I Probably use my cast iron skillet more than any other tool in my kitchen, it is easily the most durable item in my cupboard. Sure there are more expensive pans, but cast iron is best at retaining and more evenly distributing heat, even better than my All Clad.
The nonstick (chemical free) surface is really what makes cast iron so versatile and indispensable. I’ve gotten rid of all of my Teflon pans as they have been proven to release cancer-causing agents into your food, while cooking in cast iron has shown to help fight free radicals (the use of aluminum pans have been linked to Alzheimer’s Disease, but we won’t get into that now).
When you buy a new cast-iron pan they are often “pre-seasoned” and just need a good rinse with hot water, however, I like to season my pans regardless of what the packaging says. Because cast iron lasts so long, they can often be found at garage sales, in flee markets and second hand stores. So regardless if yours is new or used, it’s good to know the basics of cast iron ownership, if you treat it right it will become a treasured family heirloom.
So why do you need to season it? If you take a peek at unseasoned cast iron under a microscope, you’ll find that it has tiny little pores and cracks on its surface. If you cook food on this, parts of the food can seep into these cracks and stick. To prevent that from happening, you need to fill in those pores using fat – usually a highly unsaturated fat like grape seed, vegetable or flax oil.
Here’s a step-by-step primer on seasoning your cast iron:
1. Make sure it’s clean!
2. Then, rub one of those highly unsaturated fats mentioned above on every surface of the pan using a paper towel – including the outside, bottom and the handle, if the entire piece is made of cast iron.
3. Up next: Heat the pan in a hot oven (400 – 450°F); put a piece of aluminum foil on the bottom rack to catch any oil drips; place the cast iron on the top rack. Let it bake for one hour.
4. After an hour turn your oven off and let the cast iron completely cool down.
5. Repeat this process 3-5 times the first time you use it, then repeat once every couple of months, depending on how much you’re using the pan.
No matter how well-seasoned your cast iron is, it’s inevitably going to get dirty. When it comes to cleaning cast iron, it’s important to note what you shouldn’t do.
-Don’t throw it in the dishwasher!
-DON’T USE SOAP!!!
-Don’t use metal scouring pads and harsh abrasives because they will remove the seasoning.
-Wash it by hand while it’s still warm with water only. If there are still bits of stuck food, you can use a flat edge pan scraper or simmer a little water in the pan for about one minute to loosen.
-Dry it as soon as possible!
-Once clean and dry, gently reheat the pan on low heat and rub a very light layer of cooking oil into it.
The best thing you can do for your cast iron is to use it! Cooking regularly with any kind of cooking oil is an excellent way to keep your cookware in good working order and build-up that nonstick coating. I would like to point out that the pan will not be perfect for a few weeks, food may stick to it here and there, but don’t worry you’ll be flipping eggs soon enough.