Culinary Lesson #24 - Caring for Cast IronThursday, September 11, 2014
If you're like most of us, you probably have at least one cast iron skillet or pot that doesn't get used due to the fact that it is littered with rust. Whether it's been passed down through the family and has picked up its fair share of 'cooking abuse', or it's just had a rough first year or two since being purchased, all is not lost. The beauty of cast iron (besides its longevity, wide range of uses, and ability to heat evenly) is that you can re-season it better than it was initially seasoned in the factory as needed. Although various sources recommend quite a range of variables used with the cleaning and upkeep of cast iron, I believe that the following lists incorporate the most widely acceptable standards to follow.
- Transfer your cast iron to the oven and run it through a cleaning cycle. [Side note: Make sure to remove any oven thermometers, oven rack guards, etc. before running the cycle if you'd like them to be functional in the future]. Let the cast iron cool naturally in the oven.
- Dust off any excess rust using a pad of steel wool (if necessary) to remove any tough areas. Wash in warm water and a few drops of soap. Rinse in (plain) water and either dry it in the oven on low heat or on a burner set to low. [Side note: It is crucial that the cast iron is completely dry before proceeding].
- Using a cotton cloth or paper towel, rub just enough oil on all surfaces of the cast iron skillet or pot to coat. Madison-based American Skillet Company (among other reputable sources) recommends using a food-grade, organic flaxseed oil, although other sources list melted vegetable shortening or other vegetable oils as acceptable alternatives. Using a new towel, rub off any and all excess oil.
- Transfer the skillet or pot to the oven and place upside down on the middle rack. On the lower rack, add a sheet or two of aluminum foil to catch any drippings. Turn the oven to 500° F and let the cast iron gradually heat up. Once preheated, turn on your kitchen fan, open any windows, and bake for an hour. After an hour, turn off the oven and allow the cast iron to cool naturally in the oven for an hour.
- Repeat Steps #3 and #4 five more times. [Side note: Although your pan will be greatly improved after just two or three seasonings, experts truly believe that six times is necessary for the best seasoning].
- Never shock a cast iron skillet or pot by introducing a cold dish to a hot oven, or a hot dish to cold water. If cast iron isn't cooled or heated gradually, cracking is a real possibility.
- Never run your cast iron through the dishwasher! Rather, hand wash with (plain) warm water, dry in a warm oven or on the stove top, rub with light coat of oil, and bring the oil to its smoke point. Once it cools naturally, it's ready to be stored away.
- If you have a decent amount of food stuck to the cast iron after cooking with it, fill the skillet or pot with water, bring to a boil, and then clean as described in the previous tip.
- Use a rag or the soft side of a sponge for cleaning rather than the scouring side of a kitchen sponge or a steel scouring pad. This will keep your professional seasoning in tact.