Cast iron cookware has been a favorite for generations, but did you know there’s a tougher, more durable version called hard nitriding cast iron? This type of cast iron is coated with a permanent non-toxic material that makes it extra resistant to wear and rust, making it perfect for those who want cookware that lasts a lifetime.
But what exactly is nitrided cast iron, and how do you use it? Is it a safe choice for those who want a non-toxic life? In this article, we’ll dive deep into the world of hard-nitriding cast iron cookware, from its manufacturing process to its benefits and drawbacks.
Whether you’re a seasoned cookware enthusiast or just getting started, understanding the power of hard-nitriding cast iron can help you choose your kitchen cookware wisely.
On this page… (JUMP TO)
- What is hard nitriding?
- Hard nitriding cast iron vs. normal cast iron: the differences
- The pros and cons of hard-nitriding cast iron
- How do you use and care for hard nitriding cast iron cookware?
- Are hard nitriding cast iron pans safe to cook with?
- Finding hard nitriding cast iron
- Frequently asked questions (FAQs)
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What is hard nitriding?
Hard nitriding is a heat treatment process that strengthens and increases the rust resistance of certain metals like stainless steel and cast iron. It’s most often used in industrial applications, like engine parts and firearms manufacturing, to increase the lifespan of metal parts. But it can be used to make your cookware last longer too!
The process involves heating the cast iron or stainless steel in the presence of ammonia gas, which diffuses nitrogen into the metal surface and forms an external hard nitrided layer that improves its hardness, wear resistance, and rust resistance.
While hard nitriding is commonly used for stainless steel and cast iron, it can also be used on other types of steel and metals, like titanium and aluminum, though less often.
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Hard nitriding cast iron vs. normal cast iron: the differences
Normal seasoned cast iron is a classic, tried-and-true method that has been used for generations. It’s created by seasoning cast iron with oil and high heat, forming a natural non-stick coating on the surface of the cookware. This method is a great way to create cookware that is durable, natural, and long-lasting.
Hard nitriding cast iron works very similarly, but it has additional benefits like better durability, wear resistance, and rust protection. It’s been hardened through the nitriding process which offers a permanent, tougher, more wear-resistant coating.
Overall, while normal seasoned cast iron is inherently very durable and can reliably last a lifetime, hard nitriding cast iron adds to its durability and resistance to rust.
When it comes to cleaning, both traditional cast iron and nitrided cast iron use the same process, but nitrided cast iron can handle more abrasiveness and scrubbing without losing its non-stick properties.
With both types of cast iron, it’s best to dry them thoroughly over low heat after washing to prevent rust.
The maintenance process for both normal cast iron and hard nitriding cast iron is similar. For traditional cast iron, it’s recommended to re-season or condition it with a light base of cooking oil after cleaning to prevent rust and maintain the non-stick coating. With hard nitrided cast iron, you can do the same and it’s beneficial, but it’s optional.
Both traditional cast iron and hard nitrided cast iron can develop a natural non-stick coating through seasoning, but hard nitriding cast iron can withstand more abrasion and scrubbing without losing its non-stick properties.
One advantage of hard nitrided cast iron is that it’s often lighter than traditional cast iron, thanks to the thinner pans that manufacturers can use without sacrificing performance. This isn’t always the case though so be sure to check the weight before making a purchase.
While traditional cast iron cookware uses grey cast iron, the nitriding process is only suitable for ductile cast iron. Both are considered safe for food use.
The pros and cons of hard-nitriding cast iron
- Extremely durable
- Non-stick with proper care
- Excellent heat retention and distribution
- Withstand high termperatuures
- Excellent for searing
- Can be used on all cooking surfaces, including induction
- Easy to clean with minimal maintenance required
- Can be used in the oven or on the grill (if your pans do not have wooden or silicone handles)
- Can be passed down as a family heirloom due to its durability
- Potential for leaching
- Limited availability
- Chemically processed
- Heavier than other cookware materials
- Longer preheating time is needed compared to other materials
- Not dishwasher safe
- Can require more oil for cooking compared to non-stick-coated cookware
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How do you use and care for hard-nitriding cast iron cookware?
Using nitriding cast iron is simple and with proper care, can last for many many years! It’s very similar to using traditional cast iron.
For starters, avoid using metal utensils or abrasive sponges on the surface of hard nitriding cast iron cookware. Instead, use wooden or silicone utensils and a soft sponge or brush for cleaning.
Here’s how you use a nitriding cast iron pan:
1. Preheat the pan
This step is so important with cast iron! Place the pan on the stove over medium-high heat. Allow it to preheat for 3-5 minutes before adding any oil or food.
2. Add oil
Once the pan is preheated, add just enough oil to the pan to coat the entire surface of the pan with oil using a paper towel or a silicone brush. You can use any oil with a high smoke point, like vegetable oil or canola oil.
3. Add food
Once the oil is heated, you can add your food to the pan. You don’t want the oil to start smoking before cooking. Avoid overcrowding the pan for best results.
4. Cook and transfer the food
Cook your food as you usually would. Hard nitriding cast iron can handle high heat if needed for the perfect sear. Once your food is cooked remove it from the pan.
5. Clean the pan
After cooking, let the pan cool completely. Then, rinse the pan with warm water and use a soft sponge or brush to clean the residue. Avoid using soap or harsh detergents.
6. Dry the pan
After washing, place the wet skillet on a low heat burner until all water has evaporated. Dry completely before storing.
7. Season the pan (optional)
While not necessary, seasoning your hard nitriding cast iron after each use or every few uses can help to maintain its non-stick properties, enhance flavors, and offer more rust protection.
To season your hard nitriding cast iron pan:
- Start with a clean, dry pan and add a small amount of oil to the surface of the pan, about a tablespoon. You can use a neutral oil like vegetable oil or flaxseed oil or even bacon grease.
- Spread the oil evenly over the entire surface of the pan using a paper towel, dish towel, or silicone brush. Be sure to cover the entire surface of the pan, including the sides and handle.
- Place the pan on medium-high heat and let it heat up for a few minutes until the oil starts to smoke slightly. This process helps to polymerize the oil and create a non-stick surface on the pan. If your pan starts to smoke excessively or the oil starts to burn, reduce the heat.
- Once the oil has been heated, wipe away any excess with a paper towel and let the pan cool completely before storing it.
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Are hard-nitriding cast iron pans safe to cook with?
Nitrided cast iron is considered one of the least toxic cookware and all available studies suggest it’s safe for cooking. What’s most important is properly maintaining and caring for your pans.
There have been no reports of adverse health effects associated with using hard-nitrided cast iron cookware to date, but more research is needed to fully understand health implications since it’s such a new style of cookware that’s not widely available.
Here’s what we do know so far:
Hard nitriding uses ammonia gas, which can be toxic at high concentrations. Luckily, the gas is fully converted into a solid nitride layer during the process, and the result is chemically stable and safe to use.
One study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry found that hard-nitrided cast iron cookware had lower levels of iron and manganese leaching compared to traditional unseasoned cast iron cookware, though some leaching happens similarly to cast iron.
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Finding hard nitriding cast iron
While it may not be as well-known as traditional cast iron just yet, there are definitely some great options out there.
You can find some amazing deals at Walmart or Target, and there are also plenty of online options available. Unfortunately, there aren’t any options on Amazon just yet.
La Gourmet makes quite a few options and is well known for their wok skillet.
You can also check out the nitrided collection from Italian manufacturer Brandani, which has rave reviews from happy customers.
Don’t be afraid to give hard-nitrided cast iron a try – you might be surprised by just how much you love it!
Frequently asked questions (FAQs)
Can I cook anything in nitrided cast iron pans?
Yes, you can cook nearly anything in hard nitriding cast iron pans, just like you would with any other type of cookware! They are especially great for high-heat cooking methods, like searing steaks, because they can withstand high temperatures without warping.
The only potential exception is cooking acidic foods because just as with traditional cast iron, the acid can react with the metal and leave an off-flavor and potentially increase leaching.
Will the finish on nitrided cast iron pans wear off?
The finish on the nitriding cast iron is permanent and will not come off.
Do you still need to season nitrided cast iron?
Seasoning isn’t absolutely necessary for your hard-nitriding cast iron pan/skillet/griddle, but it’s definitely worth it. Not only will it help maintain that slick, non-stick surface we all love, but it also protects your pan from rust. Plus, it enhances the flavor of your food! That’s why it’s recommended to season your cookware after each use.
Can hard-nitrided cast iron rust?
Nitrided cast iron can rust but it’s much more rust-resistant than non-treated cast iron.
How do you clean nitrided cast iron pans?
After cooking, give your cast iron pan a good scrub with hot water and a non-abrasive brush or sponge. Do not wash nitrided cast iron in the dishwasher.
Avoid soap or detergents for regular cleaning. When the cookware needs deep cleaning you can use diluted soapy water, but you should apply oil evenly to the surface after cleaning and drying. Dry by placing the wet pan on a low-heat burner until fully dried.
Hard nitriding cast iron vs carbon steel?
When it comes to composition, hard nitriding cast iron and carbon steel may seem similar at first glance, but there are some key differences. Hard nitriding cast iron is primarily made up of iron and carbon, while carbon steel can vary in its carbon content.
The production process also sets them apart. Hard nitriding cast iron is created through a specialized heat treatment process, while carbon steel is produced through the traditional steel-making process.
Both materials are great for high-heat cooking methods like searing and stir-frying, thanks to their excellent heat distribution and retention. But hard nitriding cast iron might outlast carbon steel in terms of wear resistance and durability. On the other hand, carbon steel is often lighter in weight and easier to handle.
What are other names for hard nitriding cast iron?
In addition to “hard nitriding cast iron,” there are other terms used like “nitrocarburizing cast iron,” “nitrided cast iron,” “nitrided steel”, “hard anodized cast iron,” and “hard nitride cast iron.”