Monday, June 9, 2008

Cast iron skillets

Let me see a show of hands of you out there who use cast iron regularly?........ Uh huh, that's what I thought, there aren't very many of you, are there? I have to confess, I haven't used mine in several years and you know what my silly reason was? They started sticking and I thought seasoning them was too much of a hassle. HA! I've done some reasearch and found it to be super simple.

Cast iron skillets are wonderful assets to any cook's cupboard. Mine are actually hand-me-downs from my grandma and a garage sale. I have 3, a 12", 8" and one that's about 5". We'll get to the easy how-to of seasoning them in a minute, but first a few reasons why everyone should have AND USE them.

~ Flavor! Cast iron does not impart any artificial "metallicy" taste to your food.
~ Safety - there's a reason people have been cooking with cast iron since WAY back - it's a natural substance that can be turned into pans that withstand very high heat and don't give off toxic chemicals or break down (if cared for properly)
~ There may even be a potential health benefit from using unglazed cast iron - it actually gives off iron when you heat it and imparts iron into your food -a valuable nutrient
~ Heats evenly and retains heat better than traditional cookware and can go straight from stovetop to oven with no concern
~ Very easy to care for once seasoned properly

When choosing cast iron, the best is to find some at a thrift store, estate sale or garage sale that have already been used and seasoned because these are a little easier to keep in good shape. Buying new takes a little more work.

If you can't find any previously used/seasoned cast iron, try to find cookware with the smoothest interior surface possible, this will make the seasoning process easier.

If you have old cast iron, here's the easiest way to care season it:

1. Scrub the inside with a stainless steel pad (you can also use a cloth with coarse salt) to scrape away any excess food, spills, possible rust, etc. (You don't have to do this every time you use it - I would suggest doing it the first time and then if you happen to notice it starting to stick or at least a few times a year)
2. Rinse clean with hot water ONLY - you can use a mild soap occasionally, but it's not necessary every time. NEVER SOAK IN WATER OR PUT IN THE DISHWASHER.
3. Sit the skillet on the stove top and turn on the eye/burner until the pan gets warm and all the water dries out. This will ensure it gets completely dry before oiling it.
4. Once it is completely dry, coat with a neutral oil (I use coconut oil - but not extra virgin because I don't want my pan to taste like coconut - or you can use canola or some other oil that doesn't have a strong taste). I just pour about 2 Tbsp in and wipe around with a paper towel coating the entire inside with it.
5. Place in a preheated 250F oven for 2 hours.
6. Let cool a bit and wipe clean with a paper towel.
7. Once completely cool, store with a paper towel inside (especially if stacking several skillets) to prevent any moisture from seeping into the skillet.

Seasoning a brand new skillet is a little more time intensive, but well worth the end product (you'll need some sandpaper - 80-120 grit (medium) for very rough surfaces or those with imperfections such as pits, grooves, or sharp points; 120-150 grit (fine) should work well for smoothing surfaces that don't have too many imperfections):

1. New skillets come with a coating on them that must be removed before seasoning (or the oil won't soak in properly).
2. Scrub the entire skillet (inside and out) with a stainless steel pad.
3. Rinse
4. Sand the inside surfaces until you get a decently smooth surface and there are no sharp points or other type of imperfections left.
5. Rinse
6. Follow seasoning steps 3-7 above
7. You many have to do those seasoning steps several times to get the non-stick quality of a heavily seasoned/well used cast iron skillet. The only way to find out if it's seasoned enough is to cook with it and see if what you're cooking sticks......

Regular (in-between-seasonings) maintenance is very simple:
1. Rinse with hot water (can use mild soap and a green scrubby pad if you NEED to, but don't do it often or you'll find yourself needing to re-season)
2. Dry on the heated eye/burner on the stove top
3. Let cool completely
4. Store with a paper towel inside to absorb any potential moisture.
For more kitchen tips, be sure to visit Tammy's site!

1 comment:

Mrs. Bargain Hunting Wife said...

I got a skillet (new) as a shower gift and used it once and it stuck horrible! It supposedly (according to package) was "pre-seasoned" so I might follow the steps for used skillets and see how it works!

What do you cook in it?