Home on the range.

From N., 16 February 2010, Electric ranges: compatible with cast iron cookware?

Q: This is not a food question, per se, but have you got anything to say about oven/ranges, generally? We have an ancient electric one that I want to replace. We don’t have a gas line, so if we’re going that route, we’d have to incur that extra expense. Not out of the question, if it’s really worth it (I do love gas, but have been cooking on electric so long I forget), but electric would be easier, for sure. Ceramic or coil-top? I’ve heard cast iron scratches ceramic top, and if that’s true, that rules that out, since I won’t give up my cast iron pans.

Any tips of what to look forwould be most appreciated, thanks!

A: Thanks for your question!

Your question couldn’t be more timely as my favorite food experimentationists (I know, it’s not really a word) just addressed the science of cast iron cooking today on their blog, Cooking Issues. Dave Arnold doesn’t directly address your question, but he provides some insight in his discussion of the nonstick surface. As he observes, polished cast iron is more amenable to seasoning than unpolished, and (it seems obvious) provides a glass-smooth surface, but most modern cast iron is unpolished. One reason you aren’t supposed to use cast iron on a glass or ceramic cooktop is the need to avoid scratches, which may damage the cooktop’s function. Any rough surfaces on the bottom of a cast iron pan may scratch the cooktop. Arnold’s solution to the rough cooking surface is sanding with rough sandpaper; in the comments, he agrees that 200 grit paper should work fine. And in any case, you won’t scratch the cooktop unless you slide your pans around; to avoid problems, lift the pans from the cooktop rather than sliding them and you should be fine.

Another reason you’re supposed to avoid using cast iron on glass or ceramic is the possibility of cracking the cooktop. This is only a distinct possibility when using a pan that is substantially larger than the heating element – that is, a pan whose circumference extends more than one inch beyond that of the heating element. If it’s larger, it may cause the glass on non-element portion of the stove to crack. As Arnold observes, however, cast iron is a poor conductor of heat, but retains heat exceptionally well. So unless you’re preheating your cast iron in the oven for even heating and then transferring to a too-small element on the glass cooktop, you should be fine.

All that said, I have a strong preference for gas, which permits quicker heat control, especially if you use cooking equipment made of a highly conductive material such as aluminum. If you’re a cast iron devotee, though, given the strong heat retention properties of cast iron, the quick-change properties of gas are less important. So you should feel comfortable buying a glass or ceramic cooktop.

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