Caring for Cast Iron Cookware
Many of us remember having a meal at our grandparents house as kids and seeing the well used cast iron pans on the stove. Traditionally there was little option for the type of cookware that was used for cooking. Teflon hadn't been invented yet and stainless steel wasn't around.
Today may people are reluctant to use cast iron because of the maintenance needed to keep it cooking well. Food tastes can linger in the pan not to mention foods can stick. There is some maintenance involved in using cast iron but it is minor and the benefits of using cast iron far out weigh the extra work needed.
The first thing you need to do is select the right pan. I have seen many cheap cast iron pans that should be avoided. The cooking surface is rough, almost like course sand paper. The pan hasn't been machined and everything cooked in it will stick. Look for a pan with a smooth surface. Many will have a slight spiral pattern that is the result of machining.
Before you can cook with your new cast iron skillet it will need to be cures. First wash the pan thoroughly with hot soapy water. Heat your oven to 350°F and place pan into it, allow to heat until hot. Remove skillet from oven and rub entire surface with cooking oil. Reheat in the oven and repeat 3 times. Allow the skillet to cool and wipe off excess oil.
The final curing step is to heat the pan on the stove-top over medium-high heat. Once it comes up to temperature pour in a quarter cup of oil and about a half cup of salt. Us a bunch of paper towel and run the salt and oil around the inside surface of the pan. This will help to finish the seasoning process and remove and traces of dirt or rust.
In time as you use your skillet will get very well cured making it easier to cook with. Simply add a small amount of cooking oil to the pan before using to prevent sticking.
It is a myth that a cast iron skillet shouldn't be washed in soapy water. I wash mine all the time with no bad effects. Sometimes this is the only way to clean it. It is important, however, not to soak the skillet for too long because rust will start to develop. Simply wash and dry. A well cured pan will maintain an oily sheen even after washing.
Every 6 weeks of steady use a cast iron skillet should be thoroughly cleaned. Much like when you first cured the pan heat it on the stove and scrub the inside surface with oil and salt. This will help prevent food tastes from sticking in the pan. You can also do this if rust does start to form.
Cast iron is a durable and safe way to cook food. It is easy to take care of, stands up to abuse and will last for decades without warping. It also imparts a small amount of iron into the food that you cook.