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Do you have a cast iron skillet? If so, you’ll know the beauty of cooking in cast iron. We actually have several different pieces of cast iron cookware since we use them both at home and we use them when we go camping. In case you were unaware, cast iron is fantastic when you need to cook over an open fire. Cast iron isn’t like regular cookware though. It takes work to keep your cast iron skillets and dutch ovens in their best condition. Learning how to season a cast iron skillet and how to keep a cast iron skillet clean can help you do just that.
If you don’t have a cast iron skillet or a cast iron dutch oven, I highly recommend that you pick up both. They’re both incredibly versatile in the kitchen, for camping and more. A lot of people prefer to buy Lodge brand cast iron but honestly cast iron is cast iron. If you give it the proper care that it needs, one brand will last just as long as the other. We’ve been extremely lucky to find a lot of ours at thrift stores for a fraction of the price we would pay elsewhere so be sure you check the next time you’re shopping at your favorite thrift stores.
Cast iron cookware, when properly cared for should last years. Your grand kids should be able to use it if you’ve cared for it correctly. I know, everyone has had the horror stories about a pan warping, rusting or just generally becoming unstable. While it can happen, giving your pans the attention it needs. To start, you’ll need to keep your cast iron skillet clean. There are a lot of ways that you can clean your cast iron, including chain mail cast iron cleaners, but for everyday cleaning, you really don’t need to do much. Stay away from dish soap and steel wool since they will harm your skillet. If your cast iron skillet is properly seasoned, simply running it under hot water while the pan is still warm should do just fine for cleaning. If there is stuck on food, this generally means your skillet isn’t seasoned correctly. To get it clean after food has been stuck on, create a paste out of hot water and kosher salt then using a plastic or rubber spatula, gently scrape the burnt on food away. Rinse it with hot water and dry completely with paper towels. Plastic or rubber spatula folks. No metal.
DO NOT BOIL WATER IN YOUR CAST IRON COOKWARE. There are quite a few tips floating around that say the best way to clean cast iron is to boil water in it. That is an awful idea for two reasons. First, boiling water has no abrasive properties so cooked on or burnt on food will still be there when you dump it. Secondly, the heat from the boiling water causes the pores of the iron to open up and water gets trapped inside. Water trapped in iron equals rust and rust doesn’t taste so great.
Stripping Your Cast Iron Skillet
To strip a cast iron skillet means to take off the “seasoning”. Seasoning on the pan is caused by the oils and spices of foods that have been cooked in the skillet before. The pores open up and hold onto the flavors, creating that irresistible soul food taste. Not to mention the non-stick surface. Stripping is essentially a deeper clean and it’s necessary before re-seasoning your pan. The easiest way to strip your cast iron is by popping it into your oven and putting on the self-cleaning feature. This raises the temperature of the inside of the oven to about 900°F and burns off all the seasoning the same way that the oven burns off any foods on the walls and floor of the oven.
A word of warning though: Your self clean setting may cause a little bit of smoke in your kitchen. If you don’t want to take this chance you can use an outside barbecue. As long as you can get the temperature above about 500°F you should be fine.
After cooking off the seasoning, your cast iron skillet will look rusty. It isn’t actually rusty. The “rust” that you’re seeing is actually the burnt off oils and particles of the seasoning. This is where steel wool or your favorite scouring pad will be okay to use. This requires some elbow grease to get the pan completely clean. Use hot water and scrub away. Once the pan is a normal looking gray color, dry it off with paper towels. Be sure to dry it VERY well so that you avoid flash rust. If you’re like my Tom though and want to do it quickly, you can use a drill and his wire brush attachment to scrub it off.
Now the pan is stripped and ready to be re-seasoned.
Re-seasoning Your Cast Iron Skillet
After stripping the pan you need to season your cast iron skillet again. Otherwise, everything that you cook in it will have a metallic taste. Seasoning a cast iron skillet is much easier than it sounds so don’t worry too much about it being too complicated. You’ll need to grab some dish soap, a sponge, paper towels and either oil or shortening. You can use any type of oil that you want. Yes, even coconut oil works just fine but if you’re worried about cost, just use regular shortening. I know that I said no dish soap earlier, but here we can make an exception. Your cast iron skillet doesn’t have any seasoning on it currently so there’s no real need to worry about stripping it.
The first step is to pre-heat your oven to 325°F. Wash the pan using the dish soap and hot water. After it’s clean and rinsed, dry it off completely with the paper towels. Next, grab your oil of choice or melt some shortening. Soak a paper towel with your choice then coat the entire cast iron skillet, including the handle, with the oil. Make sure that you get a good coating on it. Pop it in the oven and bake it upside down for about an hour. It will very likely drip oil off of it so you may want to set it on a cookie sheet covered with aluminum foil to catch the drips. After the hour is up, turn off the oven and let the pan cool completely before touching it.
A well seasoned pan is shiny, smooth and non-stick. When it loses the shine or food starts to stick, it’s time to strip and re-season it. Just follow the steps above to re-do it. If you care for it well though, it shouldn’t need seasoned too often.
Have you ever seasoned your cast iron? It isn’t too hard so be sure you try it before doing something silly like throwing it out. It’s worth way too much to do that to!