Cherished for generations by cooks throughout the world, cast iron cookware is known for its exceptional durability and heat retention capabilities. You may even have a couple of well-seasoned cast iron pans in your kitchen already. But did you know about the recent innovation in cast iron cooking that has improved its performance and convenience? It’s called hard nitriding cast iron, and it comes with a bunch of benefits.
This complete user and buyer guide will tell you everything you need to know, so you can decide if hard nitrided cast iron is right for you.
Table of Contents
- What is Cast Iron?
- What is Hard Nitriding?
- Benefits of Hard Nitriding Cast Iron
- Is Hard Nitrided Cast Iron Safe to Cook With?
- Where Can You Buy Hard Nitrided Cast Iron?
- Comparison: Hard Nitrided vs Plain Cast Iron Cookware
- Comparison: Hard Nitrided Cast Iron vs Traditional Non-Stick Cookware
- What to Look For When Purchasing Hard Nitriding Cast Iron
- How to Use Your Hard Nitriding Cast Iron Pan
- Caring For Your Hard Nitriding Cast Iron Cookware
- Ready to Buy Some Hard Nitriding Cast Iron?
What is Cast Iron?
In order to understand hard nitrided cast iron, you must first learn about cast iron.
It may seem obvious that cast iron is iron, but that’s just scratching the surface. In reality, cast iron is a metal that will last a lifetime when you properly care for it.
Technically speaking, however, cast iron is a type of alloy primarily composed of iron, carbon, and small amounts of other elements. It is created through a process called casting, where molten iron is poured into molds and allowed to cool and solidify. The resulting material is known for its exceptional durability, heat retention, and even heat distribution properties.
Here’s a video showing how creating a cast iron pan is done:
Cast iron is commonly used to make a variety of cookware, including skillets, pans, Dutch ovens, and more. It is cherished for its ability to hold and evenly distribute heat, making it a popular choice for cooking tasks that require precise temperature control, such as searing and slow braising.
What is Hard Nitriding?
Hard nitriding is a type of surface treatment for cast iron that transforms its typical properties and enhances the material’s performance and capabilities.
Here is a look at the hard nitriding process and how it works magic with cast iron:
1. Surface Preparation
Before the nitriding process begins, the cast iron is thoroughly cleaned and degreased to ensure that the surface is free from contaminants. This step is crucial to enable effective nitrogen diffusion and create a strong bond between the nitride layer and the cast iron substrate.
This is the heart of the entire process. The cleaned cast iron is placed in a controlled environment where nitrogen-rich gases are introduced. These gases interact with the iron atoms on the surface, forming iron nitride compounds. These compounds gradually penetrate the surface layers, creating a hardened layer with enhanced properties.
The nitrogen atoms diffuse into the surface of the cast iron, forming a nitride layer. This layer can be just a few micrometers thick but can significantly increase the hardness of the surface without affecting the core properties of the cast iron.
4. Heat Treatment
Once the nitriding and diffusion steps are complete, the cart iron is then subjected to a heat treatment. This step works to control the thickness of the hard nitrided layer and enhances surface hardness.
5. Cooling and Quenching
After the heat treatment, the cast iron is cooled gradually to stabilize the nitride layer. This gradual cooling prevents the formation of stresses that could compromise the integrity of the layer.
The nitrided cast iron undergoes finishing processes to ensure a smooth and consistent surface, including polishing to achieve a satin-like texture and matte finish.
Benefits of Hard Nitriding Cast Iron
Being that hard nitriding cast iron is a sophisticated technique meant to enhance the performance of the material, it comes with numerous benefits.
The diffusion of nitrogen into the surface layers increases the hardness of the cast iron. This results in improved wear resistance, making the cookware more durable and capable of withstanding the rigors of high-heat cooking.
Improved Corrosion Resistance
If you’re looking for cookware that will withstand heavy use and maintain its quality over time, hard nitrided cast iron is a great option. The nitride layer enhances the corrosion resistance of the cast iron, protecting it from rust and other forms of degradation. This is particularly advantageous in cookware exposed to moisture and acidic ingredients.
Reduced Seasoning Needs
Seasoning cast iron means applying a thin layer of oil to its surface, then heating it in an oven. This process forms a natural non-stick coating that improves cooking, prevents rust, and enhances the cookware’s longevity. With the formation of a harder surface through the nitriding process, the cast iron has even greater non-stick properties without seasoning. As such, you don’t have to season hard nitrided cast iron as often as you would regular cast iron, making it more convenient and easier to maintain.
Hard nitrided cast iron excels in high-heat cooking methods like searing, grilling, and browning. The enhanced surface hardness and heat retention make it an excellent choice for achieving restaurant-quality sear marks on steaks and other proteins.
This type of cookware is versatile and can be used on a variety of stovetops, including gas, electric, and induction. It’s also oven-safe, allowing you to start cooking on the stovetop and finish in the oven.
Is Hard Nitrided Cast Iron Safe to Cook With?
Obviously, you do not want to cook with something that is only going to leach toxic chemicals into your food. The good news is that hard nitrided cast iron is extremely safe to use in the kitchen.
First off, it has an edge against other less resilient materials due to its scratch-resistant coating. This coating ensures that the metal remains intact and doesn’t chip off into your food during cooking. It also keeps bacteria and other things from getting ingrained in your skillet.
Furthermore, nitrogen is not dangerous. Nitrogen is an inert gas constituting a staggering 78% of the air we breathe. Its benign nature makes it a safe element to infuse into cast iron.
Once subjected to the nitriding treatment, these pans gain the incredible ability to resist rust, chipping, and scratching. This translates into a cooking surface that is not just safe but also wholesome for preparing your meals.
A critical concern often raised revolves around the toxicity of hard nitriding, which employs ammonia gas. High concentrations of ammonia gas can indeed be toxic. However, in the case of nitrided cast iron, this gas undergoes a transformative process. It is converted into a solid nitride layer during the nitriding process, rendering the outcome chemically stable and suitable for use.
You do not have to worry about ammonia getting into your food as you cook, because the ammonia transforms into something else.
Leaching refers to the process by which small amounts of elements or compounds are released from a material into the surrounding environment, usually in the form of liquids. In the context of cast iron cookware, leaching pertains to the transfer of trace amounts of iron and other elements from the cookware into the food being cooked. This transfer is more likely to occur when the cookware is heated, and it’s a natural phenomenon that can happen with various types of cookware materials.
When cooking with cast iron, especially unseasoned or traditional cast iron, small amounts of iron can leach into the food during the cooking process. This occurs because the heat causes a reaction that allows some of the iron to dissolve into the liquid or steam produced by the food. This leaching can impart a subtle amount of iron into the food being prepared.
This may seem like an advantage, but the human body can only utilize a small percentage of iron. Some individuals may experience iron overlord or digestive discomfort.
But what about hard nitrided cast iron? A study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry unveils a fascinating insight. It indicates that hard-nitrided cast iron cookware exhibits lower levels of iron and manganese leaching in comparison to traditional unseasoned cast iron cookware. While some degree of leaching is similar to regular cast iron, it is notably reduced in hard nitrided cast iron.
Where Can You Buy Hard Nitrided Cast Iron?
While hard nitrided cast iron is not as widely available as traditional cast iron cookware, its popularity is growing steadily. You can find hard nitrided cast iron products from specialized manufacturers, both online and in select kitchenware stores. Some retailers include stores like Walmart (where you can find more budget-friendly options), Amazon, Lehman’s, Sarchi Cookware, Pots and Pans, and Williams-Sonoma.
Brands Offering Hard Nitrided Cast Iron Cookware
While the market might not be as saturated as that of traditional cast iron or other materials, some reputable brands offer hard nitrided cast iron cookware. Examples include Brandani (an Italian brand), Rachel Ray, and, mentioned earlier, Lehman’s. These brands are pioneering the use of hard nitriding technology in cookware production.
In the future, you will certainly find more trustworthy brands dipping their toes into the hard nitrided market. Until then, you have options to be found as long as you keep your eyes open.
Comparison: Hard Nitrided vs Plain Cast Iron Cookware
Wondering what makes hard nitrided cast iron so different from traditional cast iron cookware? Here is a side-by-side comparison:
|Characteristics||Plain Cast Iron||Hard Nitrided Cast Iron|
|Composition||Made from iron, carbon, silicon, and manganese. May also contain graphite in ferrite/pearlite.||Iron with a nitride layer|
|Surface Hardness||Relatively low||Significantly increased wear resistance due to nitride layer|
|Corrosion Resistance||Susceptible to corrosion and rust over time||Improved corrosion resistance|
|Seasoning||Requires regular seasoning using oil and heat||Reduced requirements for seasoning|
|Non-Stick Surface||Not naturally non-stick||Smoother surface enhances non-stick properties|
|Cooking Performance||Excellent heat retention||Exceptional heat retention|
|Longevity and Durability||Durable but susceptible to wear and damage with use||Less susceptible to damage and wear|
Now for a bit more detail.
Traditional cast iron tends to have a level of brittleness and low surface hardness due to the various metals and elements within it. The hard nitriding process infuses the metals, eliminating that natural flaw in cast iron. Furthermore, that nitride layer adds an extra layer of protection. Typically, cast iron tends to corrode and rust when exposed to moisture and acidic ingredients. Hard nitrided cast iron is less vulnerable.
In short, while both types of cast iron share characteristics like heat retention and even heating, hard nitrided cast iron offers improved non-stick properties and a longer lifespan with proper care.
Comparison: Hard Nitrided Cast Iron vs Traditional Non-Stick Cookware
Should you get a regular non-stick pan with Teflon or choose hard nitrided cast iron? This table will help you decide:
|Characteristics||Hard Nitrided Cast Iron||Non-Stick Cookware|
|Composition||Iron with a nitride layer||Aluminum or stainless steel base that is coated with a non-stick material|
|Heat Retention||Enhanced by cast iron and nitride layer||Excellent|
|Corrosion Resistance||Improved||Susceptible to wear, tear, and corrosion|
|Durability||Very durable||Moderate durability as non-stick coating may scratch or peel off|
|Versatility||Can be used for various styles of cooking and on a broad range of stovetops||Versatility depends on the design and metal used|
|Environmental Impact||Natural materials used and less use of oil||Some non-stick coatings may release toxic fumes when heated|
|Price||More expensive than non-stick pans||Affordable|
The main difference between hard nitrided cast iron and non-stick cookware is that one is made with cast iron and the other uses either aluminum or stainless steel. The difference in these materials alone will change how your cookware holds heat and how evenly it cooks food. Furthermore, most non-stick pans require an additional non-stick coating to be applied every time you use it. Hard nitrided cast iron only needs the occasional seasoning.
What to Look For When Purchasing Hard Nitriding Cast Iron
So you have decided to upgrade your cookware and purchase hard nitriding cast iron. In order to make sure you are getting the best deal for your investment, keep the following factors in mind before choosing your hard nitrided cookware:
You want to choose cookware that is made with genuine cast iron, because that ensures even heat distribution and retention when cooking. Many budget brands will use a coating and have the core being an entirely different material. You can often judge by weight if the core material is cast iron and of decent quality.
Look at the packaging. A trustworthy manufacturer will provide some details about the nitriding technique. Make sure the details include the mention of diffusing nitrogen into the surface layers of the cast iron.
Hard nitrided cast iron does not feel like regular cast iron; its surface is much smoother. While hard nitrided cast iron is not as smooth as some non-stick coated pans, you will notice that it has a slight satin-like texture and general uniformity in said texture across the entire cooking surface. If you notice any rough spots or irregularities in the surface, avoid that particular product.
Consider the weight of the cookware. While cast iron is naturally heavy, hard nitrided cast iron might be slightly heavier due to the nitrided layer. Make sure the weight is manageable for your cooking style and preferences.
Warranty and Customer Reviews
Look for a warranty or guarantee from the manufacturer. This shows their confidence in the product’s quality. Additionally, reading customer reviews can provide insights into the real-world experiences of other users and help you decide between one cast iron item or another.
How to Use Your Hard Nitriding Cast Iron Pan
Hard nitrided cast iron is marvelously versatile. You can use it a myriad of ways, such as searing and browning steaks and pork chops; sauteing and stir-frying fresh vegetables; roasting and baking casseroles and desserts; deep frying chicken; braising and slow cooking; grilling salmon indoors, and so much more. Once you have started cooking on a hard nitrided cast iron skillet, you will not want to go back to your non-stick pan.
So, to boost your cooking adventures, here is the best way to cook using a hard nitrided cast iron pan:
1. Preheat the Pan
Begin by placing your nitriding cast iron pan on the stovetop over medium-high heat. Allow it to preheat for approximately 3-5 minutes before introducing any oil or food. This crucial step ensures even cooking and optimal results.
2. Add Your Oil
Once the pan is sufficiently preheated, introduce a suitable oil to the pan’s surface. Use a paper towel or silicone brush to evenly coat the entire pan with the oil. Opt for oils with high smoke points, such as vegetable oil or canola oil. This initial oiling contributes to a non-stick surface and aids in the cooking process.
3. Add Ingredients
When the oil has reached the desired temperature, carefully introduce your chosen ingredients to the pan. It’s important to prevent the oil from reaching its smoke point before cooking. Avoid overcrowding the pan, as this can hinder proper browning and even cooking. Give your food ample space to shine.
4. Cook and Transfer
Cook your ingredients as you typically would, making the most of the hard nitriding cast iron pan’s ability to handle high heat for impeccable searing and browning. Once your culinary creation is complete, transfer the cooked food out of the pan, and get ready to dig in!
Keep in mind that cleansing, drying, and storing are also important parts of using hard nitrided cast iron cookware.
More on how to do that below!
Caring For Your Hard Nitriding Cast Iron Cookware
Let’s say you have already purchased a hard nitrided cast iron skillet or Dutch oven. Getting the most out of your brand new cookware means knowing how to maintain it properly. Like regular cast iron, hard nitrided cookware requires very little upkeep, as it was designed to be more resistant to wear and corrosion. That doesn’t mean, however, that it is impervious.
Here are some tips to ensure that your hard nitrided cast iron skillet is going to stay in your family for generations:
As you are already aware, hard nitrided cast iron requires less seasoning than traditional cast iron. Yet, applying a thin layer of oil to the surface prior to cooking once in a while will maintain its non-stick properties for longer. Occasional oiling also protects your cast iron from rust.
To season your hard nitriding cast iron pan:
- Begin with a clean and thoroughly dried pan. Add a small amount of oil, approximately a tablespoon, onto the pan’s surface. You have the choice of using neutral oils like vegetable or flaxseed oil, or some savory, like bacon grease.
- Spread the oil evenly across the entire pan’s surface, including the sides and handle. Achieve this by using a paper towel, a dish towel, or a silicone brush.
- Set the pan over medium-high heat and allow it to heat up for a few minutes until you observe slight smoking of the oil. This step facilitates the polymerization of the oil, effectively forming a non-stick coating on the pan’s surface. Should you notice excessive smoke or oil burning, promptly reduce the heat.
- Once the oil has undergone heating, eliminate any surplus oil by gently wiping it with a paper towel. Subsequently, allow the pan to cool down completely before storing it.
By following these steps, you can effectively season your hard nitrided cast iron pan, ensuring its optimal performance and longevity in your culinary adventures.
Cooking and Heating
Preheat the cookware gradually over low to medium heat before adding ingredients. Avoid overheating the empty cookware, as this can cause damage to the nitrided layer. The enhanced heat retention of cast iron means you often don’t need high heat settings to cook food thoroughly.
Use utensils made from materials that won’t scratch the surface of the cookware. Avoid metal utensils, as they can damage the nitrided layer. Opt for wood, silicone, or nylon utensils to preserve the cookware’s smooth texture.
Clean the cookware promptly after use. Avoid using harsh detergents or abrasive scrubbers, as they can remove the nitrided layer. Instead, use warm water, a soft sponge or brush, and mild dish soap if needed. Stubborn residues can often be loosened by boiling water in the cookware. Keep in mind that doing so may remove the seasoning layer.
Thoroughly dry the cookware after washing to prevent rust. You can place it on a stovetop burner over low heat for a few minutes to ensure complete drying. Alternatively, wipe it dry and then place it in the oven briefly.
Store your hard nitrided cast iron cookware in a dry place to prevent moisture from causing rust. You can place a paper towel or a cloth between nested cookware pieces to absorb any potential moisture.
Ready to Buy Some Hard Nitriding Cast Iron?
Hard nitriding cast iron is a culinary marvel that blends technology with the tried and true application of cast iron. Whether you are a seasoned chef or home cook, you will find hard nitrided cast iron to be a reliable ally in the kitchen.
Armed with this guide, you are ready to not only find the best hard nitriding cast iron cookware on the market, but you will also be able to use it for years to come.
What is hard nitriding cast iron?
Hard nitriding cast iron is a type of cast iron cookware that has undergone a surface treatment process called nitriding. Nitriding involves diffusing nitrogen into the surface layers of the cast iron, resulting in a hardened layer that enhances the cookware’s durability, wear resistance, and corrosion resistance.
Is nitrogen hardened cast iron safe?
Yes, nitrogen hardened (also known as hard nitrided) cast iron is safe! The nitriding process doesn’t introduce harmful substances into the cookware. Just like traditional cast iron, hard nitrided cast iron is safe to use for a wide range of cooking applications.
How does hard nitriding improve cast iron cookware?
Hard nitriding improves cast iron cookware by creating a hard nitride layer on the surface. This layer enhances the cookware’s hardness, making it more resistant to wear and corrosion. It can also improve non-stick properties and reduce the need for frequent seasoning.
Do I need to season hard nitriding cast iron?
Seasoning cast iron is always beneficial. However, the need for seasoning is often reduced compared to plain cast iron.