I got a call from one of my friends a couple weeks ago saying that I would be so proud of her because she finally got a cast iron skillet, but she was getting freaked out by all of the talk of how to, or not to, wash it and seasoning and all of that stuff. I calmed her down and told her my basic tips for everyday cast iron care. I’m going to share those tips with you as well. I know that some of you may call me a blasphemer, but it’s ok because this is how I do it and it works for me and the many people that I’ve shown. I hope it will help you take a breath and realize that there is a reason so many people are so dedicated to cast iron.
The first thing you need to do with any cast iron that you bring home is season it, weather it is new and says that it is already seasoned and ready to go or you got it at a yard sale. The basic way to season a cast iron item, no matter what it is, is to take some kind of fat, weather it is lard, vegetable shortening or some kind of liquid oil. My dad always yells at me because I often use olive oil and he is a hard nosed shortening man. Sometimes I will use bacon grease, I always have this on hand since I have a grease container on my stove. Once you have your fat, you grease up the skillet, dutch oven or other items really really well. This part can get a little messy since you have to do this on both the inside and outside of the item; and don’t forget the handles!
Place the items in the oven upside down and place a cookie sheet on the rack below to catch any excess grease drippings once the oven is turned on. If you don’t put the baking sheet down, you will get this all over your oven, and since I have a propane stove, this will make a huge fire risk. Turn the oven on around 350 degrees F for at least 30-45 minutes. Turn the oven off and let cool. Take out of oven and wipe with a paper towel or clean dishcloth and you are ready to go.
For a quick seasoning right before cooking, you can turn the element on high and let the skillet or dutch oven get really hot. Take the grease, I use bacon when I do this, on a folded paper towel and rub all along the inside and upper rim of the skillet. Repeat application of grease until the skillet quits taking it in, there will be a little bit of liquefied grease in the bottom curves of the pan. That’s it! Turn down the element and cook as usual.
Right before you start cooking, you should have the pan warm to hot. Do NOT have the element on high when you are getting ready to cook with cast iron, it will smoke if you do this. You can put the element on high after the item you are cooking is in the pan, but not before. Once your pan is warm, make sure that you use at least a thin coating of cooking spay; just in case there is an issue with your seasoning to ensure no sticking.
Immediately after you are done cooking, while the pan is still hot, put half a cup to a cup of water in the pan. It should sizzle and/or start to boil when you add the water to the pan. This releases any food that gets stuck on the pan while cooking. Some things just stick, like scrambled eggs, no matter how well your cast iron is seasoned, so make sure you put the water in the hot pan to make clean up easy on you.
Cleaning Your Cast Iron:
Once you have enjoyed your delicious meal you have made with your perfectly seasoned cast iron, you need to clean it. A couple things about this before I get slammed for using soap. First, it is true that dish detergent can and will eat through your seasoning if you scrub or soak your cast iron in it; so don’t scrub or soak your cast iron in dish detergent! Second, as long as you follow the steps I’m about to outline, you will be just fine and so will the seasoning that you worked so hard to get on your cast iron.
So you should have already pre-cleaned your cast iron by putting water into the hot pan, so nothing should be stuck. If by chance you forgot to do this and you have a stuck on mess, put 1-2 cups of water, depending on item size, into the item and bring to a boil. Allow to boil for at least 5 minutes and take a spatula to the bottom of the pan. The mess should pretty much come up on its own now. Carefully dump water and wash pan as you would any other pot or pan. Once washed and rinsed thoroughly, place in the oven upside down and turn it on warm. Leave in oven until dry. You’re ready to go again. Sometimes you will need to do a Quick Seasoning before you cook again, but it’s no big deal; and you won’t feel dirty because you didn’t use soap to clean your cast iron.
That’s it! Super easy and totally worth it. Once you do it a couple times, the daily care will become second nature to you and you won’t even thing it’s a hassle. I hope that you will give cast iron a try and take care of it so that you can pass it on to the next generation. I mean, its more useful of an heirloom than a painting…right?