I mentioned last week how dear my cast iron skillet is to me.
I’ll let you in on a little secret. When I’m not eating the ridiculous baked goods that come out of my oven, I’m eating eggs. Eggs inside of fried corn tortillas. I eat eggs because, as a baker, I always have eggs in the fridge and they’re super easy to fry up and call dinner. Eggs, always eggs, with salt, pepper and tortillas. There, now you know.
I cook my eggs and fry my tortillas in the same cast iron skillet day after day. This skillet is always riddled with the evidence of some sort of cooked egg. But with a little hot oil, some salt and a paper towel, it’s as good as clean.
If you have a cast iron skillet that could use some love, here’s how to season and care for that bad boy. Cast iron skillets are too bad ass to waste away in your cupboard. Get to it!
Cast iron, in all of its natural cast iron goodness is a not a nonstick pan. It becomes a nonstick delight through a process called seasoning. Seasoning is basically oiling and baking your cast iron skillet. I’ve seen some cast iron pans sold pre-seasoned in stores. These pans already have their shiny black seasoned finish and you can cook in them immediately. You still may need to re-season these beauties as they go. You may also need to re-season your cast iron if you burn something into the pan and have to scrub it out with soap and water. It’s certainly not the end of the world. A bit of oil and a hot oven will bring your cast iron right back to life.
How to Season Cast Iron
1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Position one rack in the top third of the oven. Position another rack in the bottom third of the oven and place an empty foil lined backing sheet on the bottom rack. This sheet will catch any dripping from the cast iron.
2. Open your windows or turn on your stove hood fan. There may be some smoke, but I’ve never had this issue.
3. Over a medium flame, rub a thin layer (about 1 Tablespoon) of vegetable shortening, like Crisco, or oil—bacon grease works great, too—all over the inner bottom and sides of the pan with a paper towel and tongs.
4. Place the oiled pan upside down in the heated oven over the foil lined baking sheet.
5. Bake the cast iron for 1 hour. Turn the oven off and allow the cast iron to cool to room temperature in the oven. Repeat this process 3 or 4 times for best results.
When the pan is perfectly seasoned, the inside with be smooth and shiny. Sometimes after seasoning my pans come out a bit sticky. This usually clears up with a bit of cooking. I usually make sure that the first few things I cook in a newly seasoned cast iron are either fried or sauteed in a bit of oil.
Note: Never cook tomatoes in cast iron. The acid from the tomatoes will break down the seasoned pan.
Another Note: Hardcore cast iron people have different cast iron for different purposes. For example, they season their dessert cast iron with vegetable oil, but their savory cast iron with bacon grease. They have certain cast irons they use for cornbread and other they use for fish dishes. I stay safe and just season all of my cast iron with a tasteless oil so they can go either way.
How to Clean Cast Iron
1. When you’re finished cooking in cast iron, scrape out the pan, while still warm, with a wooden spoon. Wipe it down with a bit of oil on a paper towel. I usually use the canola oil I have on hand.
2. If scraping the pan with a spoon doesn’t get off all the grime, melt a tablespoon of vegetable shortening in the pan, turn off the flame and add a tablespoon of salt. Use a paper towel in tongs to scrub the pan. Wipe salt out with clean paper towel. Run under hot water, dry it well, and follow the re-seasoning directions above.
3. If the wooden spoon and the salt technique weren’t to your liking you can use a mild, diluted soap and a soft sponge to clean the pan. You just want to avoid strong soaps and super scrub pads. Dry the pan with a clean dry dish towel and set in a warm oven to dry completely. Follow the seasoning directions above to re-season cast iron.
Note: Never put your screamin’ hot cast iron skillet into water. It could crack.
Another Note: Yes, all this work to season and re-season your cast iron is totally worth it!