Jon and I use our cast iron skillet all. the. time. Before we had one, I had no idea why I’d want one. Why WOULD you want one, you ask? Well, I have nine reasons, friend. (Think of anything I missed? Let me know in the comments!)
- Well-seasoned cast iron is non-stick
- But there isn’t any teflon in it (which might be harmful to your health)
- Easy to clean
- It’s oven safe
- Bring it camping! It can handle fire.
- The thick cast iron metal retains heat and heats food evenly
- Can you say durable?
- If you scorch something…the dark color conveniently hides the burn marks
- You can find really high quality cast iron cookware at a reasonable price, if you know where to look
I got our 10 inch cast iron skillet at the Nashville flea market for $10. So cheap for a high quality piece of cookware! You can also find them at antique shops (you may have to hunt a bit for a good price) and very easily online.
Hearing that a cast iron skillet needs to be “seasoned” might be a turn-off for some people who’ve never used cast-iron before; it was for me. But that’s why I wrote this post―it’s really nothing at all, once you learn what it means.
Owner’s Manual for cast iron cookware
Part 1: Seasoning
The key to keeping cast iron rust-free, non-stick and low maintenance is keeping it well seasoned. How do you do this? I’m so glad you asked.
- Coat the entire inside of your skillet or pot with a thin layer of fat. Bacon grease is ideal, but butter, shortening or cooking oil will also get the job done.
- Put the skillet in a 325 degree F oven for one hour
- Wipe off the excess oil with a rag or paper towel
- Allow the cast iron to cool completely before storing
If your skillet is particularly old, rusty or in dire need of an overhaul before you’re willing to cook with it, check out the link at the bottom of this post for reconditioning cast iron written by I Believe I Can Fry (coolest blog name ever? I think so.)
Part 2: Care & Maintenance
Once your pan is seasoned, it’s quite easy to take care of it. Tips for maintaining seasoned cast-iron cookware:
- The oils you use when cooking will reinforce the protective seasoning
- For best results, clean the skillet or pot by rinsing the pan in hot water right after use. It only takes ten seconds, and cleans up much easier than waiting until everything has cooled
- For really stuck-on messes, try de-glazing the pan (which entails pouring a small amount of liquid on a hot pan, which will sizzle, steam, and allow you to scrape the stuck bits from the bottom of the pan much easier than a typical wash would)
- I store my skillet on a hanging rack, but if you keep it in a cupboard or shelf, stack with paper towels to absorb excess moisture (to prevent rust)
- You will need to re-season the pan occasionally. I typically do it about twice a year; you’ll know it needs to be re-seasoned if food starts to stick, or if you see any signs of rust
My favorite instrument for cleaning cast iron (or any pan) is an Ikea dishwashing brush. I recommend picking one up at your next trip to Ikea, because:
- It costs a DOLLAR.
- You don’t have to stick your hand in icky dishwater (thank you, handle!)
- Cleans like the dickens
- The one pictured has been in use in our kitchen for more than two years, and it’s done some dirty work…but you can’t actually tell.
- As an added perk, the handle has a suction cup so you can stick it to the sink to dry upright…so the top dries faster for generally less nastiness
Ikea didn’t pay me to say this. The brush is just that good.
Part 3: What not to do with cast iron
- Boil water (it will eventually cause rust)
- Use soap or soak the pan (A little bit is OK if it’s badly needed, but too much will gradually erode the protective seasoned layer)
- Use it to make eggs (this is personal preference–eggs are the one and only food where I still use teflon)
- Cast-Iron Cookware on Wikipedia for general info
- Reconditioning and re-seasoning cast-iron cookware on I Believe I Can Fry for rusty cookware that needs a hardcore makeover before you’ll use it
- My favorite skillet recipe to get you started: Savory skillet pie
Do you have any other tips that should be included in the manual, or a particularly delectable dish that’s best when made in a cast iron skillet? Leave it in the comments!