Cast Iron skillets, a daunting idea for most of us. We know they are a classic skillet, and that they can be great if you know how to use them, but we also know they have pretty strict rules and that’s scary. Well I’m going to go into everything you need to know, how to clean them, how to cook with them, what they are good for, and what not to do with them. We are going to try to cover everything so you can get started using a cast iron with no fear!
How To Season a Cast Iron
The Seasoning is the thin layer over the iron in your cast iron. Its layer of oil that has broken down, polymerized and bonded with the cast iron. This is what helps make your cast iron nonstick and its very important to being able to cook with a cast iron. Most cast irons now come pre seasoned, but you should probably clean it and season it yourself anyway. And depending on how often you use your cast iron and what you cook in it, you should semi regularly season it. Seasoning a cast iron is a little bit of work, but it doesn’t hurt the cast iron and its an important step in making the cast iron last.
Ok, the first step is to clean the cast iron. Use a little bit of a gentle soap and a non abrasive scrub pad and thoroughly clean and dry the cast iron. Once its thoroughly clean and dried pour a little bit of oil over the skillet, you’ll want to use more than you do for a normal cleaning, so about a tablespoon or two will work great. Vegetable oil and shortening are the most common oils used, but you can use as whatever you want. Take a clean cloth or paper towel and rub the oil all over the skillet, making sure to evenly cover the entire surface in a thin coat, including the handle, sides and bottom. Once it’s completely covered, bake the skillet at 350o F for about an hour. Make sure to put some aluminum foil below to catch any dripping oil. After an hour turn off the oven and let the skill completely cool before removing it from the oven. Once its completely cooled you are safe to use it or store it.
How and What to Cook with a Cast Iron
When you cook with a Cast Iron its important to start with a couple steps. 1 always make sure its been seasoned. You don’t have to season it every time before you cook, but you do want to make sure it’s properly seasoned so that its nonstick and it cooks your food properly. 2 pre heat it. Put it on the burner and let it heat all the way up. Cast Iron is a great heat conductor, once its hot. But while its heating up it heats unevenly. Put it over low heat and let it heat up, once its fully warm it will get hot quickly. If you put cold food into a cast iron that isn’t fully heated the food will stick, which will make clean up a nightmare later. You also risk cooking the food unevenly. 3 make sure to use an oil or fat of some kind. You can decide what to use based on what you are cooking, but its important to have something to help the food not stick to the iron. So now your cast iron is ready to cook, what should you cook? Cast irons are great from meats, baking, and frying. Because cast irons can reach extremely high temperatures they are perfect for frying or searing anything. They are also great heat conductors so they are great for anything that needs to be put in the oven. Cookie skillets, corn bread, steak, chicken and anything that needs to start on the stove and move to the oven are all great ideas for your cast iron.
How To Clean A Cast Iron
Cleaning a cast iron skillet is probably the hardest part of owning a cast iron. First, you can’t use any chemicals, no soap or anything, and no harsh surfaces, no SOS pads. This means you want to clean it right away. You want to let it cool a little bit so you can safely handle it, but not long enough that the leftover food starts to harden to the skillet. Once its cooled a bit you want to wipe it with a paper towel, get as much of the food and oil as possible. Then rinse with hot running water while scrubbing with a nonabrasive scrub pad or a non metal brush, until you remove all of the excess food. Can’t get some of it? Use a coarse salt, like sea salt, and a bit of hot water and your scrub pad or brush. This should give you enough to get it all.
Once you get all the excess food and oil you want to immediately towel dry the skillet. It’s important not to let the skillet drip dry as they rust very quickly. After you get as much of the water off as possible, pop the skillet on the stove and heat it over medium-low heat until all the excess liquid is gone. After that add just a little oil, about a ½ teaspoon, and take a paper towel to coat the entire pan with the oil, being careful not to burn yourself. Once you coat the whole surface, take a new paper towel and continue to rub the surface until you’ve gotten as much of the oil off as you can, it should look dark, smooth and a little shiny. Then put the skillet back on the stove on high heat until it starts smoking. This just means the oil has reach the smoking point, it helps the oil break down and better coat the pan. Once it starts smoking take it off the burner, let it cool and then put it away. This process ensures proper storage that keeps the skillet at its best and doesn’t compromise your seasoning.
What Not To Do With Your Cast Iron
Your cast iron no-no’s. We’ve covered a few of these but they are important so pay attention. When cleaning never use anything harsh; bleach, the dishwasher, metal or abrasive scrubbing pads, those are off limits. You should also avoid using soap, but if you have to use a soap you should find something as gentle as possible, and then make sure to re-season it.
Never let the cast iron sit wet, no drip drying, no storing it in a damp location. Cast irons rust very quickly and easily so it’s important to make sure they are always completely dry. When you have to use water on it to clean it you should try to use a minimal amount of water. Make sure the skillet gets fully cleaned, but don’t run it under a bunch of extra water. As I mentioned before, once its clean put it on the stove to evaporate all the extra water.
Now what not to cook in the skillet. Avoid foods that are overly smelly or acidic. Fish are a big no-no, as are tomatoes, vinegar, or even wine. Anything acidic will react with the iron and create a metallic flavor as well as break down the seasoning you have built up. A little bit of acid, like a handful of tomatoes, is ok, but nothing with a tomato sauce or something similar. If you do cook something slightly acidic make sure to do a thorough cleaning process later. You should also consider seasoning it again.
Ok, there you go, all the basics for using a cast iron. Now go off and cook, and then come back and tell us your favorite things to make with your cast iron. Happy Cooking!