Monday, February 22, 2010

19. How to season and use that cast iron skillet you have just lying around

How many of you have cookware lying around or hung up or hidden in your kitchen that you have no idea how to use or that you want to use but aren't sure of the upkeep? Growing up we had one kind of cookware. The copper bottomed kind. Yeah, you know what I'm talking about! I used to watch my grandmother dutifully shine the copper on the bottoms of every one of her pans once a month with ketchup, thus learning how to shine copper very cheaply. This was also the only thing I learned about cookware growing up. However I am not here to talk about copper bottom pans, I am here to talk about: Cast Iron.

I always thought of cast iron as something that my grandmother would have used (even though she didn't) and that the pans themselves were just gross. You never use soap to clean them as that would destroy the wonderful nonstick coating that you are going to create by seasoning it. I'm over that now. I used to love and use (and still use as I have only just recently started replacing all of my cookware with the set I plan to have for the next um, forever.) non-stick or Teflon pans, but after reading articles on Teflon possibly having some pretty heinous heath risks and seeing how quick even the most expensive pan deteriorates I have changed my mind. This isn't to say that everyone should run out and replace their Teflon, but there are alternatives. Cast iron is one of many alternatives including stainless steel and glass.

Now, get that old rusted cast iron pan out from where ever you have been neglecting it and follow my lead.

You are going to need:
1 (or several) cast iron pan (s)
Fat (I have tried both vegetable fats and (recently) animal fat and I like the way animal fat works a lot more. I used bacon fat and the result was a gloriously seasoned pan. Vegetarians, do not despair! I have been reading and vegetable fats are just fine!)

1. Preheat your oven to anywhere between 300 and 500 degrees. This is entirely up to you, I used 300 degrees today.
2. Scour your pan out very well with hot water and a scouring pad or steel wool. If you have light rust spots scour them until all traces of the rust are gone. Then wash and immediately dry your pan.
3. Coat your pan with fat and place it into the oven for 15 minutes. Remove the pan and drain the excess fat.
4. Place the pan back into the oven for 1-2 hours.

Note: Repeating the process several times will help to create a stronger seasoning and better cooking surface.

Caring for your pan:

1. Do not use soap, though I am sure you can find several resources for why you can and how. Soap will start to break down the seasoning you have created.
2. Let the pan cool down some, rinse it with hot water, and wipe with a soft sponge if you need to.
3. Dry with paper towels and then place over low heat on the stove to make sure the pan is completely dry.

Voila! You have an amazing non-stick pan that should last years and years with proper care.

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