Oct 19, 2017

Cast Iron Pan

How do I properly use and care for a cast iron pan?

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America's Test Kitchen has a really great explanation of how to use cast iron pans. The big surprise, cast iron is a very poor conductor of heat and they heat incredibly uneven on a stove. Their advice, heat the pan in an oven at 500 degrees for a pretty long time. In other words, get the thing stinking hot. Then start cooking with it on a flame.
This is an excellent recipe for a whole chicken
If you scroll down a bit on that page, there is a link to Season 17 Episode 1, debunking some myths about cast iron - well worth watching.

Here's how to buy a cast iron pan

And finally their advice on how to take care of a cast iron pan

I didn't pay much attention to names in the discussion below - but America's test kitchen kind of blends most of the advice given. Nobody was 100% right, nobody was 100% wrong.

And I'll say America's Test Kitchen is pretty darn authoritative on what they say. It is the rare place that uses real live food science, physics, and the scientific method to work through things. And they explain what they did and why.

Sorry for the long note to such a short question.
So I think this may be what detracts some new people from getting into cast iron. CAST IRON COMBAT! The conversation devolves into opinions, which people guard fiercely. Which I fully understand.

Really there are a lot of different schools of thought out there. The new is right, the old is right, my foot itches....

I don't think anyone is necessarily wrong. I think we are all probably at least some what right. Finding what works for you is most important. Do your research, listen to the people who have opinions. Give it a whack. What is the worst that can happen?

The WORST that can happen is that you have to reseason a pan. Go for it. Seriously, cast iron is almost indestructible. As far as use and cooking, I can't think of a way to actually DAMAGE a cast iron pan/pot/skillet. If it rusts hit it with a wire wheel and clean the rust off, reseason and get back to cooking!

Teflon flakes, breaks down, and gets thrown away. PLEASE buy cast iron. It is not that hard. Can you use soap? Yes! Can you use metal utensils? Yes! Can you season it with MOST oils? Yes!

Try it. Cast iron, and black pans are the way to go. Quit buying and throwing away Teflon every few years.
A newbie here, what does it mean to season the cast iron pan?
Raw cast iron is gray in color. The black cast iron is the result of oils that have polymerized and adhered to the metal, sealing the pores in the metal. This is what people call seasoning. This makes the cast iron easier to clean, more non-stick, and proctects against rust.

Seasoning involves applying a very thin layer of oil to the pan, then baking it in an oven for about an hour. Repeated use improves the seasoning. I’m not going to go into detail; there are a ton of sites and a million different opinions. Find one you like.

Clean with a stiff brush and hot water. I usually dry mine off on the the stovetop on low heat, and wipe with a bit of oil while they’re still warm.
I wash my cast iron with soap and hot water all the time. Of course mine has a very good seasoning and it NEVER use anything that will scrub or eat that seasoning off it. And, frankly, I add to the seasoning every time I use it. I heat it VERY hot on the stove and then rub it with a neutral oil before letting it cool.
If you want to completely strip an old pan and start over put it in your self cleaning oven upside down and Put the oven in self clean mode. It will burn everything off the pan. Then thoroughly rinse and scrub off the powdery residue with hot water and a stiff brush. Put the pan on a burner and heat it up to boil off the water then coat with peanut oil or other high temp oil. Use a lint free cotton bandana or those blue “shop towels“ that come on a roll at Home Depot. Never use paper towels which will leave lint behind. Wipe off all the excess oil with your lint free cloth then put in a 300 degree oven for 1 hour. Repeat that step 3 times.

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I often use peanut oil also, but usually use flaxseed for the first few coats because it seems to last longer. Give it a try sometime and let me know if you notice a difference.
If you buy Viva paper towels, they're pretty much food grade versions of the blue shop towels. They'll scrub out a cast iron pan without a problem.
I would recommend reading through the SeriousEats link another user posted. They dispel a number of old wives tales and incorrect information. Soap and water work fine, and won't damage the seasoning on a well cared for pan. The user who mentioned running water over a screaming hot pan is asking for the pan to crack. Deglazing can help, but that's a lot lower stress on the metal.

As for seasoning, I like to cook a bunch of bacon. If you ever cook large pieces of beef or pork and end up trimming the fat, you can render these trimmings in your pan to add another layer. A number of online sources suggest Flax oil as the best of the best to season a new fresh pan with, but ultimately, you're creating a polymer layer on the iron and most fats with decent smoke point temperatures will work well (i.e. you probably shouldn't use olive oil)
The water is screaming hot, the pan is reheated. Been using this method for years, never seen a pan crack.
Same, never had a crack. It is essentially the same as deglazing...

Serious Eats has the info you need. All the rumors and misinformation is laid to rest.
Some swear by sesame, some peanut, some vegetable. All I know is what I have done and feel works.

First it depends on the pan. Is it a new, quality pan? An old well used super seasoned pan? Or a new cheap pan?

The best seasonings I have found are lard, and bacon grease. In that order. For the initial seasoning I will cook bacon (saving left over grease), or apply lard. Then bake at 300F for about an hour, the time need not be exact, an hour ish is fine. You normally have to repeat this process a few times to get a nice season going. You can do it as many times as you have the patience for.

Prior to this. If you went cheap (like me, looking at you Lodge) sand the bottom of the pan down with some 200 ish grit sand paper, you can then jump up to a higher grit paper if you want but you don't have to. Modern cheap cast iron has modern cheap casting. It ain't like grannies cast iron. Sanding it down a bit will help you get that nice glassy non stick seasoning going.
I will add that seasoning with peanut oil works really well as it has a high smoke point.

In my early years living in cheap apartments, the stoves always heated unevenly and put out modest amounts of heat. Putting a roast in a dutch oven made a world of difference as did cooking steaks in a preheated skillet (oven for 20 minutes then stovetop on high).
Cast iron heats rather poorly, but holds heat rather remarkably. Use it like any pan, heating oil/fat of choice in it and giving it ample time to heat up. Once finished, clean to remove excess bits of food, but do not wash in soap and water. I rinse with water and have a chain mail scrubber (like this: https://www.amazon.com/Ringer-Original-Stainless-Cleaner-Patented/dp/B00FKBR1ZG) to help remove residue if need be. Once cleaned, dry with a paper towel. Add a bit of oil and wipe around the pan. This will keep it from not rusting and encourage the seasoning process.
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Don’t use paper towels which can leave lint wich will actually join the oil and stick to your seasoning. Use lint free cotton bandana or those blue lint free shop towels rolls that you can use at Home Depot.
I also find the lodge brand plastic scraper and good ole scotch bright pad useful for removing stubborn stuck on stuff. stic
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