Cast Iron Seasoning and Care

Cast iron seasoning is necessary if you buy your castiron cookware new and if it has not already been pre-seasoned. Even if you have the good fortune to find it used, you may have to re-season it if the previous owner did not care for it properly.

Seasoning cast iron cookware is necessary to keep it from rusting and to give it a non-stick surface. The oil you season it with becomes embedded in the iron's tiny pores, and the more you use it, the more oil becomes embedded, creating a better surface with each usage.

Cast Iron Seasoning

  1. The first thing to do when you bring your new unseasoned pan home is to wash it with dish soap and hot water, using a stiff bristled brush to remove any factory coating. Never use a wire brush or steel wool, however, as this will damage the pan.
  2. Dry it thoroughly by heating it on the stove for about a minute or putting it in the oven for about 15 minutes to be sure all the moisture has evaporated. Let it cool slightly until it is still warm, but not too hot to touch.
  3. Coat the pan all over with a thin layer of either lard, bacon grease or peanut oil. These all have a high smoke point, which you will want because the best cast iron seasoning requires a high temperature.
  4. Place a layer of aluminum foil on the bottom of your oven to catch any drips, and heat the oven to 400°F. Place the pan upside-down on a rack in the oven and bake it for two hours.
  5. Turn off the heat and let it cool in the oven for a few hours. Cast iron becomes extremely hot, so be sure not to touch it until it has thoroughly cooled.

If you have more than one pan to season, do as many as will fit in your oven at once.

Care of Cast Iron Cookware

How to Clean Cast Iron

  1. The first rule of thumb is to never put cold water in a hot cast iron pan, as it may cause it to crack. Let the pan cool down first until it is cool enough to be picked up with your bare hands, though still warm, as this makes it easier to clean.
  2. Using a stiff bristled brush, run the pan under hot water and scrub out any food particles with the brush. Soap is usually not necessary, but if you feel you must use some soap, use only a mild dish detergent and re-oil the pan afterwards, since the soap will remove some of the cast iron seasoning.

    castiron cookware
    Some cast iron cookware aficionados have a fit if you even mention using soap on cast iron. But I generally use a little dish soap after cooking fish in my cast iron skillet, as I don't like to leave a “fishy” taste in the pores of the iron. I just make sure to rub in a good coating of oil after I dry it.

    If the pan has been only lightly used, to fry and egg, for instance, you can even just wipe out the pan with a paper towel. It will help to season the pan even more.

  3. Dry your cast iron thoroughly so it doesn't rust. You can heat it on top of the stove over a medium flame for a minute or so, which will help to evaporate any remaining water. Depending on what you've cooked in it, you may want to rub tiny bit of oil over it with a paper towel before storing it.

TIP: For tough, cooked-on food, you can fill the pan with about half an inch of water and heat it to a simmer, then use a spatula to scrape the cooked on bits off. It works like a charm. Dry as usual and rub a little oil into it before storing.

Never, ever, put cast iron cookware in the dishwasher! It will remove all the cast iron seasoning and you'll have to start over again, which is something I'm sure you won't want to do often!

How to Store Cast Iron

Cast iron cookware should always be stored without lids so moisture doesn't get trapped inside and cause your cookware to rust. If stored with their lids, it helps to put a paper towel inside so it will help absorb any moisture. It's best to store them in a dry place with plenty of air circulation to discourage rust.

Never store food in cast iron, as it will give the food a metallic taste and the food will break down the cast iron seasoning.

Cooking with Cast Iron

When your cookware is newly seasoned try to cook as many fatty foods in it as possible. Anything using butter, lard or oil is good. Try to avoid watery or acidic foods at first. After your cookware has built up a good seasoning layer you can cook almost anything in it (very acidic foods aside).

To discourage food from sticking, be sure the pan is well heated before adding the food. A drop of water should jump around and sizzle when placed in the pan. If it evaporates immediately the pan is too hot. If it just sort of sits there or bubbles a bit then the pan is too cool.

The more you use your cookware, the more the cast iron seasoning will improve. After a little while it will be as non-stick as any Teflon pan, but without the poisonous chemicals!

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