Cast iron is my favorite to cook with. But it can be scary when it comes to care and cleaning. It doesn’t have to be a pain in the patootie to care for. Here are some great tips and step-by-step instructions to make caring for, cleaning, and seasoning your cast iron simple and easy.
A while back, I wrote an article about non-toxic cookware options. Cast iron has been a staple in homes for years. It is inexpensive, durable, chemical-free, and an excellent heat conductor. And, when properly seasoned, it becomes naturally non-stick. The seasoned coating has a polymerized fat which acts as a barrier between the iron and your food and becomes a non-stick surface. You can use cast iron in the oven, on the stove top, and even over a campfire. It handles high heat well and is perfect to create a “crust” on your meats. When cooking meat for the boys, I often use a cast iron skillet on the stove top first to crisp, and then in the oven to heat.
How to Use
Cast iron pans are best for cooking food that is not extremely wet – such as sauteing vegetables or making frittatas. It is not recommended to cook highly acidic foods, like tomatoes, with cast iron, as it can draw the iron out of the pan and break down your seasoning.
Cast iron pans are best for recipes using a spatula instead of a spoon. Once you get the hang of caring for cast iron, it becomes second nature and will give you a product that will last forever!
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Care and Clean
The biggest head-scratcher for me is how to clean off the stuck-on gunk. I will not confirm nor deny if I cook something in a cast iron skillet and then leave it on top of the stove because I don’t know what to do with it, and I’m too afraid to clean it. Like, maybe overnight, there will be cast iron fairies that come in and clean it for me. And then it’s time for the next meal… I shrug my shoulders and throw on another piece of meat to cook for the boys. On top of the gunk. Keeping it real here, folks!
Solidarity anyone? Please?
Researching this article was an eye-opener. I am proud to say that I now practice what I preach, and caring for and cleaning my cast iron pieces is (finally!) super easy and almost second nature. Let’s take this one step at a time, shall we?
One last note… Le Creuset makes enameled cast iron and their care is slightly different than traditional cast iron. If you own a Le Creuset cast iron product, be sure to follow the manufacturer’s directions on care and cleaning.
Never place a hot pan into cool water. The thermal shock may cause your pan to crack. It’s always best to let a hot pan cool before washing. If you have leftover gunk on the pan, fill the bottom of the pan with warm water and some sea salt. Allow it to soak for 15-30 minutes and then use a scrubbing brush specifically designed for cast iron. Nylon or soft scrubbing pads can also be used to scrub away food particles, as well as a nonmetallic scraper.
While some may say it is fine to use mild dish soap, and I have certainly used dish soap on my cast iron skillets in the past (but no longer), it is generally not recommended. The soap will break down the seasoning.
Dry with a towel. To prevent rust, it is recommended to not let cast iron air dry.
Once it’s dry, rub with 1-2 teaspoons of oil with a paper towel. Please refer to the section below on the best oils for cast iron.
Tools and Resources
Technically, pans with integral cast iron, phelonic handles, or stainless steel knobs may be washed in the dishwasher, but it is not recommended. Personally, I do not wash cast iron pieces in the dishwasher. It simply is not recommended.
Seasoning cast iron is actually a process called fat polymerization which seals the porous cast iron to create a smooth surface and prevent rust. Cast iron will need to be seasoned periodically to restore the black “non-stick” surface. If your pan is in bad shape, you may need to repeat the seasoning method twice (or three times or even four) before using. By covering the pan in a food-grade oil and baking it above the oil’s smoke point, this will release the free radicals and polymerization. The more drying the oil, the harder the polymer. It should be noted that it’s not recommended to cook food above the oil’s smoke point, as the release of free radicals in your food or body is bad; this is the process to get the iron seasoned properly.
While this process is not at all labor intensive (just a few minutes of hands-on time), it is extremely time intensive, so plan for several hours, an entire day, or even several days that you will be home to attend to the process.
1. Make sure the pan is scrubbed, cleaned, and completely dry before seasoning.
2. Coat the pan with oil (refer to the section on oils below) inside and out with a paper towel. Then give it a quick wipe down with a clean paper towel. Don’t worry, there will still be plenty of oil left to season the pan.
3. Place the pan upside down on a baking sheet to catch any drips (although there shouldn’t be any – always better to be safe than sorry).
4. Start with a cold oven. You want your pan to warm up with the oven.
5. “Bake” for one hour at 450 degrees.
6. Be sure to turn on your vent and fan to eliminate any smoke.
7. After the hour is complete, turn the oven off and keep the door closed.
8. Let the pan cool in the oven for approximately two hours.
9. Remove and wipe off any excess oil.
10. Repeat as many times as necessary.
A Note About Oils
The traditional way to season cast iron was with lard or bacon grease. Both are still very acceptable and viable options. There are many different oils that you can use to season your cast iron. It should be noted that it is never recommended to use spray oil on cast iron.
While vegetable and canola oils are viable options as well, I personally do not recommend them due to several different reasons I will explore in further detail in a future article. Generally, though, you want to pick an oil that is pure and organic. I’ve listed the oils and their range of smoke points below, as it depends on the purity and if the oil is refined or not. And it is pretty much impossible during my research to find any kind of agreement on smoke points.
Flaxseed oil = 225 degrees
Avocado oil = 375-400 degrees
Coconut oil = 350 degrees
Ghee/Clarified butter = 375-450 degrees
Extra Virgin Olive Oil = 325-375 degrees
Bacon grease = 375 degrees
Crisco = 375-475 degrees
Where to Purchase
My favorite place to purchase cast iron is at yard sales or flea markets. Not only are they super cheap (usually sold for a few dollars), but it’s fun to bring them back to life, and to keep one more item out of a landfill.
eBay is another great place to purchase pre-loved cast iron at great prices, especially if you are looking for name brands.
You can look for new items on Amazon.com and compare prices.
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