Cooking With Cast Iron

Cast iron is a material used for cooking, ages before the dawn of Teflon, ceramic or aluminum pans. Traditionally cast iron cauldrons were used over a fire to cook meals. As the use of a stove became more popular, skillets formed with a flat bottom were made to be used atop a stove.

When used, cleaned and seasoned properly, cast iron cookware becomes a great non-stick surface with many uses and applications. Cast iron can be found molded into waffle irons, bread loaf pans, egg poachers, skillets, casserole dishes and grill pans, to name a few.

Besides the non-stick surface, another great feature is its heat distribution. Cast iron retains heat much better than any other cooking material. It will stay hotter longer and won’t have hot/cold spots. This also aids in its not stick properties.

A rusty cast iron skillet can be restored and used, in most cases, excluding those that have seen excessive use and developed holes.  Since cast iron is such a durable material, that lasts for ages, you can often find cast iron cookware at second-hand stores or garage sales for a far reduced price. However. Regardless the price, cast iron is a worthwhile investment. As you can see from the pictures, this square pan that I picked up from a thrift store was easy to restore and works perfectly like new.

How to season cast-iron:

If you have a rusty cast iron pan, take an SOS pad and scrub the rust off. You may use soap if it makes it easier to remove the rust and food buildup. Make sure to remove any baked on food, that can cause future problems and additional buildup over time. Let it quickly drip dry or whisk away moisture with a drying cloth, then place it over a heat source to finish the drying process. Once fully dry, rub the whole pan down with oil. I use avocado oil, but olive, or lard will work as well. Just make sure the oil is clean and not recycled. Heat your oven to 500 degrees, or as hot as it will go, then place the pans in the oven. As the pans begin to produce smoke, remove them from the oven and let them cool before storing. Seasoning the outside of the pan is best done in the oven with a drip pan below the rack that holds your cast iron. Seasoning the bottom of the pan on the stove top could be more messy and just won’t work if you use induction or ceramic cooktops. Once the pan is seasoned in the oven, you don’t need to repeat the process. In most cases you can lightly brush clean and coat with oil before storing, for future use.

Using your cast iron:

Cast iron becomes a non stick surface when it’s HOT. Always preheat your skillet before cooking with it. Failing to do so will cause everything to stick and you will hate cleaning off the mess. If you are using a grill pan, don’t use additional oil, it will cause massive amounts of smoke. I would however suggest using a small amount of oil in a skillet or casserole dish prior to adding your ingredients you wish to cook. Since the surface is durable you can use metal turners to flip or stir what is in the pan without worry of scratching the pan’s surface.

Cleaning cast-iron

It’s ok to use a mild soap, but not necessary. If you do use soap, don’t scrub off your seasoning with a metal scoring pad. In most cases, Scrub the pan with a kitchen brush to remove any food, place on a burner to dry out fully and kill any germs. Lightly coat with oil before storing it. If you happened to scorch the pan, don’t worry! Rinse the pan, then use course salt and dry non-metal scrubbing pad or sponge to rub the cooked-on-food with the course salt until removed. Coat lightly with oil before storing. Not doing so will cause oxidation and the development of rust. The pan can be re-seasoned, so never throw out the pan, just clean it well and repeat the seasoning process. It will become like new again.