Cast iron is my favorite cookware. It is heavy, thick, forged iron. Used by cowboys and homesteaders, cast iron was the cookware carried across the plains as pioneers settled America. Cast iron has heritage, history.
Story aside, cast iron is also great to cook with. Cast iron heats up slowly, retains an even heat, and can be transferred directly from the stovetop to the oven. Cast iron isn’t coated with hazardous nonstick chemicals (Is Your Kitchen Slowly Poisoning You?), yet if properly maintained is virtually nonstick and super easy to clean. You, however, need to know how to properly take care of cast iron.
Cleaning and Caring For Cast Iron
Cast iron isn’t the type of cookware that you can use, dirty, and then let soak in water to soften food debris. You have to clean it out right after you use it. This is easy though if your cast iron is properly seasoned.
When cleaning cast iron, don’t use soap and water. Just rinse out with water. Soap surrounds hydrophobic fat particles and makes them soluble (washes them away). You want a nice lipid layer on your cast iron to keep it nonstick and to keep it from rusting. When exposed to the air, oxygen oxidizes cast iron and you’re left with a rusty pan. No one wants eggs with a side of rust.
If your pan has picked up little burnt bits of food as you’ve browned or caramelized your meal, don’t reach for steal wool. A mild abrasive dish scrubber should easily lift off the burnt food. If you feel you need a little more scrubbing power, use course salt.
I like to reinforce my nonstick coating on my cast iron cookware every time I use them. To do this I just add a little drop of coconut oil and rub it evenly over the surface. Just a little is all you need.
Seasoning or Re-Seasoning Cast Iron
With time or improper care your cast iron might start to stick or rust. It’s not time to get a new pan! These things are built for lifetimes. If properly cared for, they can be passed down for generations.
To remove rust and return a cast iron pan to its former glory, you will need to re-season the cookware. This is what you need and how to do it:
- Scrub brush or steel wool if your cast iron is in bad shape
- Clean dry cloths
- Basting brush
- Oil (coconut oil or bacon grease are my go to oils for seasoning)
- Preheat oven to 350°F.
- Wash the cast iron with warm, soapy water and a scrub brush. Normally, you don’t want to use soap on cast iron, but now it is ok since we are rebuilding the fatty seasoning layer. If you need some extra muscle, use steel wool here.
- Rinse and dry the skillet.
- Using a cloth or basting brush apply a thin coat of oil or fat to both the inside and outside of the skillet. You can use most any oil but I use coconut oil for nearly everything and bacon grease is the tried and true way of seasoning cast iron. Other options include vegetable oil or shortening. Stay away from olive oil though, given its low smoke point and high oxidation rate.
- Place the skillet upside down on the oven’s center rack.
- Use sheet of aluminum foil to catch any drips.
- Bake the cast iron for an hour.
- Turn off heat and allow to the skillet to cool before removing from oven.
- If you want to take the time (and you should) I would repeat steps 4-8 a few more times to make sure that you have built up a strong, sturdy, protective, nonstick layer of seasoning.
Now your cast iron cookware is as good as new. Don’t own cast iron cookware? Don’t think that you have to buy new cookware. Given cast iron’s durability, you can find great old cookware at antique stores, flea markets, and garage sales.
Using the steps above, you can restore your cast iron to its former glory and start cooking wholesome food, as countless generations have done before you.
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons (link)