Cast Iron 101: Cooking, Cleaning and Seasoning
Cast iron seems quite intimidating — and time-consuming to the unfamiliar. And, while it does take more care than your average stainless steel skillet, it’s not nearly as scary as it sounds.
When to Use: Cast iron is perfect for cooking dishes that need time both on the stove and in the oven. But that’s not all — any stovetop dish that would benefit from cast iron’s even heating is great!
When Not to Use: Boiling water isn’t a great idea — it can cause rust to build-up.
How to Use: You can preheat cast iron in the oven for ideal heating. Start it on a low heat on the stove, and, when it’s hot (it will take longer than other materials), start cooking. The handles will be hot, so always use an oven mitt or a towel when picking it up. Also, don’t use metal spatulas or other utensils on the surface — use plastic or wood instead.
When to Season: You’ll want to season, or coating the skillet with oil and baking it in the oven to create a nonstick surface, if your newly-purchased cast iron was not purchased pre-seasoned. If you see rust developing, if food is sticking to the surface, or it’s been washed improperly, you should re-season it.
How to Season: Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Using a paper towel or cloth, lightly coat the cast iron with a cooking oil. Place a drip pan on the oven’s bottom rack, and place the oiled skillet, upside down, on the top rack. Let cast iron bake in oven for one hour. Word of warning: doing this might make your kitchen smoky, so open a window!
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How Not to Clean:
- Never run cast iron through a dish washer.
- Never submerge in water.
- Never run cold water over a hot skillet — it can actually cause the cast iron to warp.
- Never use steel wool to wash cast iron.
- Never put wet or damp cast iron away. Always dry it (and dry it well) with a towel. Cast iron can stain towels, so you might want to have a special one reserved just for drying it.
How to Clean: Try to wash cast iron as soon as you’re done using it. Hot water is best. Use a mild abrasive to scrub food residue. If the residue isn’t coming off, use a coarse salt to help lift it. If it’s still not coming off, it’s okay to occasionally use a few drops of dish soap. The more you use soap, the more often you’ll have to season the pan, but a few drops here and there won’t ruin cast iron for good. If your cast iron has a lid, store it without it on.
The Best Part About Cast Iron? Cast iron is very, very forgiving. If you make some sort of fatal error, you can always re-season it.