The cast iron skillet is the ideal cooking utensil in the preparation of many favorites such as cornbread, deep dish pizza and scrambled eggs, however, some folks are not aware of the proper methods of seasoning, cleaning and using one. Here is a rundown, or “operations manual” if you will, for the care and usage of cast iron for cooking.
WHY CAST IRON?
Using cast iron has many advantages over traditional cookware. It’s durable and will last forever if properly maintained, is safer than Teflon, heats evenly and retains heat longer, and can go from open flame right into an oven. The drawbacks being that it requires higher maintenance than traditional cookware, is heavier and takes longer to heat.
It is my opinion that the benefits of cooking with cast iron far outweigh the detriments.
SEASONING CAST IRON
Most importantly with the use of cast iron, is that it must be seasoned! Cast iron relies on a natural layer of oil and fat, or “seasoning”, for it’s non-stick cooking qualities, unlike Teflon and similar surfaces, which are chemically based. Seasoning is also key as a deterrent to the formation of rust.
New cast iron cookware usually ships pre-seasoned from the factory, though it will be necessary to repeat the process from time to time for proper maintenance.
WASH – This should be the only time that you should use soap on your cast iron. Use a brush or steel wool to completely clean the surface. Rinse skillet thoroughly with hot water to remove ALL of the soap. Repeat rinse with cold water to ensure that all soap has been completely removed.
DRY – Dry the skillet, making sure the entire surface is dry and smooth.
SEASON – Apply a thin layer of shortening or cooking oil over the entire skillet. Avoid extra virgin olive oil or butter, as they have a low-smoke point and can be flammable.
BAKE – With the oven pre-heated to 350 – 400 degrees F, place the cookware upside down on an upper rack and bake for at least an hour. Placing aluminum foil on a lower rack will deter oil from dripping onto the heating element. Turn off the oven and allow to cool.
STORE – in a cool, dry place. Apply a thin coat of cooking oil between uses to maintain a protective coat and prevent rust.
USING CAST IRON
With continued use, the oils in the cookware will work into the surface and develop a patina, which will improve it’s cooking efficiency.
Remember that the handle can become EXTREMELY HOT! Always use an oven mitt or folded towels to prevent burns when handling cast iron.
PREHEAT – Typically takes a bit longer to preheat cast iron than standard stainless pans and should be done slowly. Heat over low heat before adjusting to the desired cooking temperature.
COOK – when the desired temperature has been reached. Cast iron will maintain its temperature, providing a reliable and steady heat source. Placing the cookware onto a towel or oven pad on the serving table will keep dishes warm throughout the course of the meal.
CLEANING CAST IRON
DO NOT – run your cast iron cookware through the dishwasher.
NEVER – use soap or detergents to clean your cast iron, soap should only be used when stripping the pan for re-seasoning.
AVOID – running cold water over the surface of a hot pan, as this can shock the pan, causing warping or even fissures in the utensil. Allow to slowly cool before rinsing with hot water.
CLEAN – the surface with a stiff nylon brush and hot water. For stubborn food particles, add kosher salt to the pan, using the brush against the salt as an abrasive. For the most stubborn food particles, heat some oil in the pan along with the salt and use a kitchen towel to scrub the surface to remove the particles. Be careful to protect yourself from the heat by handling with a towel or mitt. For cooked on food substances, boil some water in the skillet for a few minutes while carefully loosening the residue with the brush.
DRY – the cookware thoroughly after cleaning. If you had been using the oven, you can stick the pan in the cooling, still-warm oven for awhile or heat it on the stovetop for a few minutes to make sure all the moisture is removed.
APPLY – a thin layer of cooking oil to the surface while the pan is still warm.
STORE – cookware in a cool, dry place. Storing the pan in the oven is a viable option, just remember to remove the pan prior to turning on the oven. If your pan has a lid, store the pan and lid separately, or place a folded piece of paper towel between the lid and the pan so the pan is ventilated.
RESTORING OLD OR DAMAGED CAST IRON
If your cast iron skillet looks sad and rusty, you’re going to have to take an extra step pump new life into its veins.
Submerge skillet entirely in a tub filled a 50/50 water/vinegar mixture.
Let it soak for three hours.
Take steel wool or a hard scrub brush and scrap off any remaining rust that didn’t dissolve.
(Optional) Throw some salt on the skillet to help scrub.
Follow the instructions above because you now have a brand new skillet (definitely do several coats though).