I love my cast iron skillet. Even though I have had it for just a few years, it is the most used piece of cookware in my home. Perhaps it is nostalgia for what I perceive to be the good old days – think Pa and the boys cooking up some chow on Bonanza – or simply a longing to, in some small way, shun our spit-shined, high tech society.
Whatever the case, I am now really “in” to cast iron.
If you were lucky enough to get some cast iron cookware as a gift, you probably have some anxiety about using it. And even if your are a cast iron diva – well experienced in its glories – you may have some questions about it’s use and care for the long term. Today I offer some cast iron tips and suggestions that will guarantee your cooking adventures with cast iron succeed.
1. Seasoning is your friend
Cast iron needs to be seasoned in order to acquire non-stick capabilities. An unseasoned piece is a disaster waiting to happen. You food will taste like, well, rusty iron. Food will stick like crazy. And clean-up? Forget it.
These days, if you are starting new, you can purchase a pre-seasoned pan. That is what I did. Lodge as well as other manufacturers sell pre-seasoned pans for just a few dollars more than the unseasoned kind. But not to worry if you acquired an old rusted out or unseasoned pan from a friend, relative or thrift store, You can find my instructions for seasoning a cast iron pan from scratch in the tip area below. (See pictures of some old, rusted cast iron skillets to the right. These are completely salvageable.)
The key to obtaining a slick, well blackened cast iron pan is to continually re-season. You do this by wiping a thin layer of vegetable oil along the inside after each use. (I use this little mop thingy I purchased on Amazon). I am still doing this to my skillet and it is getting nice and dark. I am sure that the time will come when I can give this up but for now, I like how nice and shiny the pan is getting.
2. Cook with a bit of oil
Or use cooking spray if that is something you use. Just like coating the pan with a thin layer of oil after each use, while the pan is new you should cook with a bit of oil. Of course you would not do this while frying bacon and, as a matter of fact, cooking foods with a lot of fat in them will simply accelerate the long term seasoning process.
Keep using that bit of oil while cooking until your pan has a dark, satiny patina. Then be brave and try cooking without. If you find you now have a non-stick pan, great! You can add extra oil only if you wish to add some flavor.
3. Preheat the pan
Cast iron heats evenly; no hot spots or cold spots on this puppy. To take advantage of this even heat, preheat first. Be sure to let you cast iron heat up gradually as the burner or oven heats up since a cold pan on a fiery hot burner could break or crack from thermal shock.
And remember, that pot or pan will be very hot. Use mitts (or Ove Gloves) for protection.
4. Store cooked foods somewhere else
The acid in foods will break down the seasoning in your pan and impart a metallic taste. When the meal is over, take the time to store your food in a suitable container.
5. Never every use soap for cleaning and dry thoroughly
Soap will destroy that wonderful, non-stick patina. Don’t do it. Instead, scrape off the bits of food left in the pan and if necessary, use some salt and a tad of water as a scrubbing agent. I have a scrubbing sponge that I use exclusively on my cast iron. When done cleaning, I store it away in a Ziploc baggie so I do not mix it up with the day to day soapy sponge.
Whatever you do, do not allow your cast iron cookware to air dry. It will rust. Instead, dry it well and for good measure add that coat of oil we talked about in #1 above.