More than likely, you had a grandparent who would lug out the heavy cast iron skillet, plop it on the stove top with a bang, and whip together something delicious, with almost magical-like taste. But like all magical and mythical creatures, there is an air of mystery that keeps you at arms length if you’re not sure of the smoke and mirrors behind the scenes.
I’ve seen way too many people shy away from the benefits and beauty of cooking with cast iron simply because they’re confused about the upkeep. But the good news, you can’t break it! Washed it with soap? Just re-season it. Threw it in the dishwasher? Re-season. Cooked something too long? Try again. Neglected to the point of rust? Elbow grease and grease grease is the fix. Need to crack someone over the head with it? I mean, you may need to hide the evidence for a while, but your cast iron will bounce back beautifully. No smoke and mirrors here, although you may need a little smoke and a lot of shortening.
First, let’s cover some terms:
- Seasoning– (sea·son·ing/ˈsēzəniNG/) The beautiful, glossy, shining armor, can’t-stop-staring-at-yourself-in-it finish that glistens on your cast iron once done properly. This is done by an extensive period of time in heat, and shortening.
- Shortening– (short·en·ing/ˈSHôrtniNG/) (*also see Crisco) When hydrogen is added to vegetable oil, it becomes vegetable shortening. Used as a butter or fat substitute, shortening is the secret sauce to making your cookware shine. Mama’s little baby may love shortening, but so does Mama’s big skillet.
The coating is the secret. The protective barrier. The force field. Nature’s Teflon, with no chemical trail. Cast iron care is easy. I swear, truly easy, once you learn the Cast Iron Commandments.
- Dishwasher = BAD. Sponge = bad. Soap = (mostly) bad. With proper care, you should only need to use soap once or twice a year when you do a preventative re-seasoning, or on the off chance there’s a flub that compromises your skillet’s seasoning. Abrasive sponges scrub off the seasoning, leaving the cast iron open to water, which basically = rust. And the dishwasher? Only use it if you like starting from scratch, and kiss that hard-earned seasoning good-bye
- Rust is the enemy. Not only does a proper seasoning make cast iron the best non-stick you’ll ever own, but it’s true purpose is to protect the skillet itself. Rust is the kryptonite, the only thing that can over take this cookware and render it useless. Cast iron is an heirloom piece that will survive for a couple lifetimes, as long as it’s cared for properly. Be sure to always completely dry each piece before putting up, and do not leave it to drip dry.
- HOT water and a soft-bristled brush are your friends. For most dishes prepared in cast iron, prompt washing in hot water with a soft-bristled brush (I use this one made by Lodge) will take care of any food residue.
- Salt is also an ally. Sometimes baked on messes can be stubborn, and cling harder than a crazy ex-girlfriend. A little kosher sea salt, hot water, and a dish towel to act as a scouring pad will do the trick!
- Honor thy skillet. Storage is key. Hanging your cookware, once it is bone-dry, is a great option, if your space allows. However, if your cast iron must be kept in a cabinet, or stacked, it is best to use a full-sized paper towel sheet to separate each skillet or cookware from the next.
Now, how to actually season the skillet? That’s something that’s best to show you, rather than just tell you. Watch the video below where step by step we perform CPR and bring my cast iron back to life.
You are now equipped with the information you need to go forward and create cast iron masterpieces. There is nothing you can’t make in these pieces. Fried chicken, meatloaf, cornbread, stir-fry, brownies. The possibilities are endless, and the future looks delicious.
Good luck, friends, and happy cooking!