By Jason Wagner
Here is an article I’ve prepared to help you, the reader, take optimal care of your cast iron skillet/Dutch oven/griddle/pot/grates/other…so that you may personally enjoy them for decades and (unlikely) many millenniums to come.
The idea of caring for cast iron may seem a daunting task that you’d sooner choose any other metal or alloy cookware. This is fine, other metals work well, too…But two of the best culinary discoveries I’ve ever made was trying out charcoal cooking and buying a cast iron skillet. Everything that comes out of cast iron, like food cooked over charcoal, has a unique flavor that other cookware cannot quite match.
The first rule of care when it comes to your cast iron cookware is to never wash them with dish soap…don’t even entertain the idea. Some people make the silly claim that while it’s bad to use dish soap, a little detergent won’t hurt; that’s total hogwash. Never expose your cast iron to any cleaning chemicals, unless you’re ready to re-season it immediately after. I’ll go into greater detail on the art of re-seasoning later.
There’s two ways to clean your cast iron cooking-ware: The ideal method and the alternative method.
The ideal method: With this one, all you’ll clean your cast iron with is a lint-free cloth and some oil or cooking grease. I use soybean oil, because it’s cheap and it works well. Note that paper towels can be used in the place of the cloth, just try to use a strong brand of paper towel, or it will immediately shred upon agitation with the metal. As to cleaning it: pour some oil onto the still warm or hot cast iron and wipe away any of the food debris. If there’s any excess oil, polish it off. Leave only a thin sheen of oil, too much won’t help anything. In fact, too much oil can be slightly unhelpful.
The alternative method: Sometimes it just isn’t feasible to employ the “Ideal” cleaning method…In these cases, I recommend that you boil enough water to cover up any burned/stuck-on/problem spots for a few minutes and then proceed to scrub at the metal with a medium-stiff brush. Circular brushes are the common choice for this task. Once clean, apply a thin coating of oil or grease to the metal
There’s a reason that there’s the ideal cleaning method, and the alternative method…In order to build up an epic seasoning, you’ll want to use the ideal method as much as possible, while using the lesser method as little as possible.
Tip: There’s a very useful product that Lodge manufactures called a cast-iron scraper. This is very useful for small-scale removal of burnt on food. Consider it a way-station between using the ideal method and the alternative method.
Remember that the more you properly clean your cast iron skillet, the more non-stick and ‘flavorful’ it will become.
The art of re-seasoning a piece of cast iron:
I know what I wrote earlier, so don’t bother screaming at me through the monitor; dish soap is okay here.
Step 1: when you’re about to re-season your cast iron, it’s okay to use dish soap to thoroughly clean the metal. The use of a stiff nylon brush works best, but an abrasive sponge works well, too. Use your scrubbing tool in conjunction with the dish soap to clean the metal, rinse extremely well and dry until it’s bone dry.
Step 2: you’ll want pre-heat your oven to 350 – 400 degree Fahrenheit.
Step 3: Add a thin layer of cooking oil, grease, fat, anything like that and place the cast iron, face down on one of the oven’s cooking racks. Heat for about an hour, then it’s done.
Tips: I recommend repeating steps 2 and 3 several times, or until the cast iron is, or close to, a carbon black color. If you don’t want to repeat the steps, one seasoning is acceptable enough.
How do I know if my cast iron requires re-seasoning?
There are several tell-tale signs that include: A strong metallic smell, visible rust, grey metal, poor cooking properties, off taste in your food and so on.
Removing rust from cast iron
Simply use a fine grit sand paper or a steel wool pad, or even a heavy duty scouring pad will work. Scrub until the rust is gone and then re-season, following the re-seasoning guidelines above.
Tip #1: Avoid cooking highly acidic foods or ingredients, such as the likes of vinegar or tomatoes in your cast iron until it’s developed a decent seasoning; I’m not talking about the initial seasoning, I mean the one it develops over time with cooking.
Tip #2: I recommend you use plastic utensils with your cast iron. Once your cast iron cookware has developed a strong natural seasoning, then you may use whatever you wish in your cooking.
Tip #3: Try to keep your cast iron cookware in a dry area. Also, try to allow your cast iron some ventilation. Avoid storing your cast iron with its lid on, or face down on a solid surface. I store my favorite cast iron frying pan in my oven, face down on the rack. This provides good ventilation and a relatively dry environment. Just make sure you take it out when you turn your oven on, because without anything in the cast iron, the seasoning may get damaged.
Tip #4: Flax seed oil is considered the absolute best seasoning for cast iron, but as I have never used it, I cannot personally attest to its effectiveness.
Tip #5: When cooking with cast iron, try to use the lowest heat applicable for the best results.
Tip #6: Lard fat and bacon grease are fairly good choices for seasoning and re-seasoning your cast iron skillets; however, I don’t use either of them myself. According to some reports, the salt in lard and bacon may prove harmful to your cast iron. It seems unlikely that any harm would come of it given that people have been using salty greases and fats to protect their cast iron for a long time, but all the same, I think that it warrants mentioning.
And as a final note, you take care of your cast iron, and you can use it for amazingly good cooking results, like in this picture!