The Cast Iron Skillet — a Cook’s Best Friend

by Margaret Campbell
Staff Writer


Every good cook knows that a well-seasoned and well-maintained cast iron skillet is worth its weight in gold. And since it can weigh up to 8 pounds, that says a lot! The cast iron skillet has been the humble workhorse of the kitchen for generations. In fact, they are often handed down as prized possessions from generation to generation.


There is no end to what you can cook in your cast iron, from a plate full of crispy bacon to a gooey pineapple upside down cake. If you’re lucky, you may have inherited yours from your grandmother, or maybe you purchased a brand, spanking new one. Either way, if you know how to treat your cast iron, it will last you a lifetime.


Here are some tips and tricks to keep your cast iron in shape and some widely accepted myths about it as well.


Even if you buy a pre-seasoned pan, you shouldn’t cook in it right away. You still want to give it a little care and attention when you take it out of the box.


You can rinse it and wipe it dry then give it a few coatings of a quick seasoning to build up a nice little base before you use it for the first time. Heat it on the stove, then oil and blot gently all around the pan to make sure that no area has too much oil.


Let it cool to room temperature and then repeat.


To use dish soap or not to use dish soap on your cast iron — that is the question. There are those who find it a sacrilege to apply soap of any kind to cast iron. There are those who wash their cast iron regularly and swear that it doesn’t make a difference. One thing both camps can agree on is NEVER put your cast iron in the dishwasher.


You should oil dry pans. Just think of it as part of your kitchen cleanup. If your pan looks dry, add oil and rub it in. Use just a teaspoon or less of neutral flavored oil like canola, vegetable or sunflower oil for a 10- to 12-inch skillet.


Be aware of flaking in your pan. Cast iron is not naturally nonstick, thus the prep and maintenance, but heating oil to very high temperatures for frying forms a layer that can become impenetrable to water and sticking. With excess fat, however, that layer can peel off.


If you’re cooking in your pan and get flakes of black stuff, it’s not the metal, it’s the layer of polymerized fat.


If you are over-oiling, your pan will get sticky, and you don’t want that for your food or your pan.


If you want to clean your pans, be sure to avoid anything too abrasive, but metal is actually okay. For everyday cleaning, use a soft vegetable brush, but if you need to do some hard core cleanup, you can use a copper scrubber or even steel wool. If you need to scrape something off, don’t be afraid to use metal utensils either.


If you’ve got really sticky gunk in your pan, put it back on the heat with some water in the pan and let the water evaporate and cook off the debris. You can also scrub out your pan with kosher salt or coarse sea salt and rinse with water.


Proper storage is part of maintaining your pans. Once they’ve been cleaned and are completely dry — if you’re not oiling them — stack with paper towels between each pan.


This is a good practice because you never know if the pan above or below might have moisture on it and it can always help if one of your pans has a little too much oil on it.


If you are seasoning your pan, let it come to room temperature and absorb all the oil before storing.


Always add something to a hot or warm pan; if you add something to a cold pan and let it heat up, it’s bound to stick like glue.


Preheat your pans gently, cast iron heats unevenly but once it gets hot it gets really hot. Preheat over very low heat and then raise the temperature in increments, go to medium-low, to medium, to medium-high and so forth. If you preheat slowly it’s easier to control the heat.


Rust and cast iron don’t mix. You want to avoid it at all costs. Always be sure your pans are dry. Acid is fine in small amounts, but if you’re cooking something wet, you want to serve it right away and remove any leftovers from the pan for storage.


Never marinate in cast iron. Acidic mixtures will damage your hard work at seasoning your pan. Re-season if food particles start to stick, rust appears or you experience any metallic taste.


Remember, as long as you are keeping your pan well-seasoned and rust-free, you’ll have a lifetime of cooking service for generations to come.


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