How to Season/Clean Cast Iron Cookware

This post is going to be a little different. I’ve seen several requests recently for info on how to season, or even on how to clean, cast iron cookware. Apparently, there aren’t too many of us still around who use it (truly sad, sad reality) – but, there are a whole lot of people who are interested in starting to use it again (YAY!!!), and they just need some help and a little information on the subject to get them started. I can help with that!!  🙂   

I am a die-hard cast iron enthusiast who has, more than once, been known to raid abandoned basements/root cellars/barns/sheds and dumpsites to rescue some poor forgotten piece of cookware from oblivion. Even a ramshackle, old, dilapidated/falling-down house or two in the process. Please do not ask for details because I would have to plead the 5th amendment to protect the not-so-innocent!  🙂  I’ve even dug up more than one of my pieces from abandoned campsites of yesteryear, that were found with only their handles still remaining above ground! Kind of hard to ignore them when you literally trip over them!  🙂  So, add that to the fact that I grew up cooking with this stuff, and it’s safe to say that I’ve learned a thing or two about how to use (and/or save) cast iron, and also what NOT to do with it.    

cast iron cabinet 1   

With that said, it turns out that you asked me at just the right time – I just so  happened to have had a pan that needed to be cleaned, and 3 others that needed to be seasoned. So, I took some picts of the process for those who (like me) learn better visually, and I shall attempt an informative mini-tutorial here on the process! Okay? Ready? Here we go…   

Rule #1 : Forget everything that the “companies” told you (IF they told you anything at all!!) about dealing with cast iron – EXCEPT that sitting your pot/pan in water to soak or filling pot/pan with water to soak for long periods is BAD!!!! VERY BAD!!! Sitting water (SOAK)+ cast iron = BAD =  major rust = major pain in butt!!! Just say “NO” and don’t do it!!     

Now if you happen to have a nasty rusted specimen don’t despair – we can still save it,  😉  but it will require some elbow grease and a little time on your part. I’ve saved several pieces that to look at them, it looked like it would be impossible! It just took some time, commitment and determination – and they’re still with me today. Here’s a pict of 1 now – found burried at an abandoned campsite in the woods about 16 years ago. I love this little guy – he’s sooooo cute!!! I set him on a potholder so you could get a better idea of his size – only 6 inches!!   

6 inch skillet   

6 inch skillet   

Rule #2 : Never forget Rule #1, and keep a box of Brillo Soap pads on hand for badly rusted pans, and a stiff hard plastic scouring pad on hand for normal cleaning.   

I have a SERIOUS problem with the thought of eating/cooking out of unwashed pots/pans/whatever. Old instructions tell you to never wash cast iron because you will “take the finish/seasoning off”. HOGWASH!!!! I have learned that if you’ve seasoned it right in the first place, a quick hand wash (yes – with soap), rinse and proper drying* has never yet hurt a pan! Although I suppose if I never washed it like they suggest, I would never have to re-season it either – however, it’s a small price to pay every 6 months or so for my peace of mind regarding germs! Now, in all fairness, this rule applied in the days when LYE soap was used to wash everything from hands, to clothes, to cookware. However, today’s milder dishsoaps do not contain LYE and will not suck the finish off like LYE soap did.  

 If you have a really nasty cooked on mess, you can take your metal spatula and scrape the bottom of the pan while it is still hot – scrape HARD –  to get as much of the mess up as possible. If your mess still won’t budge, run the hottest tap water you can, and fill pan up just far enough to cover mess. Leave water in pan no more than 3 min, then attack with spatula again, and then a scouring pad. That should do it!   🙂   

* To properly dry a pot/pan after washing, just wipe it as dry as you can with a towel and then place it on a stovetop burner on MED HEAT until just AFTER you see that all the water has evaporated and pan/pot looks dry. Only takes a couple of minutes to do. Just make sure that you turn the burner off at this time, and let the pan sit and cool down before you try to put it away.  🙂   

Rule #3 : Always sit a washcloth or dishtowel or plastic matt in the bottom of your sink (ESP. if you have a white enamel kitchen sink) whenever you are going to sit one of these babies in there for any reason!! If you don’t, you will spend the next several days scrubbing the black marks off of the enamel. I learned this the hard way – and I still forget on occasion!!   

Now, onto seasoning (or re-seasoning) a pot/pan:   

Place pan/pot in sink, take Brillo pad and HOT running water and scrub the bejeezus out of pan until you’ve gotten as much of the rust off as you can. Note – this is VERY, VERY messy!! Protect sink with matt, and hands with rubber gloves if possible!! Rinse, repeat if necessary.   

After you’ve scrubbed off as much rust as possible, take a washcloth/sponge that you’ve put dishsoap on, and handwash pot/pan. Rinse well. Dry with a dark colored hand towel or dishtowel. Place on burner over MED HEAT to “cook” out rest of moisture in pan/pot until surface is very dry in appearance. Turn off burner, remove pan and place it on a trivet or cold burner, and let pan cool.   

still drying pan   

Still some moisture showing.   

dry - done   

All dry! 🙂   

Now, arrange your oven racks like so : 1 rack in lowest position, and 1 rack in the middle position. Place a cookie sheet on bottom rack (to catch any drips), and turn on oven to 250 degrees. Any higher than 250 degrees and you risk smoking up your kitchen!! Been there, done that, not doing it again!!  

Oven rack arrangement   

Oven settings   

Now get your tub of shortening out, and using a clean paper towel, scoop out enough shortening to cover paper towel.   

Vegetable Shortening   

grease towel   

Grease pan both inside and out, WELL, with a layer of shortening.   

grease pan   

Don’t forget the handle…   

skillet   

Let it sit like this for about 5 minutes, then wipe off excess shortening with a clean paper towel. Now, don’t wipe too efficiently since you WANT some shortening to remain on pan for “baking in” or “seasoning”. You just want to get the thick stuff off.   

wipe off extra   

There will probably be some rust show up on the paper towel at this point – it’s okay!! That’s another reason for this step – to pull off the last of the rust!  Don’t panic!  Just wipe, and proceed. If you’re pulling a lot of rust off, then wipe pan as dry as you can, and re-grease with shortening. THEN re-wipe off excess and you should have a lot less rust, if any, on towel this time. Remember, a little rust on towel is okay, a lot is not!!   🙂     

last of the rust

Now, place pans UPSIDE DOWN on top oven rack, centered above cookie sheet (remember we mentioned the possible “drips” earlier?).   

bake skillet   

If you need to pile them up a bit due to space limitations, it’s okay – just make sure that they are not directly on top of each other!  😉    

baking  

Now bake them for 45 minutes to 1 hour – depending upon the severity of the damage you are dealing with. I find that 30 minutes is plenty for maintanence re-seasoning, but an hour is best for major repair seasonings. Take them out of the oven and sit them on a dishtowel placed on top of stove burners, or a trivet, to soak up any wet grease on bottom of pan. Once pan has cooled a bit, wipe off pan inside and out, with a clean paper towel. If seasoned properly, there will be no rust on the paper towel when you are done, only grease. Pan will be shiny and black and pretty. Properly seasoned and ready for use!!!   🙂   

final wipe  

final exam  

done  

all done

Now, I have one more important tip for those of you new to cast iron cookery…..Cast iron HATES egg dishes (unless you are planning on frying your eggs in about a 1/2 inch of grease) and it also HATES tomato sauce!! The acid in the tomato sauce will pull the finish off of your pan faster than you can shake a stick at! I have done it before in a pinch, and only do so when I’m using the pan to fry up the sausage/burger for the sauce first (the grease precoats the pan more), and am prepared to re-season the finish (if needed) when I am done. Eggs in your cast iron will become a permanent part of your pan! I keep a teflon coated saute pan specifically for egg cooking because of this little fact. I did it once – never again!!   😉     I also keep a set of Revere Ware pots for my pasta dishes and soups. 

So, there you go!!! Anything you can cook in any pan/pot (other than eggs and boiled liquids) you can cook better in cast iron!! No hot spots, no warping, no unbalanced pans, no weak handles and you can throw it in the oven to bake in up to 450 degrees with NO problems!! Nothing better for making cornbread in, or for frying chicken, or making chicken-fried steaks!!  🙂  It is, in my humble opinion, the PERFECT cookware!!  

Now, I’ve made myself hungry….LOL. Enjoy your pots and pans – and beware – if you throw them out, you just might see me digging in your trash!  🙂  You’ve been forwarned!  🙂   

Shady

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