Using & Caring for Cast Iron
As far as cookware is concerned, cast iron is, by far, the most versatile around. And unlike all other cookware varieties, when used and cared for properly, cast iron cookware will last a lifetime. Possibly many lifetimes! This is why many people consider their cast iron cookware as more of an investment than a purchase.
By far, the most important thing you can do when you get new cast iron cookware is made sure it is seasoned properly. Many top manufacturers, including Lodge and Cajun Cookware, make pre-seasoned cast iron cookware, such as dutch ovens, skillets and bakeware, that come ready to cook. If the cast iron you purchase is not pre-seasoned, however, you will want to follow a few simple steps to ensure your food will not stick and the cast iron cookware will not rust.
- Make sure your cast iron is cleaned thoroughly with hot water and steel wool (do not use soap).
- Once completely dry, spread a thick layer of lard, grease or shortening inside and outside of the cast iron.
- Bake your cast iron cookware in a preheated oven (250? or higher) for fifteen minutes. Wipe out any excess oil inside the cookware and continue baking for at least two hours.
- The seasoning process should be repeated several times to ensure your cast iron is seasoned properly. Your cast iron cookware will become even more seasoned as you use it.
Properly seasoning cast iron cookware provides an even heating surface and is naturally non-stick. This allows you to cook a variety of foods, such as eggs and pancakes, without having to add extra oils or butter; making the foods you cook lower in fat. It is always important to preheat your cast iron skillet, griddle or pan before cooking. This is especially important for electric ranges. Electric ranges can cause hot spots on the cast iron that can warp or crack the cast iron if heated too quickly. It is also important to keep your electric stove top at or below the medium setting while cooking with cast iron.
To help ensure that the cast iron has reached the proper heat, place a few drops of water in the cookware. If the water sizzles, and then rolls around or hops on the surface, the cast iron cookware is ready to use. If the water evaporates instantly, you should turn down the heat and if the water does not sizzle on contact you will need to turn the heat up.
Boiling water should also be avoided when using cast iron cookware. Many people believe that boiling water will remove some of the oils from the cast iron, which can be seen floating in the water. More importantly, however, is the fact that boiling water will break down the seasoning and cause the cast iron to rust. Most important is to remember that you should never pour cold water into hot cast iron. Cast iron will crack on contact and cannot be repaired.
Cleaning and Care
Cast iron cookware is very easy to clean and maintain, but if you do not use it on a daily basis, it is wise to wash it every few days to remove any excess surface oils. There are actually two different schools of thought on how to properly clean your cast iron. The first is to use only hot water and steel wool and scrub the pan thoroughly. The second is to use a small amount of mild detergent during the process. Many chefs utilize this second process due to tight restrictions by health department officials. Whichever method of washing you choose, it is important to follow these steps for proper care:
- Dry the cast iron cookware with a normal dish towel and the place on a heated burner until completely dry.
- Once dry, lightly oil the cast iron with cooking oil (vegetable or canola) and then heat the pan for a few minutes.
- Wipe away any excess oils and store the cast iron cookware in a cool, dry place with the lids off. Place paper towels inside of the cookware to absorb any moisture, especially if you live in a humid area to avoid rusting.
No matter what kind of cast iron cookware you own, it is very important to use it as much as possible. The more you use your cast iron, the more seasoned it becomes; developing the rich dark coloring and smoother surface for cooking.