How To: Maintain Your Cast Iron Cookware
These pans will last a lifetime if you treat them well
Benefits of cast iron:
Cooking with cast iron pans may not be for the novice chef, but with the right skills and knowledge they make for excellent additions to your kitchen cookware. These pans are great for grilling meat or roasting vegetables. You can sear your food on the stove top, then transfer the entire pan into the oven to roast it to perfection. They can even be used to cook over a grill or an open campfire. Although not as convenient as a teflon frying pan, cast iron pans do provide a non-stick surface when properly seasoned. They may also be safer than teflon, since teflon surfaces begin to flake off with age or scratches. Best of all, cast iron pans will last a lifetime if well maintained.
Properly maintaining a cast iron pan is a subject of intense debate, and “rules” range from the obvious (don’t let it soak in water) to humorous (never use your cast iron cookware). In this article, we’ll summarize what we’ve learned from cooking with cast iron pans in the kitchen, out in the backyard, and while camping.
Best starter cast iron pans:
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If you’re looking to try your hand at cast iron cooking, you can start with a pan and a skillet. The Lodge double sided grill and griddle pan is interesting since you can cook on either side of the pan. The side with ridges provides an excellent surface for grilling, while the flat side provides a large space for cooking up breakfast like a short order diner cook! For your skillet, consider the Lodge 12” cast iron skillet, a sturdy pan rated highly by the New York Times Wirecutter site.
How to maintain cast iron pans:
Start with the seasoning: The seasoning of your cast iron pan is the smooth coating of fats that prevent rust and provide the non-stick surface for your food. Most cast iron pans come pre-seasoned, and every time you use the pan you are adding to the seasoning. Periodically, you can refresh the seasoning by adding a thin layer of oil to the pan’s surface and heating it to its smoke point, then letting it cool. The ideal seasoning material is a hotly debated subject, but commonly used fats include flaxseed oil, grapeseed oil, or lard. Avoid oils with a low smoke point (e.g. sunflower or corn oil). If you’re starting with a damaged pan, see the video below for a step by step approach to seasoning.
Turn down the heat: Cooking with cast iron pans takes some getting used to. They heat up slower but get hotter than standard cookware. This means that if you normally cook with the heat on high or medium high, bring it down to medium and give the pan an extra minute or two to heat up.
Salt and scrub: After cooking your meal, place the pan on low heat, add a bit of hot water, and scrub the surface with a chain mail scrubber to clean off the accumulated gunk. The scrubber has the added benefit of doubling as chain-mail armor if you stitch together a few hundred of them! If your pan has cooled, you may need to heat it up again to loosen the dried food particles. Dry the pan thoroughly and stow it away.
For a heavily soiled pan, you can also add a half cup of coarse sea salt to the mix as an abrasive agent to help scour the pan. Some cast iron aficionados also add a thin layer of fresh oil after each use but we think that is excessive.
To soap or not to soap: Another hotly debated subject in cast iron cookery circles is the issue of soap. The original prohibition on soaping these pans was coined back when soap was made with lye, which is harsh enough to strip the seasoning. Periodic cleaning with a mild dish soap or product specially formulated for cast iron is fine as long as you don’t let the pan soak in water. After cleaning the pan, you can dry the pan on the stove using low heat before putting it away.
With a few added preparation and maintenance steps, cast iron cooking indoors or outdoors makes for a unique experience.
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