Caring for cast iron pans
If you’ve cooked with a cast iron pan, you will probably agree that it is a wonder of wonders among cooking pans. The heat retention is superb, the heat distribution is uniform, it can go from stove top to oven, it can withstand extremely high temperatures and it can last a lifetime.
Cast iron cooking pans have been around for hundreds of years. I’ve read stories about cast iron pans being such highly prized possessions that they were handed down from mother to daughter like heirlooms. My father had a huge cast iron wok, I cooked with it for years until I got married, moved out and what happened to it, I have no idea. An aunt bequeathed the contents of her kitchen to me, including two cast iron pans, but I didn’t know how to care for the pans and when they rusted, we left them behind in the city when we moved to the suburb.
Well, one learns things over the years. We know now that rust in cast iron cookware can be removed. And, to keep rust off, cast iron pans need to be seasoned. Seasoned? Oiled, literally. Keep cast iron pan lightly coated in oil, even in storage. The oil not only keeps the rust off, it also makes cast iron cookware non-stick.
Having learned all that, we bought a large cast iron skillet a few years back. We didn’t use it very often because its weight made washing a huge effort. Yes, we wash our cast iron pan with mild soap and water. Some people say just wipe it clean but we have ants galore in the tropics and any oil that smells of food will attract ants. I prefer washing the cast iron pan with hot water so that very little soaping is necessary. Speedy goes by Alton Brown’s method of scrubbing the pan with salt.
Whatever method you use, iron being iron, unless the pan is oiled often, rust sets in. Here’s how we get rid of the rust and how we re-season the cast iron pan.
Wash the pan and scrub every inch with a steel brush to get rid of the rust.
Then, wipe the pan with oil. Any neutral tasting cooking oil will do. Make sure that every part of the pan, nooks and crannies included, is well oiled.
Cover an oven tray with foil. Place the oiled pan upside down on the oven rack with the tray underneath and bake for two to three hours. Low heat, about 250F to 275F. The foil is to catch any oil that drips off.
Cool the pan on the counter for a bit, wipe off the excess oil with paper towels. Cool some more and wipe off again. The cast iron pan is now ready for use or storage.
If a cast iron pan is used regularly, it means it gets oiled regularly too. When washing, you don’t want to remove all the oil because it provides a protective coating to the pan. If you have to scrub off any food that sticks to the pan and you think that you may have scrubbed off all the oil, wipe the dried pan with oil before storing. Wipe again to remove any dust before using again.