Some of my Cast Iron – I Use it All
Cast iron cookware is my cookware of choice mostly because it’s what I learned to cook on. Many people are unsure of its use and care and this keeps them from using it. But after the initial seasoning, it doesn’t require much more care than any modern-day cookware. My favorite piece is a pot that belonged to my grandmother. She used it for many, many years and I have been using it for 25 years. We’re going to remove any fear or uncertainty surrounding the care and use of cast-iron so that you can enjoy cookware that will be here for generations.
I like using cast iron because it can be used over an open fire when it’s really hot and I don’t want to heat the kitchen, when we’re camping, or when we’re without power; because it heats evenly and holds its heat; and because it lasts for generations. Today, you can buy preseasoned cast iron, but you still need to know how to season it because it will eventually need to be reseasoned.
I’m not really a shopper, but one of my favorite things to do is to go to antique stores or flea markets to look for old cast iron pieces. A few years ago, I was in an antique store in Mississippi and found a breakfast griddle. It was rusted and I paid $12 for it. After buffing the rust off with steel wool, washing, and seasoning, it has become one of my favorites and is used almost every day. I decided to see what a new one would cost and you can imagine how shocked I was that the cheapest one I could find was $75!
Restoring a Rusted Piece of Cast Iron
The first thing you need to do is remove the rust. Start by buffing with fine steel wool. If the rust is thick, soak the pan in a 50/50 solution of white vinegar and water for no more than four hours. Leaving it too long will result in the vinegar damaging the cast iron. After you remove it from the vinegar/water solution, rinse and soak the pan overnight in a solution of water and baking soda. This serves to purposes: to neutralize the vinegar and help remove the rust. Next morning, take it out and scrub it well with soap and hot water. I’ve never had to repeat this step, but if the rust is still there, start over with the steel wool and then go back through the steps again. Now you need to season it.
Seasoning the Cast Iron
1) Be sure that your cast iron is completely dry – Wash a new piece in hot water, treat a rusty piece like we said above. Towel dry it and place the piece on medium low heat on your stove until it’s thoroughly dry. Never air dry your cast iron.
2) Grease the inside and outside of your pan – don’t forget the lid – Put a light coat of lard or coconut oil over every surface of your piece. I use coconut oil. Other oils are carcinogenic at high temps and they don’t adhere to the cast iron.
3) Preheat your oven to 275 – Put the pan upside down in the oven and bake for 8 to 10 hours. You may want to put a cookie sheet on the shelf below to catch any oil that drips. Now I know some people will very strongly contradict this way of seasoning. They will insist that you should bake it on 400° for 2 to 3 hours, but at hot temps, the oil often glazes and burns and can ruin the pot. I know this from personal experience.
4) Let it cool on its own – When the time is up, carefully remove the cast iron from oven and let it cool on your stove top or in the oven.
5) Repeat if needed – If the coating is spotty or you’re just not happy with it you can repeat this procedure until you are satisfied.
Care of Your Cast Iron
Congratulations! You’ve seasoned your cast-iron and you’re ready to cook. Proper cleaning of your cast-iron is important. Don’t use a scraper or metal scouring pad on it because you will gouge off the coating and create deep scratches in the surface. If something sticks to the pan, let it cool and add water to the pan to cover the stuck on food. Put back on the stove and bring the water to a boil. Continue boiling until the food lifts off. If you do want to scrub the pan, use a non-scratch plastic pad. The scraping may remove some of the coating, but no worries, just reason it.
There are two schools of thought on washing your cast iron. Some people say to wash it with soap and water, while others say you must never use soap, only hot water. Personally, I never use soap and water on my cast iron. Most the time I just wipe it out with a clean dishrag. If there’s something that has to be washed out, I just use hot water and then heat dry. If you wash a piece and it looks “dry,” put a thin layer of coconut oil or lard on the inside of the pan and leave it. I do this quite often when I don’t like the way a piece looks. I have a small skillet that I’ve had for 20 years that I frequently do this with.
The longer you use your cast iron, the darker it will get. This is normal so don’t worry. We won’t take the time to talk about the history of cast iron or the changes in its production over the years. We are focusing on what we “need” to know in order to be able to enjoy cast iron.
Do’s and Don’ts of Cast Iron
1) Don’t leave your cast iron on high heat for long. It will get red-hot and crack
2) Don’t submerge a hot pan in water – it will crack
3) Don’t use it for storing food – Your food will taste “funny,” kind of metally (just made that word up I think 🙂
5) Do add butter and oil after your pan has preheated – this keeps them from smoking and burning
6) Do check that it’s preheated thoroughly – especially your griddle. Drop a few drops of water onto the heated surface. If they bounce and roll while evaporating, it’s hot. If they sit and boil, let it heat a little longer then retry.
7) Do know that foods high in acid will remove the seasoning – you’ll need to be reseason after cooking any of these in your cast iron
8) Do wipe dry with a towel and reheat pan to dry completely – this prevents rusting. I find that if I just towel dry mine they have to be reseasoned more often.
9) Don’t use stainless steel to scour your cast iron – unless you are removing rust (see above)
Now you have all the know-how you need to properly use and care for cast iron cookware. I hope all of your questions or fears about cast iron have been answered. Let me know your tips or tricks for cast-iron. If you have a question I didn’t answer, you can use the Contact Me page, or leave it in the comments below. Enjoy your cast-iron and happy cooking!
Safe and Happy Journey,