Over the course of the past four or so years I’ve been slowly taking steps to cleaning my life up: Better food, better exercise, and better living. A huge part of this has been ditching all my toxic “stuff” found in my makeup, personal/cleaning products, and cookware. Of course, despite knowing how toxic teflon pans are, it took me a while to make the commitment to safer alternatives… mostly because I didn’t know where to start. And that’s why I’m here today: To help you know how to use, clean, and season your cast iron skillet and cookware.
Why cast iron?
In a nutshell:
- Cast iron is an awesome non-stick cooking surface when seasoned properly.
- Cast iron will last a lifetime (or more) if cared for properly. (In other words: Save $$$$)
- Cast iron can be used both on the stove and in the oven, and can withstand temperatures well above what is considered safe for non-stick pans.
- Heat is evenly distributed and held, making it great for deep frying, searing, and baking.
- It’s not coated in toxic chemicals. (’nuff said.)
- Once you get the hang of it, care and clean up are SO EASY.
How to season your cast iron skillet and cookware
“Seasoning” is a term used to describe the process of creating a slick and glassy coating. The process is done by baking on multiple thin coats of oil which protects the pan from rust formation. Cast iron has teeny-tiny little peaks and valleys throughout its surface. The oil during the seasoning process fills those cavities and provides a smooth finish. It also provides an awesome non-stick cooking surface.
Many pans today come “pre-seasoned,” although I don’t really trust the rancid vegetable oils they use to do the process. So even when I purchased a pre-seasoned pan I scrub the item with a stainless steel scouring pads (steel wool), using soap and the hottest tap water I can stand, and then proceed to season it again using my favorite oil of choice: coconut oil. (Lard is also a great option!)
Steps for seasoning a cast iron skillet (or any cast iron cookware):
- Start by rubbing a thin coat of coconut oil or lard all over the entire surface of the pan. Rub off any excess with a cotton cloth or paper towel. You don’t want it to look particularly “oily,” but you do want to cover the entire surface.
- Preheat your oven to 450 degrees and place a baking sheet or piece of aluminum foil on bottom rack to catch any drips. Place the pan upside down in the oven and heat for 30 minutes. Turn the oven off and let the pan cool to room temperature.
- Repeat step 1 and 2 three or four times, as this will help season the pan faster. Although, the best way to get a really good “season” is to simply USE the pan. Each time you use it you are seasoning it.
Don’t give up on your pan if it doesn’t seem non-stick at first. Give it time and it will not disappoint!
Note: Seasoning pans will usually produce some “smoke-like” atmosphere (kind of like when you are cooking a dirty oven) so you will probably want to open some windows while you do this, and don’t do it when you have important company coming over.
You’ll notice that as your pan becomes more seasoned that it will begin to change colors slightly. Eventually your pan will have a lovey black finish as it becomes beautifully seasoned.
How to use your cast iron cookware
For the most part you can use your cast iron skillet just as you would any other non-stick pan (assuming it’s seasoned well). But here are a few tips and guidelines to keep in mind as you cook:
It’s important that you preheat your cast iron skillet before frying in them. I highly recommend getting a good infrared thermometer as an easy way to check the temperature of the pan (300 degrees is a common temperature for frying eggs, making sprouted tortilla chips, etc.)
You can also drop a few water droplets on the pan. The droplets should sizzle and hop around. If they don’t dance, keep heating it up. If they disappear immediately the pan is too hot.
Remember that cast iron handles are not safe to touch. They will burn you! I found that purchasing enough of these handle protectors and leaving them on the pan at all times keeps me from accidentally grabbing a painfully hot handle.
Use the right tools
A nice stainless steel spatula with a FLAT edge is what you want. And you can find them for $5 or $6 bucks, so there’s really no reason NOT to get a couple. I own three of them and wish I had 1 or 2 more.
The flat metal surface is important as if will scrape down your pan as you use it. Remember that a properly seasoned pan is one that had a smooth surface. The metal flat edge will help remove peaks and edges. This keeps your pan non-stick… it also helps remove excess foods and oils that could lead to rust or just plain rancid-grossness.
How to clean your cast iron cookware
Once you are done cooking on your pan clean up is pretty easy. There is only one major rule to remember: NEVER PUT IT IN THE DISHWASHER!
So how do you clean it? There are two schools of thought to the best method for cleaning your pans. I’ll provide both and let you decide which ones feels best for you:
Method One: Wash and Dry
1. Cool the pan completely after use.
2. Wash wish soap (a few drops of castile liquid soap) and water. Never soak the pan or let the water sit. Just wash, rinse, and then dry thoroughly.
3. Because water and cast iron are NOT friends, you’ll want to ensure it’s really dry. To do so, place the cleaned skillet on a heated burner of your stove for a minute or two to make sure that it is bone dry. Don’t leave the pan unattended.
4. While the pan is still warm, lightly oil the inside of the pan with your oil of choice. Again, a super thin coat is all you need. Use a cloth or paper towel to rub off any excess.
5. Once the pan is cool, store for another day. (Keep any lids off of your pan when you store them to keep any moisture build-up away.)
Method Two: Scrape and go
Many people think that using any soap and water on cast iron can is less than ideal. And knowing that the heat from cooking will kill any “bad guys germs” that may be lurking on your pan, their philosophy for cleaning is super simple.
1. Using a flat edge spatula scrape off any foot bits or oil deposits left from cooking.
2. Wipe clean using a dry cloth or paper towel.
3. If necessary, add a THIN layer of oil, wiping off any excess. (If the cooking process left enough oil you can just wipe off any excess and call it good.)
4. Store your cookware with the lids off.
I personally love the second method, although some people may be freaked out by the idea that we don’t “wash” our pans unless there’s something unusually sticky on them. But after using our pans almost daily I can tell you that the heating process really does clean them well. And clean up is SO EASY.
Note: If you don’t use your pans daily you might want to consider doing the wash and dry method to ensure there is no excess surface oil. If you do not do this, any surplus oil will have a chance to become rancid.
Other cast iron tips
- Never store food in your cast iron cookware, especially acidic foods. Once the cooking process is done, transfer food to serving dish or storage container.
- Acidic items like tomato sauces will be darker from the iron. (Many people with iron deficiencies are told to use cast iron as a way to get more iron in their diet.)
- It is not recommended that you use your cast iron as a pot for boiling water.
- If your food gets a metallic taste, or turns “black”, it means one of two things are wrong. Either your pot has not been sufficiently seasoned, or you are leaving the food in the pot after it has been cooked. (I’ve never had this problem.)
- If your old or new cast iron pans gets rust spots, simply scour the rusty areas with steel wool, until all traces of rust are gone. Wash, dry, and repeat seasoning process.
- If too much oil or fat is applied to a cast iron pan during the seasoning process, it can pool up. If this happens, scrape off any “goopy” parts, re-grease the spot, and re-seasoned.
- Never put cold liquids into a very hot cast iron pan or oven. They will crack on the spot!
- Be careful when cooking with your cast iron pans on an electric range. The burners create hot spots that can warp cast iron or even cause it to crack. Be sure to preheat the iron very slowly when using an electric range and keep the settings to medium or even medium-low.
Some of my favorite cast iron cookware and accessories
These are the cast iron items that we have and love:
Reversible Grill/Griddle (Great for hamburgers or pancakes!)
Cast Iron Waffle Maker (Takes a little getting used to, but so good!)
Dutch Oven (this is what I use to make our roast chicken.)
Do you use cast iron? Do you love it, too?