How To Care For Cast Iron!
I hated cast iron until about 2 years ago. When i moved out on my own, my grandma gave me 2 old, seasoned, cast iron skillets. I cooked in the larger one that night, ran it through the dishwasher, and hated it after that. What I didn’t know then, was that if you love something, you take the TLC to hand wash it. Whoops! Here is my list of commandments for cast iron care, so you don’t make the same mistakes I did!
Buy a quality cast iron skillet, pan, griddle, dutch oven… WHATEVER! I love Lodge products. They are not too pricey and they come pre-seasoned. If you have the dough to spend, Le Creuset is a fabulous ritzy alternative, but for us peasants, I use Lodge for my everyday skillets.
Always buy pre-seasoned. This means that the interior has already been seasoned, or just coated in oil, creating that awesome, nonstick layer for you already. If you buy unseasoned, you will have to do a little extra work and I’m just not about that life.
Go bigger than you think you’ll need. Cast iron is an awesome addition to your pots and pans, but if you buy a small one, you will go back for a bigger one. I can promise you that. Opt for a larger sized skillet so you can use it for simple, one pan meals for 2, or for cooking 10 chicken thighs at a time. You’ll be happy you don’t have 6 heavy skillets by the end of it, I swear!
Utilize your fats. If you’re getting ready to cook a fatty piece of meat, you may not need to add any additional oil to your pan, but if you are just breaking in your pan, and you’re making green beans, add a little olive oil. Over time, you can use less and less.
Start cooking with a preheated pan. Unlike nonstick, cast iron takes time to warm up. Turn your pan to whatever heat you plan on cooking at and let it sit for a few minutes before dumping your ingredients in, say 3-5 minutes. DO NOT turn your pan on high to preheat faster unless you want to burn your food. Cast iron is heavier and takes time to warm up, thus it also takes more time to cool down. If you’re about to burn something, add a little bit of water to your veggies or meats to immediately cool the pan. This may not be possible for grains of course.
Beware of the handles. When cooking with cast iron, the handles are not protected with a cover to keep you from burning yourself. When I preheat my pan, I set a small potholder on the handle to remind me not to grab it bare. Be careful, you can easily set a large pot holder on fire (I have experience).
Don’t use plastic. I feel like this is a little bit of a no brainer, but you’re going to melt plastic utensils. Opt for wooden or metal items. You can’t ruin a coating on these pans, because there isn’t any nonstick to begin with! Woo!
Soak it. If you have bits of food stuck to your cast iron, it’s best to wash it while the pan is still hot, but not mandatory. If you decide to soak your pan, do so no longer than overnight or you may have some rusty issues to deal with.
Sans soap. Leave the soap on the counter for the most part. If you need to soak your pan, do so, but soap will strip away the oils that season your pan and make it a nonstick. If you do use soap, you will have to reseason your pan, possibly a few times before it is restored to good cooking condition.
Abrasives are your friend. Feel free to use a plastic brush or even something coarser like steel wool occasionally, to assist you in cleaning your pan. This is all better than soap. Soap is the enemy.
Do not put in the dishwasher. HELLLLLOOOO. Again, you’re stripping all the goodness right off your pan, and it will likely rust. If you love it, hand wash it.
After a wash, dry in the oven or on the stovetop. Wipe your pan down to get the water droplets off and place in a heated oven or on the stovetop to dry. I prefer to do the stovetop so I can coat generously in a tablespoon of olive oil (inside and out), turn the heat up and let it sit until you see just a smidge of smoke coming off the pan. Remember, it will be hot and must cool before you store it for good. The heat will kill any remaining bacteria, so this part is mandatory for health and safety.
Should you encounter a rough spot, remember salt and soda. If you have rust or food stuck to your cast iron, don’t fret. You can restore cast iron by making a paste out of baking soda, regular or kosher salt (kosher is better as it won’t melt as quickly), and a tiny bit of water. Using a sponge, brush, or steel wool, and some elbow grease, you can remove just about anything from cast iron. Once you’ve gotten all the rough spots off, you’ll need to reseason the pan, possibly a few times before you can cook in it, meaning wash and dry it, and oil it well. Used the stovetop or oven to cure it and do this at least once more before cooking in it.
Boom! You’re a pro. If you have tips to share on cast iron care, let me know!