I walked into my local coffee shop to write this post and a friend behind the counter commented ‘you mean people don’t know how to season their cast iron?’ She then proceeded to tell me about a relative of hers that put her cast iron in the dishwasher to clean it. When she was done telling her tale, I suggested that there was a perfect example – many people do NOT know how to properly season cast iron or they take the word of the manufacturer that it is properly ‘pre-seasoned’.
My cast iron cookware has been handed down to me or acquired via gift and garage sale. I really like cooking in cast iron when I can for several reasons, primary of which is that it holds heat beautifully and radiates a constant temperature, which in this day of electric ranges with constantly fluctuating temperatures is a treat.
How Frequently Should You Season?
Every year around the first of the year, I season or re-season my cast iron. Throughout the year I rarely do anything else with them except use them, wipe them out and store them. Seasoning (or curing) cast iron means your intentionally working to fill the pores and voids in the metal cookware with a grease which gets cooked in and bonds with the surface of the pan. This provides a surface that is both smooth and nonstick on the inside and outside of the pan.
What’s important here is that a well-seasoned cast iron pan or pot should, after the initial washing in soap and water, never see a drop of soap applied to it again – unless you wish to re-season as often as you wash it. The effect we’re looking for here from the grease filling in the pores of the metal is that it creates a non-stick surface. Soap on the other hand is designed to remove grease – washing your cast iron with soapy water then is not desired. Don’t do it.
Ewww – leaving grease on your pans?
For those raised in the ‘antiseptic = clean’ era, it seems just crazy to leave a pan without washing it with soap and water. For those cooks, let me assure you and rest easy that the cooking temperature of the pan and the practice of keeping the pan wiped out every time it’s used will keep microbes and germs at bay. Adopting the practice of properly wiping out the pan is required of course, but again – no soap on cast iron is the rule.
What kind of grease do you want to use? Veggie shortening. Vegetable shortening is a finer fat and animal fats, like lard, will turn rancid and spoil when left out. Vegetable shortening will not in most of its available permutations so use a good quality vegetable shortening.
Hardware, software and the process of Seasoning
This is only a portion of my cast iron as I setup to do my annual seasoning. Notice the vegetable shortening and welders gloves – one we’ve already talked about the veggie shortening and the other… essential in my kitchen.
Leather Gloves – none of this namby pamby tiny cloth squares or mitts for me. When I’m wrestling a turkey from a 500 degree oven or handling cast iron, I want a good solid grip Amigo – I pull out the all leather welders gloves with gauntlets. Saved me from many a burn.
Not shown in the picture is a sheet pan that will rest on the bottom rack of the oven to catch any drips. I encourage you to cover the pan with a sheet of tin foils though – I forgot and well… it was heck cleaning that dang thing. A day soaking and then a lot of elbow grease; use foil.
There is a multi-step process here – setup, warm the cast iron, apply shortening, bake for an hour and then let cool.
In a cool oven, move a rack to the very bottom. Not resting on the heating element itself, but in the lowest position. Put the second one in the position directly above the first.
Put the foil-covered sheet pan on the bottom shelf.
Warm the cast iron
Put the first piece in the oven and turn on to 350. Wait a few minutes (about 4-5 minutes) and then remove the pan from the oven. Careful though, it has been heating for a few minutes and depending on your oven, it may be pretty hot already.
Rub it EVERYWHERE on the cast iron – the cooking surface, the outside, the handle, the feet of the pot – everywhere. When you’re done, the entire piece will be shiny with an even coat of shortening.
Bake for an hour
I will move the hot cast iron to a wire rack to complete cooling and then move to my second batch, repeating the process as often as I need to get my annual seasoning done.
Keeping your cast iron in usable condition
First, use it. It’s likely the most durable piece of cookware you own, so use it.
Second, keep it clean. After you’re done cooking, let it cool a bit and then wipe it out. I use paper towel the first wipe or two to get all the cooking oil out and then a lint-less sackcloth towel.
If there is some crusting in the pan, scrape it well and then wipe out. If it needs still more cleaning, throw in a bit of oil and some kosher salt to act as a scrubber. Wipe away any remaining salt with a damp cloth.
Cast iron is awesome to cook with, but caring for it seems to many to be an art that has been lost. I hope you find this post to be useful in using it more often.