Care and Feeding of Your Cast Iron

rustedIn my less than humble opinion, nothing cooks like cast iron. From fire pit to stove top to oven, cast iron can do it all. And, it can do it with easier clean-up than any other product on the market. There are a number of people out there that have concerns about food sticking or that they’ll “ruin” a pan. Here’s trick: you can’t ruin cast iron. Sure, you can make more work for yourself by not maintaining it, but unless you’re using it for a combination breastplate, canoe paddle, and shovel, it’ll always come back for more. That being said, some basic maintenance will insure that the results you expect will be the results you get. With that in mind, here are a few basic tips:

  1. Clean – To clean, simply scrub down with hot water, and maybe a bit of salt if needed. If there’s a particular crunchy spot that is being stubborn, I’ll fill my pan with water, put it back on the stove and bring it to a boil. Then, when everything loosens up, wipe it out and dry completely.There’s a raging debate regarding using dish soap on cast iron. Some claim it’ll “ruin the pan”, and the flavors that have built up in the seasoning by introducing soap. Others are absolutely convinced that you’ll poison your family if you don’t use soap. My take on it is that soap is just unnecessary. IF your seasoning has become chipped, it’s possible for your cast iron to leach in some of the soapy water and then release it back into your food. As far as the whole “we’re gonna die of we don’t use soap” camp, remember you’ll be cooking at temps high enough to kill off any leftover bacteria or pathogens, therefore making the soap irrelevant. Regardless, I would counsel against soaking cast iron in water, soap or not. Prolonged time underwater is simply asking for water to work it’s way through any small cracks or chips in the seasoning. Boil the stubborn spots away instead.
  2. Dry Completely –  After rinsing, make sure your cast iron gets completely dry. I like to turn a burner on low and set the pan upside down over it for a few minutes, and make sure its bone dry inside and out. If you were using the oven for your cooking, placing the cast iron in there while it’s cooling down would also be sufficient.
  3. Oil – A light coating of oil after cleaning and drying, especially if you use the heat dry method, will make sure you’re ready to go next time. Once the pan is dry, but still warm, simply wipe the entire piece with a paper towel, damp with the oil. It might smoke a little, that’s alright.  What kind of oil, you may ask? Anything you have handy will work great, but I prefer oils with a low smoke-point, something like flax seed or olive oil or ghee, but that’s a personal preference.
  4. Feed it fats – Cast iron is happiest when eating meat, much like me. Bacon, burger, steaks…fatty meats are your friend. Especially when frying at higher temps, it can help your seasoning get stronger. One quick note on frying…when you put raw meats into cast iron, it might start to stick. Let it. Leave it alone. Don’t poke at it, prod it, try to get a spatula underneath it or anything else. Your cast iron is going to grab a hold of the meat, cook it for you, and let it go all on its own when its done. Put it in, wait, flip, wait. Once it’s free, you can always turn down the heat and cook to your personal taste.

And above all, experiment. Play with your food. Enjoy the process, join the slow food revolution, and get to know what you’re putting in you body. Luck to you!

4 thoughts on “Care and Feeding of Your Cast Iron”

  1. Thanks for writing this article, well done! I love using cast iron pans. I’m with you about cleaning with water and salt. Works great!

  2. Yep. All good. Particularly the “no soap”. Nice article. I’ll look here often.
    For cleaning, I use a plastic spatula and a soft-bristle brush. The spatula I use has no handle, just the “business end”.

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