Greetings and Salutations;
I have seen several posts about cast iron cookware recently, some of which have expressed difficulties with keeping it working properly. I decided to take a few minutes from the madness of reality, and discuss what I have learned over the years. Cast iron has been a “go to” material for cooking for hundreds of years…it is strong, does a GREAT job of holding and distributing the heat, and can be formed into a multitude of shapes, from the simple pan we all think of, to deep pots, to ornate molds.
How to Prepare Cast Iron for cooking.
Note…these comments ONLY apply to bare metal cast iron. The Enamel coated cast iron can be treated as any other cooking tool…wash in the dish washer, etc…the enamel substitutes for the seasoning discussed here.
Many folks have heard about “seasoning their cast iron”, but have no real idea of what that means. It is the process of adding a layer of polymerized fats to the metal, using heat. This is a vital step for a couple of reasons.
- 1. Cast iron, without protection rusts so quickly one can see it forming! This is actually a protective coating for the metal, as it stabilizes the surface a certain amount. However, it sucks for cooking purposes, because the rust will come off into the food, producing aesthetic issues, both from an appearance and flavor’s sake.
- The rust that forms tends to ensure that anything one cooks in the pan will glue to it as if it were welded..which makes cleaning a royal pain.
So…how do we go about seasoning a piece of cast iron? Here is my technique, which works well for me. This, by the by, is for cast iron cookware that is old, and, possibly neglected. Lodge, at least, sells their cast iron pans and such “pre-seasoned”. This is done, at the factory, with roughly the same steps I use, and produces a decent starting point.
- Start the oven heating to about 375F. Put either a layer of aluminum foil on the shelf under where the pan will go, or, a metal cookie sheet. This will catch any drippings that come off the pan.
- Clean the cast iron pan up, with very hot water and a Brillo pad, or a stainless steel scrubbing pad, to get rid of any rust or old seasoning on the pan.
- Dry the pan well with a towel. I will also set it on the cooktop, at a low temperature for a few minutes to get the moisture evaporated and warm it up. IF you have rinsed it with water at 140F or hotter, though, that step should not be necessary.
- Put a little fat on a folded paper towel, and wipe over the entire pan with it. Then, take a clean paper towel, and wipe off almost all of the thin layer of fat you have added to the surface. I have used a number of products for this step, and found that, in general, they all work well. I have used Lard, Bacon fat, Vegetable shortening, liquid cooking oil, and walnut oil.
- Put the pan, upside down, in the oven, and let it bake in there for several hours. The longer it goes, the better. I usually leave it in there for six hours. This heat treatment ensures that the oil is absorbed into the pores of the cast iron, and then polymerizes to a solid.
- When the baking time is finished, turn the oven off, and let it, and the pan cool down at their own rate. Depending on the oven, this may take a couple of hours.
- Repeat the above process up to 5 times. If doing it all at once, re-coat the pan when it reaches a temperature of 100F or so…warm, but not too hot to hold. I have, though, re-coated at up to 200F, but that requires care.
I suggest five cycles of this to build up a good, strong coating on the pan. However, one cycle is enough to protect it. The more cycles one uses, though, the more “non-stick” the cast iron will be. The minimum number I do is two cycles.
How to Care for your Cast Iron
Cast iron, once properly seasoned, is amazingly easy to care for. However, there are some actions that can kill it quickly.
Sometimes folks will spray their cast iron with cooking spray, before using it. This is typically NOT necessary. I am reluctant to do this, myself, because I am not convinced that the solvents and propellants in the spray will not damage the hard-won seasoning on the pan.
There is only one proper way to clean cast iron. That is with a clean brush/sponge/cloth, and very hot water. Never, ever put it in the dishwasher, or use any soap on it. You may believe using soapy, hot water will clean it better, but, it will not. ALL that will do is strip off the seasoning, and put you back to step one. A well-seasoned cast iron pan is less sticky than Teflon!
After wiping down the cast iron with the cloth and very hot water, dry it off and you are done. Again, I will at times, set it on the cooktop and heat it a bit to drive the moisture away more quickly.
One great benefit of cooking with cast iron is that many foods contain a fair amount of fats and oils. When those get onto the existing seasoning, they bond with it, and over time, improve the amount of seasoning in the cookware.
These hints will ensure that you will have a kitchen tool that will last lifetimes, and provide excellent service every day. Enjoy using them!
God Help Us All!
Bee Man Dave