When I was in Jersey in January my sister Prose caught me washing her cast iron pot with soap and water. She ripped me a new one.
Apparently that’s NOT how you care for cast iron. It’s a special material that needs a lot of fatty goodness on it all the time. You’re not even supposed to wash it, just wipe it off when you’re done with it. (You can periodically cook it in the oven if you’re worried about germs or whatever. I’m not. Building up an amazing immune system, here.)
When I returned to Texas I took out my trusty cast iron pan and was appalled. I have failed my cooking tools miserably. So I spent some time “researching” and now share my newly-acquired cast-iron-seasoning knowledge with you.
Look at that terrible thing. Those rust spots and the orange hue are symptomatic of cast iron without any real protective fatty coating. Prose was right. I am a terrible cast iron owner.
WAS a terrible cast iron owner. NO MORE!
First move – rinse off the rust. NO SOAP – just rinse.
If you feel you MUST use soap, be advised that this is the last time EVER. You will never use soap on your cast iron again.
Like I said earlier, if you’re concerned about germs just cook the pan. Heat kills germs. It probably kills germs better than soap… Don’t quote me on that but the internet says so. It must be true.
Then dry it all the way off with a fabric towel. Disposable towels, even the high dollar ones, leave little lint pieces. And use a kitchen towel that can get dirty – cast iron leaves a grey residue.
Don’t use grandma’s vintage kitchen set, is what I’m saying.
Here’s my sad pan slightly less sad. Notice the reduction of orange-hued rust spots everywhere. It’s still a naked pan but now it’s not growing funk all over it.
Next step is applying oil. (For this, feel free to use disposable towels.) Get an even coat all over the pan – inside, outside, and handle (if necessary). Wipe away any residue – you want shine but no pools of oil.
I used good ol’ cheap ol’ vegetable oil. It was on hand in the pantry and it’s safe to eat. Plus it has a higher smoking point than olive oil. I worry about smoking points in my kitchen because there’s no exhaust vent in there.
There’s some debate about the best kinds of fats with which to season cast iron. You could go the flavor route, in which case bacon grease is the obvious (and delicious) choice or you could go the nerd route and use kitchen-grade flaxseed oil (because it polymerizes into a hard sheen).
Or you could do what I did and go with “what oil currently exists in my pantry”.
Blurry, but shiny. That’s what we’re going for.
Check out the cast iron residue on that paper towel.
The last step is adding heat. Bake that pan (upside down) in a 350 degree oven for an hour and let it cool – I left it in there for another hour – before removing.
You can add foil to the bottom rack to catch any drippings. This was actually unnecessary for me because I so expertly applied the thin layer of oil that no drips occurred. However, that sheet of foil made for a prettier picture than a clear view of the bottom of my nasty oven would have.
End result was a cast iron pan without any orange-hued sad spots. Every re-seasoning session will improve its resistance to the rust-creep.
Maintenance includes two important steps:
- Never use soap on the pan. Best practice is simply to wipe down when you’re done cooking. If you MUST wash, just use warm water and a mild abrasive.
- Re-season on the reg. Bake in some fatty goodness on a regular basis to build up a delicious and natural (ie: non-teflon) non-stick coat.
Next tutorial – how to clean the crap out of a terribly dirty gas oven.