Cooking Hint of the Day - Cast Iron Cookware 101

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CAST IRON COOKWARE - 101

Cast iron cookware has many pluses! It is durable, will last a lifetime, and will conduct heat much more evenly than any other cookware. If you don't have a least one cast iron skillet, you don't know what you are missing!

People either love or hate cast iron. Those that hate it usually are because they don't know the proper use and care of it. A cast iron skillet will be just as non-stick as the best non-stick cookware on the market. It is all in the "seasoning", care, and cooking techniques.

SEASONING CAST IRON COOKWARE

You can't just start cooking. You MUST, MUST, MUST season your cast iron cookware. You will hear a zillion ways to season cast iron, but here is a fool proof way. Remember, it takes time, but is worth the effort!

Put the cast iron on the stove top and heat until it just warm. Rub shortening over the inside and outside of the pans and wipe out any excess with a paper towel - just leaving a very thin coating. Put the cookware in a 350 for 1 hour. Take it out and let it cool. Wipe off any excess shortening with a paper towel. Wipe the handle only well so it is not greasy (you can use a wet cloth for that).

When the pan is almost cool, wipe the inside of the pan again with a thin coating of shortening and wipe out any excess with a paper towel. Put into a 200 overnight. In the morning, let it cool and wipe it out with a paper towl and put it away. Your seasoning is complete.

COOKING IN CAST IRON COOKWARE

Preheat your cookware before preparing your meal. Water droplets should sizzle, then roll and hop around the pan, when dropped on to the heated surface. If water disappears immediately after being dropped, the pan is too hot and will surely burn your food. If water only rests and bubbles, the pan is not quite hot enough.

Caution: Do not pour significant amounts of cold liquid in to a hot skillet or pot, this can cause the cast iron to break

Another Caution: Acidic foods, such as tomatoes, can deteriorate the seasoned coating of your pots and pans.

CLEANING CAST IRON COOKWARE

There are 3 keys to keeping the non-stick surface. One is to use your cookware often - it improves with age, the other is to re-season properly and the other, and most important, is NO SOAP - ever! Just rinse with water and use a brush or nylon pad to srub. If you have some stubborn places that don't want to come clean, put some water in the pan and bring it to a boil and scrub with the brush. It will come right off!

After you have washed the pan out, don't towel dry it! Put it on the burner of the stove and heat until all the water evaporates. You will now "re-season" your cookware. Take a paper towl and apply a very thin layer of shortening to the inside while still warm. Wiping out any excess. Let it set until cool and put away.

If your cookware has not been taken care of in the past or you inherit some cast iron cookware with rust. Just srub the whole thing in hot soapy water. Dry on top of the stove as above and proceed from the beginning seasoning step. In most cases it will return just like new!

By using the above method you will never have a piece rust and you will develope a good non-stick surface. If your pieces are not as non-stick as you like, repeat the overnight seasoning instructions above.

-- Karen (mountains_mama2@hotmail.com), May 11, 2002

Answers

thank you for this tip, My mom has passed on and I have her ORIGINAL cast Iron set from here wedding to my dad, 53 yrs ago! I will be re- seasoning and using them again..thank you again!

-- SAR01 (compstar@bright.net), May 11, 2002.

I do living history/reinactment stuff. One of the historians at one of the sites told me that another way to cure cast iron is with bees wax. I have only done it to my already seasoned pans after I wash them out, but it is a way to avoid the rancid taste of some shortenings. After I clean a pan I heat it to dry on the stove. I save all my bees wax candle butts and rub them into the hot pan and wipe out excess with a paper towel. You wipe the entire pan with the excess on the towel. It smells good too!

-- Susan in MN (nanaboo@paulbunyna.net), May 11, 2002.

Just a note here I forgot to meantion above. I have never had a pan go rancid ever. Not even in summer. That is why you use shortening rather than oil. Oil will go rancid and oil will also leave a sticky film.

It is only my option, but I have heard of beeswax before and it would be a rust preventative if you needed to store your cookware for a long period of time, but it won't make the cookware non-stick and I don't like the idea as common practice for several reasons.

First, beeswax has a very low burning level. If you set the pan on the heat the wax can catch fire quickly. Secondly, I don't really want wax in my food - especially beeswax. Beeswax does have a scent and a taste that would not mix well with most foods. Thirdly, the beeswax coating does break off when stacking your pots and pans. You don't want surfaces exposed to air. That is what causes rust. With the shortening, you will always have a thin surface coverage.

It is my understanding that the practice of beeswax coating came about as a rust preventative. In pioneer days there was no shortening - only bacon grease and lard and those where often scarce. Candles, however, were always available.

-- Karen (mountains_mama@hotmail.com), May 11, 2002.


I love my cast iron cookware but I have been running into problems with seasoning my new pieces. The shortening starts smoking like mad and the whole house is smokey in no time at all. Am I using too much shortening?

-- Cj (greensleeves421@aol.com), May 12, 2002.

Yes, too much shortening. There should be just a very very thin coating of shortening.

-- Karen (mountains_mama@hotmail.com), May 13, 2002.


I do living history, as well. My husband and I belong to the American Civil War Society of Southern California (www.acws.net if you want to see pictures). I have lots of the cast iron to cook over the open fire with. Got a great big dutch oven that works wonders for a family of 5 and more.

Here's a bit of trivia for everyone...why did women become anemic towards the end of the 19th century? Answer: They stopped using thier cast iron skillets and started to use other types of cookware. Up until then, woman were getting the essential iron from the skillets, themselves.

-- Wendy A (phillips-anteswe@pendleton.usmc.mil), May 13, 2002.


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