If you’re not familiar with cast iron skillets, you may wonder what the buzz is all about, and why many chefs positively insist on this culinary tool. Yes, even in a sphere replete with innovative kitchen equipment, from pressure cookers, to air fryers, to stove-top grills and more, time-honored cast-iron cookware continues to be valued by foodies around the world, for several reasons.
Benefits of cast iron to consider
Cast-iron is quite affordable when compared with other high-end cookware; additionally, old/used cast-iron skillets can be beautifully restored with proper cleaning and seasoning.
Cast-iron is oven-safe, making it highly versatile. Beyond the stove-top, you can use it for pizzas, quiches, and many other baked entrées.
You can’t beat cast-iron for durability, even when exposed to higher temperatures that most non-stick pans can safely withstand.
Cast-iron is safer and far more eco-friendly than Teflon, which is a marketing term for polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE). Even at normal temperatures, PTFE may release unhealthy gases during cooking, which can cause polymer fume fever, also known as the Teflon flu.
How to season a cast iron pan
The key to success with cast-iron cookware is understanding that, as with many things culinary, is in the seasoning. While there’s a bit of effort involved, a well-seasoned cast-iron pan can last you a lifetime.
Seasoning cast-iron is simply a matter of baking oil into the metal in a process called polymerization. This “seasoning” forms a natural, easy-release cooking surface which also helps to prevent rusting. And you only need to go through the process once, as you will naturally be continuing to season your skillet each time you cook with oil, ensuring you maintain the sturdy, blackened coating that protects the metal.
The oven-baking method is arguably the best way to prepare your cookware, as it adds a comprehensive layer of seasoning onto the entire pan, strengthening the bond to the iron. You can effectively season your new cast-iron cookware, which may or may not be “pre-seasoned,” with these simple steps.
1: Thoroughly clean your pan in warm water with mild soap and dry it completely, heating it on the stove briefly, if necessary, to ensure no moisture remains.
2: Once your skillet is bone-dry, choose your seasoning fat. Both peanut and grapeseed oils are excellent, as they have high smoke points, but olive and coconut oil are good options too. Apply the oil to pan and rub well, buffing it in to ensure it is totally absorbed and your pan is no longer greasy.
3: “Bake” your skillet. Place your dry-oiled cookware in an oven pre-heated to 450°F for 30 minutes, ideally when you can have windows open, as your kitchen may get a tad smoky while the oil is polymerizing into the hard coating you are creating. Conversely, you can bake the pan upside down for 60 minutes in an oven preheated to 375°F. Both techniques are effective.
Your remaining decision is whether or not to repeat this process several times, which is a tactic some chefs recommend for a thoroughly seasoned skillet. If you would rather skip this step, no worries, as your pan will continue to season with use.
Cast iron care tips
In terms of caring for your cast iron cookware over time, it is important to avoid stripping the seasoning away through improper cleaning. Unlike other cookware, you want to avoid soaking cast-iron in soapy water, or running it through your dishwasher. Instead, while your pan is still hot, pour a cup of coarse sea salt over the cooking surface and use a wooden spoon or spatula to scrape away remaining food cooking residue.
Follow up with a clean dish towel to remove any remaining salt and food. When your skillet is clean, wipe all moisture away. Again, your pan should be bone-dry, which will prevent rusting. Finally, apply a dash of oil to a clean cloth and rub it all around the inside of your pan, then store it in a dry place for future use.
So, there you have it, a beautifully seasoned, safe, durable, eco-friendly, multi-use skillet that will serve you well for generations to come. Now, let’s get cooking!