Written by Shannon, Contributing Writer
For so long I avoided cast iron because I was intimidated by the seasoning and care process that I had read about. Then my husband came home and surprised me one day with a cast iron skillet. Of course I swooned - who needs flowers when you have Ma Ingalls-style cookware?
Still I procrastinated on putting it to use in my kitchen. When I finally did break down and prepare the pan for cooking I couldn't believe how easy it was. Now I use this pan most days of the week and love to fry eggs, make frittatas, and bake skillet breads with this non-stick wonder. All you have to do is keep it simple and you'll have a pan that cooks like a dream and will last a lifetime.
Most of us know by now that teflon is a toxic form of cookware. When I ditched my teflon I opted for stainless steel cookware - which I love for sauces and soups. But I still believe cast-iron is superior for so many reasons:
- Inexpensive - the average skillet runs $15-$20.
- Non-stick for everything from eggs to fish to pancakes to bread.
- Once seasoned properly it is really easy to clean.
- So heavy duty it will last a lifetime.
- Suitable in all conditions - from the top of the line kitchen to the open fire pit.
- Holds heat extremely well and therefore makes a superior steak or stir-fried vegetable.
Photo by buchmanphoto
Purchasing Your Cast-Iron
Walk into any hardware store and you'll probably find a Lodge cast iron skillet just like mine. A lot of them come "pre-seasoned" which according to their website means:
The cast iron is sprayed with a soy-based vegetable oil and then baked on at a very high temperature.
If you're like me and avoid soy because it is not a health food, then you'll want to scrub this off with hot soapy water. Then place it on your stove over low heat and allow it to dry completely.
Cast-iron pans are only non-stick when they are properly seasoned. Seasoning a pan involves coating the pan with a heat-tolerant fat and then allowing it to bake into the iron, creating a slick surface.
Cast-iron pans are often used for high heat cooking, whether you're frying an egg or baking corn bread. For that reason I prefer to use a saturated fat, which is more stable over high heat, for seasoning. Good choices include:
- coconut oil
- beef tallow
Once your pan is clean and dry, and still warm from your stove top, add just enough fat to coat the pan bottom and sides. I then use an old cloth napkin to distribute the oil all over and soak up any extra. Then put your pan in a 250 degree oven for a few hours. You now have your initial layer of seasoning. You can repeat this process anytime you find that your initial seasoning isn't holding up.
Photo by naotakem
The first thing to know when washing your pan is do not use soap. Soap will remove the layer of seasoning you just added. So, this is how I clean my skillet:
- Take a soap-free dish rag and wipe out the pan while running under hot water. Get everything out, but don't be too rough.
- Once the pan looks clean place it on a burner over medium-low heat until all of the liquid has evaporated from the pan and it has gotten fairly hot.
- At this point you can store your skillet in a dry place or do a seasoning upkeep by placing a dab of fat in the hot pan, swirling, and wiping as you did when you initially seasoned it.
That's it! It sounds a bit more complicated than the care of your stainless steel pans, but really it is just a different process and no more difficult. I highly recommend cast iron cookware, and a simple care routine to keep it healthy.