I 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:
- Wash with hot water and dry completely. Do not use soap!
- 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.
- 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.)
- Leave it for an hour.
- 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.
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.
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.
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?