Alright, let’s call the curtains on this one. We are going to delve into the world of Cast Iron Skillets. A very, very great addition to bring into your kitchen. I hope that if you ever have considered incorporating this cooking/baking/frying tool into your kitchen you make that casting call and hire this guy right in! Alright, let’s cast out the terrible word play and move on! By the end of this guide we will know how to clean, season (the pan not the food in it) and some ideas for cooking in this lovely kitchen buddy.
What Even is Cast Iron (and what’s it good for)?
Cast Iron is essentially a group of carbon-iron alloys (that’s a mix of metals and other ingredients) with a few notable properties. First off, cast iron is rough, heavy and black. The roughness is from it being super porous. We can use this feature to our advantage, but if improperly cared for, will create quite the backlash (more on that below). As far as the advantage of this feature though, is that whatever gets stuck in these pores can actually impart flavor into our dishes. A well broken in cast iron skillet will not only act as a nearly non stick pan but impart flavor from all of your previous dishes. I know it may sound a little…weird and at first, but it’s completely safe (and delicious)!
The heaviness is because it’s mostly iron and black because of the carbon mixed in. Another amazing property of cast iron that makes it great for cooking is how well it distributes and holds heat. You can get a great even sear on your meats and sauté your veggies with ease. Lastly, cast iron can handle the heat of both your stove an oven. Being one solid piece of metal, it can go straight from stove to oven that allows for some interesting dishes
Cast Iron Use
As I said above it distributes and retains heat wonderfully as well as handles your oven just fine. Focusing on the distribution and retention of heat, this makes it ideal for searing meats. If you are cooking up a steak, I would highly suggest using a cast iron skillet. You can get the skillet very hot and once you throw in the steak it will remain hot enough to given a nice crusty sear. Often times other skillets will get hot enough but not stay hot enough to give beautiful sears. Same goes with any other meat. Sautéing vegetables in cast iron can also be great as it will impart a lot of wonderful flavors into the veggies (if so desired.)
Cast iron can also be great for baking certain dishes. Skillet corn bread is one of the first dishes that come to mind, but other things like ratatouille work great in it as well. Again, taking advantage of the non-stick features as well as the heat distribution it’s wonderful for evenly cooking in the oven. That said, remembering how well it can retain heat, you will want to be careful as your dishes will definitely cook a little more than usual after being removed from the heat source.
Care and Maintenance
The last real thing to go over with cast iron skillets is how to care for them. As wonderful as they are, you will need to take special care of it as they are certainly different from almost all your other kitchenware. For starters, in 9 out of 10 cases you do not want to use soap on these guys. Now there are certainly some that will advocate never using soap but I would say, try your best to avoid it. The reason being that what gives cast iron the flavor is that there is a thin layer of oil that ends up bonding to the pan. As it is, you can accidentally remove this coating if you soak, scrub or use to much soap. It’s very picky with how much soap and how long you can soap, so avoid it in most cases.
If you do decide to use soap, you’ll need to re-season the pan. In order to do this, oil the entire pan (make sure it is dry) with vegetable, avocado or other higher-temp low flavor oils. Then bake in the oven at 375 (having the skillet upside down) for an hour and a half or so. This will re-season the pan and you can use it regularly. So, if you decide to use soap every time, unfortunately you will have to clean it like this…every time.
That said, let’s talk about some alternative ways to clean. First off, don’t wait to clean it. If you wait for food to get hard and crusty, you will be all the more tempted to soak and soap, avoid this! Start by using a stiff brush, or a metal spatula to scrape off any undesirables. Add a little hot water and repeat. If there is a ton of food stuck to it, add a little water and boil over the stove for a few moments while scrapping. Repeat until the cast iron is clean. Dry with a paper towel (or other rag, don’t use nice towels). If you don’t dry thoroughly you may find a bit of rust in the pan, which is pretty hard to get off.
Another alternate method for stuck on food is to use a dish towel and salt as an abrasive. Pour salt into the pan and then use a little hot water (not enough to dissolve the salt) and rub until the food comes loose. This method can help get some minor rust removed if your skillet happens to have some. Rinse and dry when finished.
Despite the small issues with cleaning, you will find that it’s actually worth the effort as your meats and anything else come out flawlessly in this wonderful pan. While some may swear by this pan for everything, I’d be cautious to say so. It’s certainly perfect for several applications but not the be-all to end-all when it comes to cooking skillets. We will certainly have to explore some of those other options another time. In the meantime, grab a cast iron skillet and make up the meanest steak you can muster (or just about any other meat that sounds good). Thanks for reading!