Kelly the Culinarian: The Care and Keeping of Cast Iron

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

The Care and Keeping of Cast Iron

My collection: a Lodge Cast Iron Dutch Oven
 and a Crofton Cast Iron Skillet from ALDI
I've feared cast iron unnecessarily for years. I always thought it was an antiquated and messy way to cook, but what I've realized as I've come around to the glory of cast iron is that all my previous misconceptions were because I failed to maintain my equipment properly. Without fail, every time I tried to cook with my cast iron skillet, it smoked while preheating enough to set off the smoke detector, while my food still burned and stuck to it. It was user error: I wasn't maintaining the seasoning on the skillet and failed to clean it enough between uses to keep it pristine.

Let me explain: cast iron skillets almost universally arrive to you pre-seasoned, meaning it has a little nonstick on it. Even old cast iron can be restored, however, with a little elbow grease and oil. The benefits of cooking with cast iron are numerous - because it takes heat well, you can get an awesome sear on meats. And if you're anemic, cooking in cast iron increases the level of iron in your food. Pretty nifty. Plus, these things are indestructible, if you take care of them.

First, when you're done cooking, try to scrape off as much food while the skillet or dutch oven is still warm. If the stain is particularly nasty, you may wish to add a cup of water to the skillet while it's still warm. When you're done eating and it's cooled a bit, it will have worked some of the gunk off the bottom to make the next step easier.

These things are your friends! Unless you're removing rust from an old skillet, never use soap on cast iron. Instead, use silicon scrapers to remove stuck-on food. Your next line of defense is a chainmail scrubber. This looks weird, but it works well. It's basically a non-abrasive scrubby pad that you can use over and over again. I also have a cast iron brush to scrub out little bits. If the mess is particularly sticky, you can sprinkle plain old salt on the surface to increase your scrubbing ability.

Once you've removed the gunk, dry your cast iron ware the best you can with a paper towel or rag, and then coat it with a thin film of oil. I've used plain old spray PAM, but I'd suggest canola or coconut oil. This reseals the seasoning and protects the integrity of the cooking surface. Store your cast iron in the oven, upside down, and don't be afraid to leave it in the oven when you're baking. Not only does it help maintain a consistent temperature by storing and emitting heat, it also "cooks" the coating back on and burns off any extra oil.

In fact, if you're trying to restore some cast iron you've lost hope on, go ahead and scrub and scour the thing within inches of its life, then coat it in oil and bake it at 350 for 30 minutes. It should do the trick!
Sleep tight, cast iron collection!

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