Select Page

Cast iron pans can be the champion workhorse of any kitchen, and have been for generations. Perfect for searing, sautéing and even baking, they can go from oven to table with ease and vintage charm — pioneer chic in the modern day!

With the advent of non-stick coatings on cookware, cast iron pans fell out of favor because of their heavy weight and care required. Now, due to their popularity with TV chefs and the concerns about the safety of non-stick coatings, cast iron pans are making a come back. With a little know-how and minor elbow grease, a cast iron pan can be easily maintained and will give you great results in your kitchen.

 

 

DSC01275_Fotor

An unseasoned, rusty skillet on top of a well-seasoned one. Felted wool pot holders available from WormeWoole

 

 

My cast iron pans are used on a daily basis. In fact, they usually stay on top of my stove. I pull out a stainless-steel kettle for boiling vegetables or a tomato sauce (more about that later), but for most other cooking tasks a cast iron skillet or dutch oven are what I reach for. The more you use your cast iron, the easier it is to use and the better it releases food as a seasoning — or natural non-stick coating — builds up.

Unseasoned cast iron is not non-stick and is prone to rust. So from time to time, it can benefit from a purposeful seasoning — when the pan is new, if the seasoning comes off, if the pan becomes rusty, or simply to boost its non-stick properties.

Follow these steps for seasoned pans that will be a pleasure to use. A relatively easy process, with proper pan care it does not need to be repeated often and requires only a few items that you already have.

 

 

 

 

DSC01286_Fotor

Fat, cloths, and an oven are all you need to season your cast iron. Salt and a scrubber are used for cleaning cast iron — no soap!

 

 

{The Supplies}

  • salt
  • mild scrubber, brush, or wash cloth for cleaning pan
  • a source of fat (Crisco, bacon grease, vegetable oil, etc)
  • cookie sheet
  • rubber gloves
  • paper towels or rags
  • stovetop and oven

 

{Cleaning Cast Iron}

Before seasoning a pan, it must be clean and dry. The #1 rule of working with cast iron is NO SOAP, and certainly NO DISHWASHER.  Most times, I simply wipe my pan with a dry or damp paper towel. With a good coating of seasoning, most food will wipe right out.

Occasionally, I fill the pan with very hot water for a few minutes. For really stubborn food, use some salt and a scrubber to loosen it. Clean it with only hot water, salt as a scrubbing aid, and something to scrub with. The least amount of time possible in contact with water and the least abrasive scrubber is preferred. You want to remove only food particles and not the seasoning. Too much water and scrubbing will remove the seasoning that has built up. Usually after a few minutes of soaking, any food reside will come right off with a gentle wipe of my dishcloth or even my fingers. Rinse away any salt thoroughly.

Immediately dry cast iron with a cloth or paper towel. In addition, it is a great idea to place it over a hot stovetop burner for a few minutes to evaporate any remaining moisture that could rust the pan.

 

 

 

 

 

Next, to maintain cast iron between seasonings, it is helpful to run a thin skim of oil over the inner surface of the pan before putting it away. I use a little dab of Crisco or olive oil (I moisten a paper towel the way you put nail polish remover onto a cotton ball by tipping the bottle against it) and wipe the surface. Do this every time you wash the pan. If you stack your pans in a cupboard or drawer, you may want to place a paper towel between them so the oil from inside one doesn’t get on the outside of the others. If you are stacking cast iron pans this is unnecessary as oil on the outside is good too. While the pan waits to be used again, this little bit of oil soaks into the seasoning already on the pan and helps maintain it.

{Note} If you are starting with a second-hand pan that is very dirty or rusty, go ahead and give it a good cleaning with soap or a cleanser and hot water. Once it is thoroughly dry, proceed with the seasoning process. The “no soap” rule applies to a seasoned pan that you wish to maintain.

 

 

DSC01288_Fotor

Coating my skillet with bacon grease on a paper towel, before baking it in the oven, to produce a non-stick seasoning.

 

 

 

{To Season}

There are 3 simple steps to seasoning a pan: coat it with a fat, heat it to a high temperature then allow to cool, wipe off the excess.

  1. While wearing rubber gloves if desired, use a paper towel or rag to coat the cast iron pan on all sides including handle with a fat such as Crisco, vegetable oil or bacon grease. Invert pan onto cookie sheet.
  2. Place pan and cookie sheet into a cold oven and set for 450 degrees*
  3. Bake for about 2 hours which will cause the fat to melt and then harden into a shiny black, non-stick coating.
  4. Turn off oven and allow to cool completely.
  5. Remove cast iron from oven and wipe off any excess grease with paper towel or rag
  6. If pan is not as black or coated as you would like, repeat the process.

I will admit, this process does stink up your house a bit! If possible, do it when the weather is warm with the windows open. Sometimes, I just season the inside of the pan, coating only the inside with fat and placing it in the oven right side up.

*Occasionally, I re-season my pan while I am baking something else in the oven at the same time at a lower temp, slipping the skillet in alongside in the preheated oven. When the food comes out, you can bump up the temp for a good searing of the fat. But sometimes a quick seasoning boost at a lower temp is all you need.

 

 

DSC01300_Fotor

A well-seasoned cast iron pan will be shiny and black.

 

As I mentioned earlier, I avoid cooking tomato sauce in my cast iron because acidic foods are prone to strip away the seasoning we’ve worked to build up over time. But if that happens from tomatoes, or any other cause (oh you know, like a husband who puts it in the dishwasher), you now know how to re-season your cast iron pans so they will perform like champions in your kitchen.

 

{Cast Iron and Food Allergies: A Word of Caution}

In our household there is a life-threatening food allergy to eggs. Because cast iron pans absorb food particles while the food is cooking, which combined with the cooking oil become part of the seasoning, and because they are not cleaned down to the bare metal each time they are used (as stainless would be) they can contain allergens from one use to the next.

This is actually a little secret that chefs know to be one of the best parts of cooking with cast iron! What is cooked in it one day is added to the seasoning and helps to flavor what is cooked in it on subsequent days. This is great for most people — but is not great for those with food allergies.

We have a dedicated cast iron skillet for eggs and that is the only one that EVER EVER has eggs in it. The other cast iron skillets NEVER EVER have eggs cooked in them. I cannot cook anything for my son in the egg pan. EVER. The allergens are present and unsafe for him. If you have food allergies, please be aware of the cross contamination that can occur when using cast iron and choose a dedicated cast iron pan that is safe for you or one made of another material.

Enjoy and keep warm!

 

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This
Hey, Adventurous Soul! Get Mitten Mail!
Hello. Add your message here.