If I Can Cook with Cast Iron, You Can Too.

Did you or your kids ever watch “The Little Engine that Could” where the train puffed and puffed and told himself, “I think I can, I think I can”? Yes, I did too.

While I’m all for positive vibes, I also believe in giving ourselves and others grace for making mistakes. As an online English teacher, I often tell my students, “It’s okay to make mistakes,” and “Don’t be afraid to fail. Be afraid not to try at all.” The truth is, there have been many days I needed to give myself that same freedom to make mistakes and learn from them, especially when in the kitchen.

Cooking as a Single

When I was single and living on my own, I mastered the art of not starving. I could make a mean salad and felt pretty confident about my grilled egg, ham, and cheese English muffin sandwiches. Also, I firmly believed mac and cheese constituted a complete meal. (Can I get an Amen?)

I was so busy working, serving at my church, or meeting up with friends that food literally took a back burner.

Cooking as a Newly Wed

As I prepared for my wedding, I started to Pinterest in earnest, searching for “easy meals,” which was code for, “How can I keep my husband happy … and alive?” I had a few tried and true menus, like grilled cheese, spaghetti, my friend Ashley’s taco soup recipe, a chicken bacon ranch Crockpot, and something else I can’t remember at the moment. But clearly, I needed to start paying attention to food, because I didn’t want to be that wife.

Good news. We’re a year and a half into our marriage, and James thinks I’m a decent cook. Side note: He is the nicest human ever. I also encourage him to grill as often as he wants.

Cooking with Cast Iron

When my friend Ashley first told me she had been contracted to write a book on Modern Cast Iron, I celebrated with her out loud but inwardly wondered how on earth I could help support her in this endeavor since cooking with cast iron TERRIFIED me.

The first problem: I didn’t own a piece of cast iron.

The second problem: Ashley and her husband are amazing cooks, and I am not. (I’ve seen them in action a few times.) True, I had managed to recreate her taco soup recipe with smashing success, but that was one taco soup recipe. Even girls like me get “lucky” sometimes.

But more important than my pride was my friendship with Ashley. While researching how to cook pork chops on Pinterest, someone recommended a small cast iron grill pan. It was right around my birthday, so I asked for one, and behold, my wish was granted.

First impression: Dang, this thing is heavy. Second impression: Hey, this isn’t so scary. I successfully cooked pork chops and later asparagus in the grill pan. Everyone survived the experience.

And then my friend Ashley did the kindest thing. Perhaps she suspected my cooking insecurities or my need for a nudge in the right direction, because she gifted me with an enamel Dutch Oven. It was for my birthday, anniversary, and housewarming all wrapped in one, and I literally cried when I received it because she was so thoughtful, and it was so beautiful.

But still the nagging thought: Can I actually cook with cast iron?

Making Homemade Bread

What can be more terrifying and intimidating than making homemade bread? Okay, yes, a T-Rex, but those are extinct.

Still, I knew I had to try this beautiful Dutch Oven gift or appear ungrateful. So I found a Crusty No Knead Dutch Oven Bread Recipe on Pinterest and followed the directions.

Other than not rising as much as I had hoped, it looked like … bread. It even tasted like bread. Hello, I made homemade bread! And James liked it, which is ultimately what matters.

Choosing to Be Brave

None of us likes feeling like a fish out of water. Instead of focusing on the fear of failure, though, let’s focus on the possibilities. Even seasoned fishermen don’t always get things right.

I love the story in Scripture where Peter, the expert fisherman, worked his nets all night and had nothing to show. Nada.

That feeling must have been way worse than my failed zucchini boat lasagna attempt. But I digress.

When Peter and those with him returned to shore, Jesus asked them a simple question, “Children, have you any food?” When they answered in the negative, Jesus then said, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some” (NKJV John 21:5-6). Now what’s so amazing is that this event took place after Jesus’ resurrection, and the preceding verse made clear that the disciples didn’t know it was Jesus Himself who was talking to them.

But there must have been something undeniably special about Him, because Peter and his friends listened and did exactly what He said. And guess what? They cast their nets and couldn’t even pull them back in because they were overloaded with fish! At this point, Peter recognized Jesus for who He is, and, in typical impulsive Peter fashion, jumped overboard to get to Jesus first.

There’s so much more to this story, and I hope you’ll take the time to dig deeper into it, but here’s my takeaway for today: If God gives us a nudge to do something, whether it be learning to be a better cook or befriending the neighbor next door, let’s do it. Let’s plunge right in like Peter!

There’s the chance we’ll bomb dinner or get a door in the face. But just maybe that recipe will become our new favorite or we’ll discover a best friend living next door. Let’s fear failure less and be brave more.

The Bottom Line

Although I’m nowhere near ready to call myself a cook, there’s a healthy rotation of meal options in our home, and even though cooking for company intimidates me, I’m determined to try more … and be content to order pizza the rest of the time. Kidding not kidding.

Seriously, though, I think I can cook with cast iron. I even bought myself a skillet so I can try Ashley’s Peach Dutch Baby recipe. Maybe it will become our next favorite Saturday breakfast tradition.

Regardless, here’s my dare for you: If I can cook with cast iron, you can too. Be brave and willing to try something you’re not good at. You might just discover a new world of possibilities.

If I can cook with cast iron, you can too. @khogrefeparnell

Happy cooking, friends!

~ Kristen

I’m grateful to my friend and gifted author Ashley L. Jones for inviting me to share this post first on her beautiful blog at BigSisterKnows.com. Check out her blog for more encouragement and delicious recipes for your everyday life.


About Ashley’s Book: Modern Cast Iron

In Modern Cast Iron, self-proclaimed cast-iron connoisseur Ashley L. Jones recaptures the ease and joy of cooking with cast-iron cookware. Jones introduces readers to the best brands and types of cast-iron cookware to fulfill any cook’s needs. She offers detailed tips and tricks for rescuing old, rusted pans and keeping them properly seasoned, and she shares recommendations for the best cooking oil for every recipe. With Jones’s help, both experienced and beginner cooks will be able to rival grandma’s cooking. Chock-full of stories from Jones’s own childhood growing up with cast-iron meals, as well as recipe after tantalizing recipe―from breakfast quiche to gluten-free meals and beautiful blueberry cobbler―Modern Cast Iron explores the countless ways that cast iron benefits health and happiness.

Get Your Copy.

Author Chat with Ashley L. Jones on Modern Cast Iron

This author interview is special for so many reasons. I met Ashley during a writer’s conference several years ago, and we formed an instant friendship. She is such a godly friend and gifted writer, and I am so excited for you to learn about her new release, Modern Cast Iron. It’s a guidebook to choosing, using, caring for, and cooking with cast iron.

Q: What prompted you to write Modern Cast Iron?

It was totally a “God thing”! I had been using and researching cast iron for years for the health benefits and nostalgia of it, but it wasn’t until I met the publisher (Red Lightning Books) at a book expo and saw their amazing lineup of books that I thought, “A book about cast iron would really fit here!” In a moment, God gave me the complete idea for the book—and it came out just as He planned!

Q: Why do you think cooking with cast iron is relevant and beneficial for today’s generation?

We’ve been using lightweight aluminum and chemical nonstick pans since their introduction in the 1970s, and now we’re becoming aware of the potential health issues associated with those products. In contrast, cast iron doesn’t leach or off-gas any harmful chemicals or fumes. It only leaches iron, which is something our bodies need anyway.

Plus, I think there’s a “back to basics” movement going on right now where young women are looking to capture the simplicity and wholesomeness of past generations. Cooking in cast iron is a way great way to do that because we’re able to recreate the recipes our grandmothers made and enjoy the nostalgia that comes along with them.

Q: You shared that Modern Cast Iron isn’t a cookbook but a guidebook. Explain what you mean by that.

Most cookbooks these days are filled with hard-and-fast recipes featuring the trendiest ingredients that are only available at specialty grocery stores. It may be fun to watch chefs prepare those meals on TV, but it’s not so fun to shop for them or prepare them on a busy weeknight.

Instead, Modern Cast Iron is a guidebook to all things cast iron, from selecting the best pan for your kitchen to cleaning and seasoning your pan. Of course, the book includes a bunch of recipes—fifty, to be exact—to pique your interest and get you started. However, those recipes are rather simple and can be easily modified to fit your diet and nutritional needs.

Q: What would you tell young adults who don’t feel confident in the kitchen? How could this book help them?

My primary goal in writing this book was to encourage readers to gain confidence in the kitchen by using cast-iron cookware—because that’s how I gained my confidence. If you tend to use your smoke detector as the oven timer, take note of the following ways cast iron can help.

The texture and flavor of many traditional dishes, especially Southern food, can only be recreated if they’re cooked in cast iron. (Ever tried to make cornbread in a glass dish? The texture is all wrong!)

Even if you’re not trying to make Southern food, you’ll appreciate cast iron’s superior heat retention and its ability to heat evenly. This is what allows you to sear a steak to perfection without burning it (so you can give that smoke detector a rest).

Another benefit of cast iron is that you can take it from the stove top to the oven and back again—something other cookware just can’t do. So if you can’t get that steak to cook all the way through on the stove top, you can pop it in the oven for a couple minutes. Voila!

Don’t see your pain point listed here? There are many more advantages of cast iron listed in the book, so be sure to check it out.

Q: Our culture leans toward “fast food” and “instant meals” for quick and easy satisfaction. What problems does this mindset present in the present and in the long run?

Eating out—even if you’re grabbing dinner from the hot bar at the grocery store—can present health issues because that food is usually loaded with salt and preservatives. If you make food at home, you can still suffer from the same health issues if you’re merely heating up prepackaged food. While these are alright in moderation, cooking more wholesome meals at home should be a health goal for all of us.

Devices like instant cookers, pressure cookers, air fryers, and even slow cookers are intended to help us cook faster or at least have dinner ready when we get home. All of these gadgets have their place, but they make it difficult to understand the process of cooking—how foods come together and how to create different textures and layers of flavors. For some of them, you can’t even smell the food cooking!

When I cook with cast iron, I have control over the ingredients and the entire cooking process, and I appreciate the results more—it’s like I’m being more “intentional” in the way I prepare food. And with few exceptions, it doesn’t actually take any longer to cook in cast iron than it does in those other kitchen gadgets.

Q: Do you have a special memory of cooking with your grandma? If so, please share!

My grandmother was always cooking something, usually from scratch. It seemed that she used her hand mixer every night, whether for mashed potatoes or for baking a cake for my grandfather. The sound that mixer made as it bumped around the bowl—vroom, va-va-vroom, varoom—was such a happy sound to me! Every time I get my hand mixer out, it takes me back to her kitchen.

Q: How do you think cast iron cooking will become a legacy for your own family?

Ever since I learned of the health benefits of cooking with cast iron, I’ve challenged myself by asking, “Can I make this in cast iron?” That’s why we use cast iron at nearly every meal. I plan to teach my son Gordon (now 20 months old) to cook on cast iron at an early age because I want him to feel confident in the kitchen, too. I also want him to be conscientious of what he puts in his body so he can make wise decisions when he’s an adult.

Q: How did you first discover your writing ability, and how have you seen God use it in unexpected ways?

I’ve always enjoyed writing, but I never thought it could be a career for me. In 2003, God gave me an idea for a faith-based nonfiction book, Girls with Gusto, which is still looking for a publishing home. However, it wasn’t until I went to my first writers conference in 2015 that I really felt like I had the tools and knowledge to pursue a writing career.

I never intended to write a book about cast-iron cooking, but God is using this book to develop my writing platform and to enable me to reach people I would never have reached otherwise. And what do those people find when they visit my website, BigSisterKnows.com? Lots of articles about God and faith. I pray those help to plant seeds!

Next year, my children’s series, “Big Answers” (Little Lamb Books), debuts with Who is God? I can’t wait to share this one with moms around the world!

Q: Can you hint about what next project you have in the works?

I’m working on some new children’s books, and I’d really like to find a home for Girls with Gusto. I also have an idea for a powerful nonfiction book that explores the secret lives of the Appalachian people.

Be sure to follow me on BigSisterKnows.com and on social media so you can follow along on these projects. There’s no telling what God will do next!

Author Chat with Ashley L. Jones on Modern Cast Iron with @khogrefeparnell

About the Author

Ashley L. Jones is an author and blogger, but she prefers the title of Big Sister. A firm believer that we all know something worth sharing, she started the blog Big Sister Knows as a way to encourage other young women to live with gusto. Her upcoming releases — Modern Cast Iron (Red Lightning Books, 2020) and the children’s series Big Answers (Little Lamb Books, 2021) — are a continuation of that mission. Ashley lives in Tallahassee, Florida, with her uber-patient hubby and one busy toddler. Find your encouragement and follow Ashley’s journey at BigSisterKnows.com.

About Modern Cast Iron

In Modern Cast Iron, self-proclaimed cast-iron connoisseur Ashley L. Jones recaptures the ease and joy of cooking with cast-iron cookware. Jones introduces readers to the best brands and types of cast-iron cookware to fulfill any cook’s needs. She offers detailed tips and tricks for rescuing old, rusted pans and keeping them properly seasoned, and she shares recommendations for the best cooking oil for every recipe. With Jones’s help, both experienced and beginner cooks will be able to rival grandma’s cooking. Chock-full of stories from Jones’s own childhood growing up with cast-iron meals, as well as recipe after tantalizing recipe―from breakfast quiche to gluten-free meals and beautiful blueberry cobbler―Modern Cast Iron explores the countless ways that cast iron benefits health and happiness.

A comprehensive guide to all things cast iron and home-style cookin’, Modern Cast Iron offers a new way for cooks to spice up the kitchen using all-natural tools and ingredients.

Get your copy.