Tips for Cooking in Cast Iron
Not too long ago, a friend of mine handed me a couple of cast iron skillets which were rusted and had odd stains and asked me what I could do to get them back in shape. If you’ve seen our first video podcast, you saw me use one of them as a demonstration for restoring a rusted pan. After I cleaned and re-seasoned the pans, I gave them two initial run-throughs--one in the oven with corn bread and one on the stove top with bacon.
After I gave the pans back, I offered a few tips for keeping them in good shape. Below is an adaptation of what I suggested. You should know that not everyone is in 100% agreement with all of these suggestions and that’s okay. These suggestions are what I do to keep my cast iron pans “healthy” and looking good.
- Use your pans and use them a lot. If your pan has just been seasoned fresh (as opposed to factory pre-seasoned) or re-seasoned it will probably be a shade of brown, BUT it should be completely black within a year if it is used frequently. There's very little that cannot be cooked in cast iron. Rethink the kinds of pans you use. If you normally cook something in the oven on a cookie sheet, it might cook just as well in the skillet. On the stovetop, skillets can be used for much more than frying, but obviously, they're good for that, too. Breads and desserts cook well in cast iron skillets, too.
- I would recommend that you keep them handy, either on the stove top or in the oven when not in use. Don't stack them or place them under other pans in the bottom of a cabinet. Cast iron pans stacked in closed up cabinets for long periods of time often develop rust rings where one pan is sitting on another. If you do need to stack your pans, put a cloth between them or a pan protector.
- Since cast iron distributes heat so well, under normal situations, you don't need to turn a stove burner above a "medium" heat. Always let the pan heat as the burner heats or let the pan heat in the oven as the oven heats. Don't put a cold pan on a hot surface or a hot pan in cold water. Either has the potential to crack or warp the pan.
- The seasoning/carbonizing process needs to continue, so, I would recommend that initially (perhaps a year or so), avoid highly acidic foods in the pans such as tomatoes, wine, and citrus fruits.
- Avoid metal utensils that can scrape and damage a pan’s seasoning. I use a lot of wooden spoons and silicone spatulas that can withstand high heats. See Delia’s post, “Spats & Spoons: What’s Best for Cast Iron?”
- When you clean them NEVER* use soap as it both breaks down the seasoning and can change the taste of the pan. Clean them with hot water and a good stiff brush. If food is stuck on them, use the kind of scraper that you can get from Pampered Chef for baking stones. Don't worry about sanitary issues in regard to not using soap. Heating a pan on a medium heat will raise the temperature to nearly 350 degrees which is more than twice the temperatures needed to kill any microbes. *Some on our panel of writers will disagree to the NEVER in my first sentence. Once a pan has reached a “mature” seasoning after much use, a mild dishwashing soap will usually not harm it. However, I just prefer cleaning my pans the old fashioned way with a good brush and hot water.
- After cleaning a skillet, you need to prepare it for it's next use. Make sure it is dried thoroughly. Sometimes placing it on a still warm burner or in a still warm oven will help with this. After the pan is dry, wipe a thin layer of cooking oil over the entire cooking surface to prepare it for the next use. I use olive oil because I cook primarily with olive oil and it will not turn rancid if left out in the air for long periods of time (of course, if you use your cast iron regularly, there’s no such thing as a “long period of time” ).
- If your pan starts to show signs of rust, significant loss of seasoning, or gives off a metallic taste in your food, it needs to be re-seasoned.
This may sound like your pans will require a lot of high maintenance, but not really. All of this becomes simply routine. Most modern pans wear out, but cast iron is designed to last beyond an entire lifetime. There's no reason that with the proper care, you wouldn't be able to pass these pans on to your children or grandchildren years from now
Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments below, or you can contact Rick directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.