Seasoning and Maintaining Cast Iron Cookware

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Did you know cast iron cookware has a natural non-stick coating, which is why many professional chefs prefer to employ a well-seasoned cast iron skillet over modern-day chemically-treated non-stick frying pans?  What’s more, they usually last and last, if even minimally maintained, for decades and decades!

The very first time you use your new piece of cast iron, it must be treated by a process of seasoning.  This is an easy procedure, and ought be repeated every now and then to maintain the innate non-stick properties of your skillet.  You know that dark, charred-looking coating you’ve seen on well-used cast iron pieces in the past?  That’s the perfect indicator of a well-seasoned pan!

Please note that sometimes you can actually purchase cast iron that has been “pre-seasoned at the manufacturer’s factory”.  You don’t see this very often, but even if your pan has been, it never hurts to repeat the process.

So, here’s how you season your cast iron cookware:

Step One: Peel any price tags or paper from your pan, and unpack it from any and all packaging.  Sponge off any detritus with a small amount of soapy water and then allow your pan to air dry.  If you’re in a hurry, use paper towels.  No-one will ever know!

Now, sit down, put your feet up, light a candle if you feel the urge, as some of you are going to be shocked by this next revelation: immersing your cast iron in water for cleaning should never be allowed to happen (except if you’re attempting to remove built-up corrosion spots off neglected skillets)!  From now on you’ll only use a preparation of salt and paper towels and a little water in the cooking pan itself so as to prevent any rust from accumulating.  For most of us, that’s going to be a shocker.  When we first learned of this step, we actually didn’t believe it.  But trust us, it’s TRUE.

Step Two: Once your pan is completely dry (regardless of how it got that way), preheat your oven to a minimum of 200 degrees Celsius.  Now, some might advise a different temperature and that’s fine; the only constant is that your oven ought be HOT as the purpose behind the seasoning process is to essentially “bake” the oil into the “pores” of your skillet.  Exact temperature, in the final analysis, makes no never mind.

You can use cooking oil, olive oil, even lard or bacon grease – whatever you’ve in the cupboard.  Wipe your preferred lubricant liberally over the inside of your skillet until evenly coated.  Remove any gross excess.

Step Three: Turn your cast iron pan upside down and place on the top rack of your hot oven.  Obviously, you don’t want a huge mess of dripping oil, so place a baking sheet or foil liner down to catch any excess.

An hour or so is the ideal time to leave your pan in the oven.  Now, be prepared: there may be some small amount of smoke or smoke-like smell.  This is completely normal as the oil is plugging up all the tiny nooks and crannies in your skillet, fashioning fewer crevices for the food to become trapped in during future cooking forays.

Step Four: Once an appropriate amount of time has lapsed, remove your skillet (using oven gloves, of course) and place right side up to cool on a heat-resistant surface.  Reach behind you and pat yourself on your back: your cast iron pan is now officially seasoned!

We did you warn you it was painlessly straightforward.

Extra Notes and Tips:

# Although cast iron is naturally non-stick, “sticky” foods (for example: eggs) may still stick, so you would be best advised to use additional cooking oil when preparing.

# Over time, as you repeat the seasoning method, a satisfactory layer of charring will assemble in the bottom of your pan.  In an ideal world, your skillet would be wiped out completely after cooking, and then put through the seasoning procedure once more.  But who’s perfect?  Every now and then, season again, and you’ll be fine.  Eventually – it may take years – your cast iron skillet will attain the non-stick perfection of your Grandma’s old pan, and you’ll realise you’ve achieved greatness.

# The probability is high that you will crack or split your hot skillet if you decide to submerge it suddenly in cold water.  Do NOT do this.  There’s no other option but to allow your cast iron to cool naturally and gradually.

Restoring Neglected Cast Iron:

As already mentioned, your cast iron has the potential to practically last the duration (as in forever) if well maintained.  However, if it hasn’t been cared for well over the years, you can take steps to restore it, and depending on the damage, there’s a good chance it’ll come back to close to its original condition.

Step One: Inspect your skillet carefully; you’re searching for any and cracks, deep pitting, splits.  Now, whilst cracks may possibly be repaired (it’s called Brazing and its actually quite pricey), the process will leave the pan unsuited for preparing food in (as the procedure to braze may likely contaminate the food cooked in that pan from now on).  Nope, cracks and splits – in our humble opinion – mean the pan must be saluted for its hard work, retired, and replaced.

Step Two: Assuming you’ve found nothing more harmful than rust spots, you can start scrubbing away at them with either a steel wool pad or a wire brush.  Your aim here is to eliminate as much of the movable waste as possible.

Step Three: Prepare your magic solution (one part vinegar to ten parts water) and immerse your cast iron, preferably overnight.  This will relax, and in essence, liquefy any corrosion remaining after your vigorous earlier scrubbing.   Remember how porous cast iron is?  Well, and this is the reason why we suggest natural cleansing, rather than the employment of any harsh chemicals.  The cast iron is perfectly capable of soaking them up, and ultimately tainting your food.

If everything is not removed that ought to have been, you might need to repeat the process.

Step Four: Finish off with another round of seasoning.

Everyday Cleaning of your lovely, reliable Cast Iron:

Cast Iron has a reputation for being one of the hardest-working ranges of cookware you’ll ever own, as well as producing evenly cooked food every time because of its wonderful heat-distributing properties.  To keep this amazing product in tip-top condition, you’ll need to follow these simple, uncomplicated guidelines for everyday cleaning.

Soap, water and immersion are not your friends when sanitising your skillet as the combination null and void your carefully applied seasoning process, as well as promoting rust development where none is wanted.

# Salt: This is probably the most popular way to clean your skillet and it is super-quick.  Whilst your pan is still hot from cooking, profusely dust with salt and then rub with paper towels or a non-metal brush (careful to protect your hands with oven gloves or something similar).  The salt will dissolve any burned-on food without damaging the non-stick surface, as well as acting as an anti-bacterial cleanser.  When this is finished, rinse in warm water and let air dry.  If you’re so inclined, season again.  It doesn’t have to happen every time you clean your pan but indulge periodically to keep up that lovely charred finish.

# Steel Wool:  Just as salt is an abrasive, so too is steel wool, and it works in a similar way as it too declines to strip your non-stick oiled coating.  Team a tiny bit of water with some steel wool in the pan of your skillet (straight after cooking), remove debris, rinse and air dry.  Season if moved to.


These are Dostiboy’s tips and tricks for coaxing the best life out of your cast iron cookware.  We offer them as guidelines only.  Many out there will have their own preferred methods for caring for these special pieces.  The basic principles remain the same across any cleansing ritual: try not to employ harsh chemicals, or too much water, and season often.

We hope you enjoy.

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