I have long held a love for the cast iron skillet. It is the perfect kind of skillet or pan, and I find myself using it for so many things. I’m rough on pots and pans, but my cast iron will probably outlive me, which is more than I can say for any of my other kitchen tools. Not only is it durable, but it is much safer for you. Unlike aluminum which is thought to be linked to alzheimers, or pots and pans with nonstick, teflon coating that is linked to cancer, cast iron is a much safer alternative.
Other added benefits of cast iron are:
1. It looks awesome and rustic (okay, so maybe this is something only I find appealing)
2. You don’t have to use as much oil, because if your pan is seasoned enough it will reduce sticking
3. You can cook at a higher and more even temperature
4. You can bake with it! When I was growing up, my dad used to bake cornbread in cast iron skillets. It is a great alternative for a baking dish.
5. It can be used over an open fire. We do this all the time when we are camping. It is a bit heavy to carry around, but worth it.
6. It can actually boost your iron levels. For real!
Despite all of these benefits, a lot of people are still skeptical about using cast iron. I’ve had plenty of friends comment on my cast iron skillets, saying how beautiful they are, or how well seasoned they seem to be, but they always say they have NO idea how to clean cast iron, or if they were to purchase a cast iron skillet how they would go about seasoning it for the first time. It is actually all A LOT easier than people think.
My dad was cleaning out his camper this weekend, and found a hefty stack of cast iron that needed to be thoroughly cleaned and re-seasoned, after having not been used in years. I figured it would make a great Free For All Friday post for our readers!
First, let’s start with cleaning. A common misconception I’ve heard from friends is that you can’t clean cast iron with soap. This is actually an argument more than a misconception. Cast iron lovers everywhere fall on opposite sides of this argument. Personally, I only clean mine with soap when necessary. In the case of my father’s cast iron, it was full of spiderwebs and dust, these absolutely needed a soap cleaning. For my own cast iron at home, I use soap perhaps a few times a year, only after cooking sessions when I feel the pan could benefit from a little bit of washing (sometimes when I cook fish, for instance). If you can’t go without washing your cast iron with soap every time you use it, then go ahead, wash away. However, if you can avoid soap as much as possible, you’ll be fine that way too (you’ll end up heating the cast iron hot enough to sterilize it anyway).
Although you can use soap, DO NOT use a rough scrub brush, steel wool, or anything like that. You can use either a rag or a soft sponge to clean it. Be sure to NEVER LEAVE YOUR CAST IRON WET. Dry it with a dry towel immediately. Water causes rust, and rust is cast iron’s enemy. This goes for every time you decide to wash your cast iron skillet after use. Always be sure to dry it again. If you are like me, and a little bit paranoid about rust, you might want to turn on your oven for a little bit and pop the skillet in there, or set it on your stove on low heat for a few minutes to dry up any lingering moisture.
Once your cast iron is clean, it is time to season it. Once you season it, as long as you don’t wash all of the seasoning off of it after use, you will only have to apply a little oil after washing. However, seasoning the skillet for the first time is a little more complicated.
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. You may also want to line your oven with foil, as oil may drip on the bottom while baking the skillets.
Next, using a paper towel or napkin, apply vegetable oil or vegetable shortening to both the inside AND the outside of the skillet. I used shortening here, so you would be able to somewhat see it in pictures. You want to be sure you get the whole pan, as the baked-on oil acts as a barrier to moisture, and as I mentioned before: water = rust = cast iron’s enemy.
Then, take your cast iron and place it upside down on your oven rack. This is so that the least amount of surface area is touching the racks. Bake for an hour.
Remove the pan from the rack, wait until it cools, and apply another layer of oil/shortening and put it back in the oven (after the first time it can be face up). You can repeat this step as many times as you like to get a good enough. Personally, on new cast iron or cast iron I’ve thoroughly cleaned and am re-seasoning, I like to do three or four layers. Some people settle for one, and just let the seasoning build up along the way. Either way, I’m sure you’ll enjoy your newly seasoned cast iron!