Cast iron pans are back in fashion in a big way, but they aren?t like your typical stainless-steel non-stick cookware. The way you use and care for them requires some fundamental changes to the way you approach your kitchen tools. It doesn?t help there is a long list of myths about cast iron that either no longer apply ? or even never made sense.
None of these is a reason not to invest in your first cast iron skillet. Why? Because thanks to the internet, it?s now easier than ever to separate fact from fiction.
Do you love the idea of cooking with cast iron? Our complete guide acquaints you with the design and provides easy-to-follow instructions on how to use and care for it.
How to Cook with a Cast Iron Skillet
You have seen cast iron pans used with pork chops, potatoes, and other hearty foods. What newbies don’t know is that you can cook a vast range of foods in your new pan. Some dishes, however, take some more practice than you might be used to mainly because heating the pan requires a hands-on approach (not literally ? you know what we mean).
Indeed, heating the pan is perhaps the most significant challenge new cast iron cooks face.
When you use a stainless-steel pan, you might be tempted to crank the burner up to 11 immediately. This is a bad idea with a cast iron skillet because it heats unevenly, but once it?s hot, it?s molten.
You do better to preheat over low heat and then increase the heat incrementally to control the temperature and avoid over- or under-cooking or straight-up burning your food off the bat. Remember that once your pan is hot, it keeps on heating up, so controlling the heat initially is essential, or it will run away from you later.
If the pan gets too hot (i.e., it smokes), then you need to turn?off to accommodate it. Switching to a lower setting might not do you much good.
Let’s return to what you can use the skillet to prepare.
One common myth says that you can?t cook anything too acidic in your pan (tomatoes, eggs, apples, etc.). In reality, you absolutely can put these things in the pan, but it?s vital to both remove them from the pan quickly after cooking and then clean the pan quickly.
When you cook, try to use gentle utensils and stay away from metal. Metal risks scraping away at the seasoning of the pan, mainly if you haven?t seasoned it or maintained it well. Both risk the health of your pan.
What Does It Mean to Season a Pan?
Every cast iron pan needs seasoning, but we?re not talking about paprika or pepper.
Seasoning refers to baking layers of oil into the iron, but that?s the only aspect of the process that every cast iron convert can agree on.
In theory, you can use any food-safe cooking oil to protect your pan (including shortening if you?re old school). ?Some people say that you should only use corn oil or olive oil or bacon drippings or even butter.
Yes, you are allowed to use whatever oil you want, but you?shouldn’t if you’re going to work with the pan?s chemistry.
If you want to make the most of your pan, you need to use 100 percent pure flaxseed oil. Why flax? Flax is the food-grade equivalent of linseed oil, which is something artists and designers use to provide a protective, shiny surface to their work.
You want the pure flaxseed to avoid the ingredients added manufacturers that prevent it from going rancid. It?s flaxseed oil?s ability to go rancid that makes it such a great base, so read the ingredients list before you buy the oil and season your pan.
Flaxseed oil dries into a touch, shiny film. However, it doesn?t ?dry? in the sense of the term implied because it never loses moisture. Instead, it transforms into the layer through polymerization.
What if you don?t want to use flax? Remember that seasoning isn?t cooking. You can use flaxseed oil to season the skillet without it impacting the taste or cooking style of your meal.
Does your pan come pre-seasoned? You will need to top up the seasoning at various points over the life of the pan. It will also work best if you season it a few times before cooking with it.
Don?t get caught up in the idea of the regular maintenance associated with cast iron pans. You season the pan every time you cook with it. Using it regularly adds oil and keeps it looking new.
How to Season Cast Iron
You can use whatever oil or fat you want (as long as it?s food-grade), but again, flaxseed oil works best.
Before you begin, pre-heat the oven to 200 degrees Fahrenheit and then heat the pan. The heat makes sure it’s dry and opens the pan?s pores, which will help create the hard polymer.
To season your pan, you smear the oil around your pan using a paper towel, and then rub the visible oil off. It should look like it?s dry ? not like you just covered it in oil. Don?t worry, you won?t remove all the oil, but instead, you leave behind a thin layer.
Once it looks clean, put it in the oven and place it upside down. You should have already removed enough oil to prevent any dripping. If you didn?t either take it out and wipe it down again or place a sheet of tinfoil on the bottom of the oven.
Then, bake it at a temperature that sits above the oil?s smoke point (usually at the top of your oven?s temperature range). As you might suspect, the temperature depends mostly on what oil or fat you use. When the pan and oil reach the appropriate temperature, it initiates the polymerization needed to dry the oil.
Leave the pan in the oven for an oven and then turn it off. Leave it inside to cool for two hours. Don?t open the door in the meantime.
One seasoning is technically enough to use it, but if you want a pan that?s glossy and Pinterest-worthy (and better protected), then you need to repeat the process six more times.
Don?t use more oil in an attempt to achieve more gloss. It won?t work, and it will make your pan look uneven or result in visible drips that become baked on.
How to Maintain a Cast Iron Skillet
Caring for your cast iron skillet is a delicate balance between removing residue while avoiding interfering with the pan.
All cast iron demands to hand washing. It should never, ever end up in your dishwasher. You should also never, ever soak it: you virtually guarantee rust.
Whether you buy a new cast iron pan or inherit one from a family member (or from a garage sale), you should always wash the skillet before you use it. You should also clean it out after you use it.
To clean the pan, use a bristle scrub brush or a pan scraper to remove anything that doesn?t come off with the brush. If you can?t get all the food debris, run hot water for a minute and use the scraper (to protect the finish). Clean-up the pan quickly after cooking, which will make the process easier
Once clean, you need to dry it quickly. Paper towels work best because they don?t leave behind any lint. A lint-free cloth is another option if you want something more eco-friendly.
Then, you can season the pan again right after washing. Ideally, the pan should still be warm. Use either your preferred seasoning spray or use a light layer of oil and roll it around the pan.
Then, keep your pans in a warm and dry place. However, make sure it is completely dry. A helpful way to keep it dry is to put a paper towel in the pan, which will wick moisture. The towel is particularly beneficial if you stack the skillet with other pots and pans, which might be wet and damage the cast iron.
You might sometimes see a dark residue when you dry the pan. This doesn?t mean the pan is breaking down. It?s just the baked-on oil (the seasoning) reacting to alkaline or acidic foods. As long as you care for the pan the way you should, then there?s no reason to worry.
Should You Use Soap on Your Pan?
The question of soap divides cast iron converts into two camps.
Some say you should never use soap on the pan ? ever. You might have heard it from your grandma, and you still hear it today.
Indeed, you don?t need to use soap on the pan every time, but if you do need to use it, make sure it?s mild, and be sure to rinse and dry the skillet thoroughly and quickly.
You should consider using soap the first time you wash the pan. It will help you remove factory residue, and soap will break that down better than water alone.
After that, you might use soap once or twice per year as long as you care for it well and ensure it remains well seasoned. While the soap doesn?t strip the seasoning, it does dry the plan, which eliminates the oil on the surface.
If you do use soap, then you should add oil to it afterwards to reinvigorate it.
You don?t need to use soap to remove stuck food. You can also use oil and a few tablespoons to of salt and then scrub using a paper towel. Any leftover debris should come right off. Then rinse the salt and oil off.
Another simple method for removing debris is to put the pan on the heat, turn the burner way up, and pour water into the pan. The water will cook the waste away and make it easier to scrape it off.
I?m Kind of a Germophobe, Can I Still Use Soap?
You might have avoided using a cast iron pan until now because of the soap issue. You don?t like the idea of not ?cleaning? it in a traditional fashion.
Here?s the thing about these pans: cast iron is incredibly efficient at conducting heat (remember the runaway temperatures we talked about earlier). They can reach upwards of 300 degrees Fahrenheit while cooking. That means all bacteria leftover on the pan die a fiery death.
So, there?s no need to worry about getting sick or food poisoning, as long as you cook your food correctly, there shouldn?t be any leftover microorganisms.
Make Your Cast Iron Skillet Your Best Friend
A cast iron skillet opens up a whole new world of flavors and recipes that you simply can’t replicate in steel or aluminium. However, you need to learn how to care for a cast iron skillet to make the most of it and keep it as an heirloom.
The most important thing to remember about a cast iron pan is that it?s forgiving. Everyone makes mistakes with these tools, and if you make one of the more common ones (forgetting to thoroughly dry it, etc.), then it doesn?t need to go into the garbage. All you need to do is re-season and start again.
Are you ready to chook smarter? Visit the rest of our indoor cooking guides for more kitchen hacks.