I use cast iron for almost everything I cook and bake; from skillets and Dutch ovens, to bread pans and muffin “tins”. I would love to find a pie plate but haven’t stumbled upon one yet. For some reason there has been a fair amount of buzz lately about using cast iron, how to take care of it and so on. For that reason I have mixed thoughts about this post- there are plenty of articles out there about the subject already so why add to the long list, on the other hand, why not? I could share something that works great for me and might for you too.
I remember years ago grandma using a skillet for something she was making and remember how the pan was so smooth and seasoned. Every piece that I have that was new was textured and I tried for years to use the pans all the time in hopes the texture would wear away. It didn’t no matter how much I used them or how abusive I was to them it was still there. They were also pre-seasoned which I will get into in a minute. I wanted the pans smooth for a couple reasons:
1. Grandma’s pans were smooth so that must be the correct pan form.
2. The one pan I had the was smooth worked just like a non-stick pan. It worked much better than the textured ones as far as that goes.
How did I get the smooth cast iron pans that I was hoping for? A couple ways actually:
1. I buy old pans second hand. The only time I worry about rust on a second hand pan is if there is deep pitting. I these those for the next gal.
2. Enamel coated cast iron pots. The large soup pots and such are enamel coated. They work great but the enamel does chip so they do take a little more care than the uncoated pans.
3. I sand the crap out of the textured new pans. Using a wire bristle attachment and one of Mikes drills I smoothed out the favorite skillets and Dutch oven.
To sand the pans I first prepared them by stripping most of the seasoning off. This was done in the oven.
1. Place the cold pan of choice into a cold oven. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees for a little while- long enough to heat the pan through. Then turn the oven on to the “self clean” setting and let the pan bake for a good hour or so. Some pans have smoked, rather unpleasantly and others were too bad. Just be prepared that you may need to open the windows for a little while.
2. Allow the pan to cool completely in the oven. Then give it a good scrubbing. No need to get it perfect but it helps to get most of the top layer off if you can.
3. Now for the fun part. I do a lot of projects in my kitchen that are not kitchen projects and really should be done elsewhere (outside usually), this is not one of those projects! Even I take the pan outside for this step. Take the pan outside. Using an electric drill fitted with a wire bristle brush attachment begin to sand away the bumps. Spend just enough time on each spot to remove the bumps too much time in one spot can give you a little shallow spot. It won’t be noticeable until you really need something to turn out perfect.
4. Once the pan has been smoothed to your liking it’s time to talk seasoning.
Seasoning cast iron pans is not nearly as complicated as some people like to make it. It does take a little time most of which is not hands on, we are talking 5-10 minutes max of hands on the rest is baking time.
I talked with a guy at a flea market once who was selling all sorts of very nice and very over priced seasoned cast iron. He was giving my the whole soapbox preach about how each piece must be hung when stored, never use water on them, soap is so far out of the question it wasn’t even something to joke about and so on, all because he was so very concerned with the seasoning of the pans. In which his seasoning process was the basic process, just glorified with all sorts of extra jabber. That guy would tip over if he saw how I use and care for my pan collection.
After the initial sanding the pans are given a really good scrubbing with water, soap and steel wool. They are rinsed well and placed in the oven to dry thoroughly so they don’t rust. Which they will start to do much quicker than you would think.
Once dried the seasoning begins. I like to use grape seed oil for seasoning it has virtually no flavor and a really high smoke point (450 degrees +).
1. Simply place a small amount of oil on a lint free cloth (I use flour sack towel rags or cut up t-shirts). Coat the whole pan inside and out with a thin coat of oil. It should be enough to turn the color of the pan but not enough to leave excess oil.
2. Place the cold pan in a cold oven and turn the oven on to 450 degrees. Allow the pan to preheat with the oven. Bake the pan for about an hour. Turn the oven off and allow everything to cool together as well.
3. Repeat steps 1 and 2, two more times.
There you have it a perfectly smooth and seasoned pan. If you choose to sand your pan it should be something that you need to do only once in the lifetime of the pan. You may find that a pan needs to be reseasoned from time to time. Which isn’t that big of a deal either.
Even if I don’t sand a new pan I do strip the “preseasonedness” off and give it my own. Most of the pans you buy that are preseasoned are done so with soy bean oil. Almost all (not all but almost) soy beans are GMO in the states, which means the oil used to season the pans is most likely contains GMOs. Over paranoid? maybe. But that’s ok, I cut back where I can and know that there are some things that will be GMO and for the time being there is nothing I can do about it.
Now for seasoned cast iron pan care. Seasoning the pan essentially creates a bond between the oil and pan. It is not easily scrubbed off. For that reason I do use water on my pans and in the event that I make something like enchilada’s or something extra baked on and messy I use soap too. I have even been known to let them soak. (Gasp!) Really, I do let them soak. Not over night but for a couple hours to make washing them easier. I haven’t lost any of the precious seasoning by doing this, nor did the pan start to rust. A thick coat of oil after the pan has been dried and it sparkles like a well-seasoned pan should.
I also stack my cast iron in the cupboard. One piece on top of the other. We do not have air conditioning in our house and being next to the lake and in northern Minnesota the humidity in the summer can be awful. I still stack my pans and wouldn’t you know they don’t rust. That being said you don’t need to hang each cast iron piece. It’s ok, really. They will be ok.