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Toss That Teflon Pan And Cook With Cast Iron

Cast ironI love to cook and always have. However, one of my happiest days in the kitchen was when I discovered the wonders of cooking with cast iron. My grandmother had always used a cast iron skillet, but being a child of the 70s and 80s, I watched my mother use those nasty Teflon-coated pans. (She’s since stopped using that stuff, by the way.)

When I married and set up my own house, I bought myself my first very own cast iron skillet … and fell in love immediately. A few years later, I inherited a cast iron skillet that belonged to my great-grandmother. And now, 15 years later I’m on a quest to acquire every size and shape cast iron pot and pan possible!

Why Cast Iron?

My trusty cast iron cookware gets used daily in my kitchen. Why? Because they are so flexible. You can use a single cast iron pan or skillet for nearly any cooking task. You can bake a cake, cook a steak, roast a chicken, or fry some veggies … and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. While one skillet is all you really need, you’ll probably end up just like me, a cast iron junkie who wants one of every size.

Cooking with cast iron has many benefits. One, they’re virtually non-stick, without the nasty chemical compounds like Teflon. Cast iron cookware can be used on the stove top, and also in the oven. Best of all – a cast iron skillet actually improves with age! One pan can easily last through an entire lifetime, and vintage cast iron has been handed down through multiple generations. How many gadgets can you say that about?

In addition to all the reasons above, master chefs love cast iron pots and pans because they are precise cooking tools. They retain heat and will allow you to cook your food accurately and evenly.

Seasoning Your Skillet

When you hear someone like me say “season” your skillet, we’re not meaning that you should add salt or pepper or other seasonings to the pan. The term actually just means to prepare your pan for cooking so it will be naturally non-stick.

When you get a new cast iron skillet or pan, before you cook in it, you should begin to season it. The process is very simple:

  1. Wash with hot water and dry completely. Do not use soap!
  2. Rub a little olive oil or coconut oil (or vegetable oil, if you must) on the surface of the pan. Rub it gently but evenly … like you were shining an expensive pair of shoes.
  3. Place the pan in a 350 degree oven for an hour. (Some people like to put the pan in upside down, on a cookie sheet to catch oil drips. I just put mine in the regular way.)
  4. Leave it for an hour.
  5. Turn the oven off, and let the oven and pan cool.

That’s it! You’re done … the pan is seasoned and ready to go. But don’t forget this process – you may need to repeat it later. More about that later on…

Now that you’re ready to get cooking, let’s discuss a few important ways to care for your cast iron cookware.

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Wash Your Pan Gently

You should wash your cast iron cookware in hot water, taking care not to submerge your pan completely in water, as this can wash away the seasoning.  Do not scrub too vigorously while washing, as this will also break down the seasoning.

To Soap, Or Not To Soap? The Great Cast Iron Controversy

Tradition says to never use soap on cast iron. However, some modern cooks like to use a very light and gentle soapy mixture to wash their pans, because of concerns about cooking and bacteria. However, I am firmly in the “no soap” camp when it comes to my cast iron cookware. My great-grandmother never used soap, my grandmother never used soap, and I don’t either. And I’m pretty sure we’ve never gotten sick from our cookware. If you choose to use soap on your cast iron cookware only use a very gentle and mild soap and wash it away quickly and evenly. Never use heavy or abrasive soap, and by all means DO NOT PUT YOUR CAST IRON COOKWARE IN THE DISHWASHER!

Air Dry Only

Water droplets cause rust spots, and cast iron is extremely susceptible to these spots. You should dry your cookware immediately after washing. I wash with hot water only (no soap), then dry immediately. If my pan is looking lackluster or there is even a hint of rust, I will rub a dab of coconut or olive oil all over my pan before storing it away. And sometimes, I just rub it down anyway…just because that feels very old-fashioned and my pan looks all shiny.

Scrub With Sea Salt Only

If you find a spot of stuck-on food that must be removed, and gentle rubbing with a kitchen towel just won’t do – try using a dab of sea salt. It’s strong enough to remove stuck-on food but will not ruin the seasoning on your pan. Rinse, dry, and rub with oil after scrubbing with sea salt.  Never use abrasive sponges on your cast iron cookware.

When Cooking…

Make sure you use the right tools when cooking in your pans. You’ll want to use a wooden or plastic utensil for stirring and so on. Metal utensils can scratch off your seasoning or scratch your pan. Personally, I’ve been known to use a metal spatula or metal tongs, but I’m always extra careful to touch the food only, not apply pressure to the pan.

Troubleshooting

If you begin to notice little black flecks coming off your pan, or you notice your cookware isn’t as “non-stick” as it once was, this probably means your pan needs to be re-seasoned. To re-season your pan, you just complete the same process you did when you set up your pan the first time. Truthfully, you can re-season your pan as much as you’d like if you’re ever concerned that it is losing its seasoning.

Do you use cast iron cookware? What are some of your favorite things to cook in your cast iron skillets?

© 2008-2014 Off The Grid News

11 comments

  1. Great article. My wife and I use cast iron for all our cooking needs. She has, at last count, 17 cast iron skillets, dutch ovens, and pots in her kitchen. We use camp dutch ovens (one or two of each size) for outdoor cooking. I have picked up another old Wagner for a buck that I need to season for her.

    If, for some reason, people need to start cooking over wood their aluminum and stainless fry pans and pots may not work well… or last. For this reason I began about 6 years ago to collect and store cast iron to barter with when the opportunity arises.

  2. I have several cast iron skillets. I use mine for cornbread in the oven, fried potatoes, fried corn, almost anything you can imagine. When my skillets need seasoning again, I rub them with Crisco and put them on my gas BBQ grill with the lid closed. This way I don’t get that smell in my house and it works just a well as putting them in the oven.

  3. I have cast iron skillets and also cast iron pots to use in the oven. BUT since I have a smooth-top stove, these can’t be used on that type of stove. I know because I put my skillet on my stove-top and it etched a ring into the stove top surface. But of course, could be used on an outdoor grill, etc.

  4. Sounds like your wife and I would be great friends, Jim!

    Kim – great idea on the BBQ grill!

  5. The old Griswald iron are VERY smooth and non-stick-they look and feel like a witches black mirror (I am guessing). They are expensive but worth it if you cook a lot. I wish Lodge would make a “Premium” or “Manor House” or whatever title they want to call it and make some SMOOTH bottom cook surfaces.

  6. I really enjoyed this article. And a few years ago I would have whole hardily agreed with you regarding cast iron cookware. But since then I have learned of the benefits of a high grade stainless steel cookware that has changed my mind. I would hope you would research this cookware and even do an article comparing the pros and cons of each. the cookware can be found at the following website:
    http://saladmaster.com/display/router.aspx

  7. I’m a school trained cook and I’ve been using cast iron cookware at home regularly for over 30 years. At home I also use copper bottomed stainless pots, but the only thing I use the non-stick for is a saute pan for cooking eggs (and only eggs – nothing else). The only reason I use the non-stick saute pan is because of the shape and light weight which makes flipping eggs easy – I don’t use a spatula, I flip them by moving the pan in a small circle and having the egg ride up the edge of the pan and curl over itself – it’s a saute’ trained cook thing.

    One dutch oven that I use was originally my great grandmother’s, which makes it (at a minimum) 100 years old.

    One thing I will disagree with you about is the use of any form of vegetable oil in seasoning. While it works for a short time, it doesn’t penetrate and close off the pores in the steel well, and due to this it flakes and wears off fairly quickly. Cast should be seasoned with either lard or fat scraps (beef works well). It will last longer and not flake off (flaking is actually something your seasoning should never do).

    If you use fat scraps: after cutting them off the uncooked roast/steak/etc. boil them for a short time (this cleans or “clarifies” the fat) then fry them in the cast in order to get the fat to melt. Remove the unmelted remnants and rub the melted fat around the interior being careful not to burn yourself (I use a paper towel). Then bake it in the oven.

  8. My husband and I used to do Civil War re-enacting and we used our cast iron all the time. We have 7 different sized Lodge and Griswold fry pans and 2 dutch ovens, one with the little legs to put in a campfire and one without that I use for stews, etc. We also have a rectangular cast iron griddle that fits on our gas stove like a glove. We use our cast iron constantly.

    I use my fry pans for cornbread, pineapple upside down cake, and cottage fried potatoes. I use the bigger one for doing stir-fry.

    When I am done with cooking, I will put my pan on the stove, fill it with water and bring it to a simmer for a litle bit. I have a scrubber that looks like a little whisk broom that I use to scrub the leftovers off the inside. I then rinse with hot water, dry it off and keep it in the oven of my gas stove. My one fry pan is close to 75 years old and still going strong.

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    Where are your contact details though?

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