Here’s a few notes I have in my files.
CAUTION: Wear rubber gloves and eye protection while doing this!!
Begin by spraying the pan with oven cleaner and putting it in a plastic bag for a couple of days. The bag keeps the oven cleaner from drying out so it will continue to work. After a couple of days, remove it from the bag and scrub it off. I use a brass brush purchased at a super market, or my favorite, a brass brush I purchased at Rite Aid Pharmacy in their automotive counter. This brush is marketed for cleaning white wall tires. It is just the right size for doing pans. If all the burned on grease doesn’t come off, repeat the process, concentrating the cleaner to the areas not cleaned.
For bulk cleaning, you can prepare a soak of one and a half gallons of water to 1 can of lye in a plastic container. Lye like oven cleaner is very caustic and will burn you. Always wear rubber gloves. Mix enough in the plastic container to cover the items to be cleaned. Leave the pieces in the soak for about five days. Then scrub the piece. You can use the lye mixture several times. Do not use oven cleaner or lye on aluminum! It will eat the aluminum! Lye and oven cleaner will also eat the finish off wood handles and japanned pieces, and will dull porcelain finishes.
To remove rust, buff the pan with a fine wire wheel in an electric drill. Crusted rust can be dissolved by soaking the piece in a 50%solution of white vinegar and water for a few hours. Don’t leave it more than overnight without checking it. This solution will eventually eat the iron!
After removing the burned on grease and rust, you are ready to season the piece. Put the pan in the oven to warm it. Remove it and apply shortening. I prefer solid Crisco. Pam spray also will work. Some people prefer lard or bacon fat. Put it in the oven at 225 degrees for half an hour. Remove it and wipe it almost dry. You don’t want any pooling of the shortening. Place it back in the oven for another half hour. The initial seasoning should be accomplished at this point. However, typical of cast iron cookware, the more you use it (and don’t abuse), the better it will be. It is generally recommended that you cook fatty foods in the pan the first few times you use it, as this adds to the seasoning process.
After cooking in the pan, DO NOT use a detergent to clean it. That will destroy the seasoning. Put hot water in the pan and bring it to a boil. CAUTION: Do not put cold water in a hot pan! Let the pan soak for several minutes, then wipe it out with a paper towel. If something sticks, scrape it with a spoon to dislodge it. Do not use a brillo pad to scour it! An abrasive pad cuts into the seasoned surface. Then, reheat the pan and apply a fine coating of shorting, oil, or Pam. Do not apply enough to run. Just enough to wet the surface with a fine layer.
If you have a brand spanking new pan, then you need to rub it down with lard or crisco. Don’t use vegetable oil as that runs, and you end up with drippy spots. Those look like when you paint the wall and don’t see a drip and it dries with drips. Also, oil will bubble back up to the top rather than sink in as it should. So DON’T USE OIL on the cast iron.
If you have a rusty pan (used or one you left in the dishwater), then take a Brillo pad and rub off the rust and then rub down with a solid fat (the Crisco or lard I mentioned).
Once you have a fatted, lathered-up pan, then stick that in the oven at 250 degrees for about 2 hours. The time does not have to be exact. You just want to set the fat, but you don’t want to burn that off. My estimate would be that you could go an hour and a half to 4 hours and be OK.
Once you have the pan seasoned (that’s where you rub it with solid fat and bake it), then you are ready to go.
The best bet is to do fried foods to start with. The more fat the better. Think deep fried fries or fish in a couple of inches of oil. This helps set the seasoning.
Since most folks don’t do the southern deep fat cooking these days, you can do any sort of quick cooking with Crisco or lard. Bacon is also a good seasoning setting food. I like to deep fat cook seafood at a high temp and quick, so I get to break in a lot of pans for the family.
Avoid tomoatoes in the beginning as the acid breaks down the seasoning, unless it is really built up and thick. This includes some of the Hamburger Helper dishes and casserole dishes that are stove top.
If you lapse up and cook something that messes up your seasoning (and this can happen even after a lot of use), then just start back at step one and rub off rust and reseason and low temp bake again.
Once you have a good season on your cast iron, then it is like any other pan but better. Not only does it cook more even than other pans, it also has that great cast iron taste. Add to that the fact that it just lasts forever and ever, and this is thumbs up.
You can wash your cast iron in water in the sink (though you can buy some sand type stuff which is expensive and just wipe it out). When you wash, just dunk in and wipe out. You really don’t want to get every drop of oil out as that does add to the season and taste.
If you forget (oh mercy–I have done that) and do leave the pan in water, then all you have to do is reseason that pan. That is a pain and adds to the time and means that you can’t use the pan as easily. But it really is not a major problem.
I have only seen one cast iron pan which was close to destroyed. That one was left on high heat and warped on the bottom. With a lot of seasoning (since it was a family piece) and time with lower temps, it did fit back on the eye again and was OK.
This may seem like a whale of a lot of work for a pan (although it can be a one-time thing if you do take care of the pan), but cast iron is inexpensive and lasts more than lifetime. The taste is great for foods cooked in the pan. Items come out cooked evenly. You can cook on top of the stove, inside the oven, or even over an open flame.
Properly conditioned cast iron cookware is an absolute pleasure to work with. The surface can be better than TeflonÂ® in many ways. No matter how gently you treat your TeflonÂ®, the surface will eventually start wearing off and then food will begin to stick to the pan. With cast iron, the surface actually improves as you use it. The secret is in properly conditioning the cookware to begin with and caring for it properly each time it is used.
If you have a brand new piece of cast iron cookware, wash it once with soap and water. This is absolutely the last time that you will ever use soap on this cast iron piece. BE SURE TO WEAR A HEAVY COOKING GLOVE WHILE HANDLING THE HOT CAST IRON PIECES! Heat the piece over a burner on very high heat, let it get VERY HOT. Put in a small amount of peanut oil, enough to coat all the inside surface. Swirl this oil around until the entire inner surface is coated. Allow the piece to cool and then discard the oil. Reheat the piece over high heat again until it begins to smoke. Add oil, swirl, cool, discard oil. Repeat this procedure until you have gone through four heating/oiling cycles. Wash the oil out of the piece using only hot water and a brush. Return it to high heat, put in a small amount of peanut oil, and lightly coat the entire inner surface using a brush or paper towel. Turn the burner off, but do not remove the piece from the burner. Allow the piece to cool, leaving the thin coat of oil in place, and then hang the piece on it’s side until you are ready to use it. Hanging the piece in this manner prevents the piece from rusting.
If you have an old, rusty piece of cast iron that you would like to begin using, place it upside down over a roaring fire in a fireplace until it is EXTREMELY HOT. This will remove most, if not all, of the rust and other accumulated contamination in the piece. Remove from the fire using long-handled pliers, etc. You may need to use some fine steel wool to remove stubborn accumulations. Then proceed with the conditioning instructions shown above. If you don’t have a fireplace, you could use the self-cleaning function of your oven to accomplish the task. If you don’t have a self-cleaning oven, then use an outdoor gas grill.
To use your cast iron, remove it from the hanger and give a quick wipe with a paper towel or clean rag just enough to remove any accumulated dust. When you are using your cast iron, remember to allow the piece to come up to cooking temperature before you add your cooking oil. Just remember the simple rule: Hot Skillet, Cold Oil. This will prevent a lot of sticking problems. Cast iron should be cleaned IMMEDIATELY as soon as you are finished cooking. I clean mine even before I sit down to eat. Serve or remove all food from the piece, kick the heat up to medium to medium-high on the burner, and clean the piece under HOT running water. Use only the hot water and a brush to clean out the piece, NEVER USE SOAP OR DETERGENTS!!! When the piece is clean, put it back on the burner, dry any remaining water, pour in a small amount of peanut oil, and use a brush or paper towel to lightly coat the inner surface. Turn off the heat and allow the piece to cool. Return it to the hanger.
Once in a while, you may want to ‘burnish’ the cooking surface. Follow the directions in the paragraph above, up to the point of adding the peanut oil. After the piece is totally dry, pour in a small amount of ordinary table salt. Using a paper towel, burnish the surface of the piece using the salt as a fine grit polishing compound. Remove the salt and continue with the peanut oil treatment.
Cast iron has several advantages over other cookware. Cast iron pans have excellent heat conduction and retention, so you get even heating over the whole surface of the pan. If there are no wooden handles on your cast iron cookware, you can use it either on the stove, or in the oven. Properly seasoned and cared for, cast iron is just as non stick as any fancy non-stick pans. Cast iron is very durable. Some of you may have cast iron pans from your grandmother’s kitchen that are still in excellent condition. Cast iron pans are very inexpensive compared to the fancy copper pans.
On the other side of the coin, there are some disadvantages to cast iron. Cast iron pans are very heavy. If not properly treated, cast iron pans can be prone to rust. Cast iron pans must be handwashed, they are not dishwasher safe. Cast iron pans require a bit more maintenance than regular pans (but not too much more).
If you properly care for your cast iron, it will give you many years of use. Some cast iron comes pre-seasoned, so you don’t need to season it yourself. If you need to season it, simply rub it with oil, shortening, or lard, and heat for an hour in a 300 degree oven. Then remove the pan and let it cool. You can repeat this process a couple more times to strengthen the bond of the seasoning. What seasoning does, is it fills in the pores in the iron with the oil, helping to prevent food from sticking and to create a protective coating.
You should never use soap in a cast iron pan. To clean them, just use hot water and a plastic scouring pad, don’t use steel wool, or it could ruin the seasoning (if this happens, just re-season the pan). After washing, dry the pan throughly with lint free paper towels. Store the pans with the lid off to prevent moisture from building up and causing the pan to rust.
Other cast iron care tips: Do not use cast iron to cook acidic foods; cast iron is a reactive metal, and will react with the acids. Never use your cast iron pans to store food. You can use them to keep food warm during a meal, but when the meal is over, move the food into proper storage containers, and wash your pan.
If you don’t currently have any cast iron cookware, I suggest getting some and trying it. A good skillet and a Dutch oven are good pans to start with. They can be used for pan frying, deep frying, roasting, and stewing. I’ve even used two pans as a makeshift sandwich press.
Whatever the disadvantages of cast iron cookware, they are far outweighed by the advantages. Properly cared for, cast iron cookware will last for years of great meals.
- Heat the oven to 250o - 300o
- Coat the pan with lard or bacon grease. Don’t use a liquid vegetable oil because it will leave a sticky surface and the pan will not be properly seasoned.
- Put the pan in the oven. In 15 minutes, remove the pan & pour out any excess grease. Place the pan back in the oven and bake for 2 hours.
Repeating this process several times is recommended as it will help create a stronger “seasoning” bond.
Also, when you put the pan into service, it is recommended to use it initially for foods high in fat, such as bacon or foods cooked with fat, because the grease from these foods will help strengthen the seasoning.
Pans needing Re-Seasoning
If the pan was not seasoned properly or a portion of the seasoning wore off and food sticks to the surface or there is rust, then it should be properly cleaned and re-seasoned.
- Remove any food residue by cleaning the pan thoroughly with hot water and a scouring pad. I understand that heating the pan first to a temperature that is still safe to touch helps open the pores of the metal and makes it easier to clean.
- Dry the pan immediately with dish towel or paper towel.
- Season the pan as outlined above.
Caring for Cast Iron Cookware
Seasoning a cast iron pan is a natural way of creating non-stick cookware. And, like you cook and clean the modern non-stick cookware with special care to avoid scratching the surface, your cast iron cookware wants some special attention too.
Clean the cookware while it is still hot by rinsing with hot water and scraping when necessary. Do not use a scouring pad or soap (detergent) as they will break down the pan’s seasoning.
Never store food in the cast iron pan as the acid in the food will breakdown the seasoning and the food will take on a metallic flavor.
Store your cast iron cookware with the lids off, especially in humid weather, because if covered, moisture can build up and cause rust. Should rust appear, the pan should be re-seasoned.
last but not least:
Brand spankin’ new cast iron
Following these simple suggestions when your cast-iron is new ensures that your initial journey into the world of cast-iron cooking will be successful:
Before you cook anything, season your cast iron. Seasoning cast iron is simply applying oil or some other fat to the pan and the baking it into the pores of the cast iron, thus creating a smooth, nonstick surface.
The first six or seven times that you cook in your cast iron, cook foods that are rich in natural fat or oils. Cook bacon, hamburgers ? not the lean kind ? and sausage; fry chicken; or make fried potatoes. Doing so deepens the seasoning and enhances the pan’s nonstick surface.
Wait until the pan is well seasoned before you cook some foods. These foods include acidic foods(such as tomato-based dishes, or dishes that require citrus juice or mustard), alkaline foods (such as beans), or anything with a high-moisture content (such as soups or stews). Initially avoiding these types of foods preserves your new pan’s seasoning.
If you can’t wait until the seasoning builds and just have to cook your grandfather’s favorite soup beans, go ahead and enjoy yourself. Just keep in mind that you may need to reseason your pan after you use it. After your cast iron is broken in really well, you can cook just about anything in it.
Other do’s and don’ts
The following list offers a few random recommendations to keep in mind as you cook and serve in cast iron:
- Never put a cold pan on a hot burner, pour cold liquid into a hot pan, and so forth. If you do, you run the risk of shocking your cast iron to the breaking point, literally. Let your pan heat up as the burner heats up, and if you have to add water to a hot pan, make sure that the water is warm or hot. (The same rule applies when you clean cast iron.)
All metal cookware is susceptible to thermal shock, a drastic and quick change in temperature. Cast iron, being the most brittle of all metal cookware, is more likely to break; aluminum cookware is more likely to warp. Whether the result of thermal shock is a broken or warped pan, the outcome is the same: a pan that’s no good for cooking anymore.
Don’t store food in cast iron. The acid in the food breaks down the seasoning, and the food will take on a metallic taste. When you’re done serving the food, transfer what’s left to another container.
Although you shouldn’t use your cast iron to store your food, you can use it to serve food. Follow these suggestions:
? Keep the food simmering until you’re ready to sit down to eat.
? Be sure to put a hot pad or trivet under the pan. Cast iron stays hot for a long time, and it could burn or mar your tabletop.
? To keep food warm for second helpings, cover the pan while you eat.
? As soon as your meal is over, put the food in another container for storage and then wash up.
Move your cast iron off an electric burner after you turn the burner off if you want the dish to stop cooking. Unlike a gas flame, which goes out as soon as you turn the burner off, an electric burner takes a while to cool off. Because cast iron retains heat in proportion to that emitted by the heat source, a dish left over a cooling burner will still cook. This may not present a problem when you’re fixing a stew (and a little extra simmer time is not an issue), but it could be a problem if you’re thickening a sauce and don’t want it to caramelize.
Before you cook with cast-iron cake pans, corn-stick pans, muffin pans, and other bakeware, oil them or spray them with nonstick cooking spray. Even the fat-free kind can do the trick. Although these pans should be nonstick if they’re properly seasoned, why take a chance if you’re going for presentation in addition to taste?
Ending the exile of metal utensils
Although cast iron does require some care, it isn’t particularly persnickety about the type of utensils you use. You can use wooden utensils, plastic utensils, or (believe it or not) the frequently banned pariah of a Teflon-coated kitchen ? metal utensils! That’s right: Dust off your wire whisk and polish up that metal spoon. They’re back in business, baby.
In fact, if you find yourself facing a chunk of food that seems to have permanently attached itself to your cast-iron cookware, you can even scrape it with a (hopefully clean) putty knife to pick it off. If you’re so inclined ? or so desperate ? just remember that you may have to reseason the spot you scratched at.
Scrubbing your pan clean with a wire brush isn’t a great idea. First, it isn’t necessary. You can usually get even the most stubborn stuck-on food off in less abrasive ways. Second, although this type of brush won’t hurt the iron, it will scrub off your seasoning, and then you’ll have to start over again.
NOTE: I have seasoned my cast iron cookware with crisco shortening and vegetable oil and olive oil with no problems. I have several skillets, a dutch oven, etc. and I have not had any problems with rust, warping of anything. I hope this is a bit of a help!
Also - I wash my cast iron in soapy water after each use - and I do it fast - not to soak it with water - then I re-season the pan. I know many people just wipe their pans out - most of my friends do - but I have this thing about washing everything.