Many of you out there already have some great cast iron cookware in your possession. Whether you purchased it, or it is an heirloom that has been passed down in your family. This might not apply to you...unless you are frustrated with your cast iron, then read on!
Keeping your cast iron cooking its best is all about upkeep. Unlike more modern Teflon cookware, you can't just throw it in the dishwasher and call it a day. Also unlike modern Teflon cookware, it doesn't create toxic off-gas at high temperatures (look that up, it will change your cooking world).
The main things you need to know are how to use cast iron, how to season cast iron, and how to clean cast iron.
CAST IRON USE
The nice thing about cast iron is that it is extremely durable when it comes to use. It is especially great for cooking at high temperatures, be it on the stove top or in the oven.
Also, there isn't a frail nonstick surface to worry about. I have utensils that are labeled "flatware 18 10" stainless steel. Normally, they would scratch and breakdown a Teflon pan very easily. No problem with cast iron.
One thing to keep in mind is that you should always allow your cast iron cookware to get to an optimal temperature for whatever you're using it for. So, always preheat it for cooking, and always let it cool all the way before cleaning.
Although it is slower to heat, it holds the heat longer. Since there is no rapid cooling, you'll be cooking on an even heat and getting no hot-spots to throw off your recipe.
CAST IRON SEASONING
If you're very new to cast iron, you're probably looking at this cookware and thinking "Nonstick? Yeah, right." With the proper seasoning process, it can be.
If you go out and purchase a new lodge cast iron skillet, it will say "preseasoned" on it. I offer these two pieces of advice: don't pick eggs as the first thing you cook on it; and go ahead and season it yourself anyway.
To season cast iron:
• wash and dry (see next section for details)
• wipe on a layer of cooking oil
• place in a preheated oven
- either 250 degrees F for two hours or 350 degrees F for one hour. I prefer 250.
- I also put mine in the oven upside-down on a cookie sheet to catch drips
• remove from oven and wipe off excess oil
• let cool
We do this because iron is a porous metal. The pores open up as it gets hot. If the cast iron is not seasoned, these open pores absorb the food you're cooking, effectively gripping it.
During the seasoning process the pores open up and absorb the oil. This is what makes cast iron nonstick. The seasoning will wear down with time, so this is a process that will need to be done from time to time depending on the amount of use.
CAST IRON CLEANING
Unlike stainless steel, cast iron REALLY hates water. The seasoning only offers so much protection, and cast iron WILL rust if you leave it sitting in water.
So, rule number one is never let cast iron stay wet. After you wash it, dry it right away.
To wash cast iron, I recommend just using very hot water and scrubbing with steel wool or an acrylic brush. Definitely never use the dishwasher, as this will devastate all of your seasoning efforts.
I have a separate scrubber sponge that I use just for cast iron. It gets pretty dirty looking, but as a lot of cast iron users know, that's the color of flavor.
One last thing to keep in mind, just so you don't get frustrated. Even though I love cast iron, and a lot of other people do to, one thing that is pretty common is to have your cast iron skillet, AND a smaller nonstick, non-cast iron skillet for cooking eggs.
It is really hard to successfully fry an egg on cast iron. Not impossible, but difficult. Just be aware of Teflon's toxicity. Look for a skillet lined with Thermalon or Ceramica if you feel like you need nonstick.