant permalink

        bid

    • Vaidehi permalink

      बिडाचा तवा

    • It is called beed in Marathi

  16. Shubhangi permalink

    Hello. … very useful post…. I am impressed by your post, so I have bought cast iron kadhai and dosa tawa… Sharing pix with you… below is the link

    I have few queries
    1. You have said deep fry potato… make chapati… During cast iron cleaning procedures, but thoes food are eatable?
    2. How to make chapati in kadhai?

    • Why not? Oil coating the cast iron kadai/wok is a must. Dishes will take time to come out clean without sticking to sides. Deep fry papads in kadai and make chappathis or toast bread in the tawa to condition them for sometime. Food made thus is healthiest. If you heat the nonstickware to same high temperature, there will a chemical process involved.

    • Neethu permalink

      Hii Malati.. I’m looking for cast iron vessel.. where did u buy these in Chennai?

  17. Gaurav Vel permalink

    What if I told all of you there is an Cast Iron Dosa Pan which you can buy which does not need any seasoning and you can start making crispy dosa’s from the first scoop of batter ?

  18. Vaidehi permalink

    That is called (Lodge) Preseasoned Iron cast pan, Available on amazon.

  19. Archana Ramadas permalink

    We are with a plan to bring back the traditional cookwares made upof cast iron stoneware bronze etc back to the modern kitchen which are filled with unhealthy stainless steel and nonstick wares, many of the studies are saying that these modern cookwares are having a great role in causing many gastrp intestinal problems and even cancer. As a solution to this problem we are here with a new store.

    Visit our facebook page http://m.facebook.com/ardacookware and buy your favorite ancestral cookware.
    We sell pre-seasoned(non sticky) cast iron cookware, stoneware, earthenware and bronzeware all over india.
    We deliver at you door steps

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