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My First Cast Iron: Seeking Care Instructions and Applications

I just purchased my first cast-iron skillet, a 40-year-old 8-incher, off of ebay. It seems to have pretty good season on it, which is the reason I went antique.

I've long anticipated owning one of these beauties, but I must admit I'm a bit apprehensive—what if I screw up that better-than-teflon finish? I'm currently in the process of my first seasoning: rubbing it with a thin coat of vegitable oil and putting it upside-down in a 350 ̊F oven for an hour, then turning off the oven and leaving the pan in there as it cools. This is just a technique I found on the internet. Is it a good one?

In general, I want to know about:

CLEANING:
-To soap or not to soap?
-Scrubbies: what kind?
-Salt as an abrasive?

SEASONING:
-What's the best method?
-How often?

APPLICATIONS:
-What can I make with this skillet that I could not make (as well) with out it? Besides cornbread?
-Are acidic foods okay? How about wet ones like stews?
-Any great cast iron cookbooks out there?

RESOURCES:
-Any websites/articles/books that will answer all my questions?

Thanks Hounds!!

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  1. First of all, understand that "Seasoning" in the context of cast iron is just a euphimism for "cooked-on grease". You want to leave that in place. Anything that threatens that is a Bad Thing.

    Cast Iron does not *distribute* heat as well as aluminum or copper, and it takes noticeably longer to heat up. But once hot, it *holds* heat well. Compared to other cookware, expect it to take longer to heat up and to cool down. I also find that I use slightly lower settings on the burner than ususal, once the pan is hot. You may or may not find this so in your use.

    CLEANING:
    No soap. Never. Never Ever. Period.
    Scrubbies: Just Don't
    Dishwasher: *Absolutely not*.
    Salt: yes. If you need to scrub seasoned cast iron, a mixture of (kosher) salt and oil is what you want to use.
    To clean normally, just rinse the pan while it's still warm, and wipe it out with a clean moist rag. Dry thoroughly and wipe all over with an oily rag or paper towel.

    SEASONING:
    How often: Whenever it needs it. A full re-seasoning shouldn't be necessary unless you somehow strip off or damage the existing seasoning.
    Just clean it as above, and unless you make a mistake, you should never need to re-season this pan. Proper, normal use will maintain the seasoning indefinitely.
    What to use: I like chicken fat best; the blobs you pull off fresh chicken. But you can use whatever fat/oil that works best for you. I'd probably avoid strong tasting fats like olive oil though.

    APPLICATIONS:
    Cast Iron browns really well. It's great for pan-broiling steaks, fried chicken, grilling sandwiches, etc.
    Since your pan is already well seasoned, you *can* simmer acidic foods in it, but that's not the best use of it. By the same token, a well seasoned pan will stand up to long braises/simmers of liquid foods, but that's not cast iron's stong suit. If that's what you mean to do, you might wish to choose a pot better suited to the purpose.

    Acidic foods, and simmering liquids will strip freshly-seasoned cast iron, so it's best to avoid those until the seasoning is thoroughtly broken in. In the meanwhile, use it for frying and cooking fatty foods to really temper the seasoning.

    RESOURCES:
    Check the cast iron threads over in the Cookware board.
    Chowhound, Lodge Manufacturing, Google.

    1. The tips you already received are great. When in doubt of the seasoning- cook bacon. cook lots and lots of bacon. No soap, just water. And if the pan is seasond well, this is enough to clean it. Make sure to dry well before storing. And make sure the pan is hot before you add food. That will also prevent sticking. I love my cast iron. Used this weekend to make home fries, cook cheeseburgers, make grilled cheese, and roast a small leg of lamb. oh- and also cooked bacon!!

      1. What illuminating, thorough, and speedy responses. Thanks PDXpat and macca!

        Just to clarify: Is my seasoning method alright?

        And: After using and rinsing the pan, do I dry it and then oil it? If so, Do I want to heat it again?

        Thank!

        3 Replies
        1. re: mhoffman

          Most of my cast iron is old ( as is yours). I simply wash and DRY REALLY WELL! I don't oil or reheat after cooking. I have no problems with food sticking- just make sure the pan is well heated before adding your ingredients.
          I never used the heating/oil method on my newer cast iron. I simply used it exclusively for bacon for a while. Now I treat it just like the ones I got from my grandmother!!

          1. re: mhoffman

            Sure, that seasoning method is perfectly fine, though as I said above I prefer animal fats to vegetable oils myself. But really, you shouldn't need to season it at all if it's been properly cared for these last 40 years. It should be very well seasoned by now. Just to reassure yourself, check the Lodge Manufacturing web site. Their recommended method is pretty similar IIRC.

            Again, the recommended cleaning procedure is rinse, dry, and lightly oil. No need to reheat, though it won't do any harm either. The reason for this oiling is to prevent rust during storage. You can get away without the coat of oil if you *dry it very well* and store it in a dry place. *Do not* put CI away damp.

            If it rusts, you'll have to strip it down to the metal, scrub off the rust with steel wool, and start seasoning from scratch. You paid good money, I imagine, for 40 years of seasoning. You don't want to lose that.

            Anyway, congratulations on your new pan. Hope you enjoy it as much as I do my vintage Griswolds.

            1. re: PDXpat

              For some reason no one outbid me at $10, but I got screwed on shipping: $20. No matter, $30 is a small price to pay in my book.

          2. I have three shiny smooth CI skillets. Two I bought at yard sales and one I bought new about 15 years ago. Their surfaces are like teflon.

            If your cast iron is well seasoned like these are, it's fine to use soap and/or a scrubby on it occasionally if you have to. I do and they are no worse for wear. I'd use salt and a paper towel if I were camping, but not in my kitchen.

            Generally hot water and a light brush is all they need.

            It's VERY important to dry them completely. I do it on a stove burner to make sure.

            1. My very first cast iron cornbread is in the oven!

              1. I've got a bunch of CI pans and I am using them for different purposes. I've got an egg pan that's smooth as a baby's proverbial. Omelettes, pancakes, fried eggs come out perfectly. Another pan I use exclusively for meat and don't really care if the grease builds up a little.

                1. Once your cast iron is well seasoned and used, they are not as delicate as people let one to believe. I have three cast irons that I've used for 20 years and I use soap and soft scrubbie and never had any problem. I've not had to re-season them for years. No dishwasher though. After washing, dry it over low heat so it doesn't rust.
                  For me, cast iron has limited use: great for browning meat before braising and pan cooking steaks, chops. Great for sauteeing potatoes; makes the best hash without sticking, even when potatoes are wet. Makes great upside down cakes, tart tatin and crusty cornbread.
                  Cast iron does react with acidic food but I've heard from other posters that they've used it for long braising and not had any problems.

                  1. My first cast iron cornbread just came out (green onion, cheddar):

                    http://img277.imageshack.us/img277/33...

                    And here is the crust that only cast iron can provide:

                    http://img261.imageshack.us/img261/58...

                    1. mhoffman, your enthusiasm is contagious, and your cornbread is beautiful. Thank you so much for this "made my day" thread. What experts you have brought forth! I would like to ask also:
                      I have a new Lodge chicken fryer. It has a pebbly inner surface--this will get smooth as grease accumulates? I have seasoned it once, using Lodge instructions. Also, it is about 10 inches wide and 3 1/2 inches deep, I am planning to use it in the oven for braised beef dishes, etc., not just frying chicken. This will work, yes? I know I shouldn't use acidic foods--are onions and garlic acidic?

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: blue room

                        Glad this thread made you happy, blue room. I'm glad any time I can contribute the CH community—with answers or with questions—since I have gotten so much out of it myself.

                        I'll derfer answering your question to the aforementioned experts.

                      2. I have a cast iron beanpot that's been in my family since the 1860s. (My gran, b.1903, told me "It was old when I was a little girl.")
                        I just do as they say above. Never use soap and dry it very well after washing.
                        I season it by roasting chickens.

                        1. While we don't use soap, my husband does find that a Dawn Spin Brush (which we bought specifically to use on non-stick items since it doesn't scratch their surfaces supposedly) works very well to get anything that is more food-like and less oil-like. We do reheat our oil when we season, just like we do with our wok, and we've found it works better that way, but our pan is a lot newer.

                          1. I have a 40+ year old cast iron skillet. It is well-seasoned and I always wash it by hand with soap and water. I usually air dry it. I learned this from my mom who does the same with her cast iron. Once it is well seasoned, washing with soap and water is no problem.

                            1. I successfully seasoned my new Lodge pan yesterday, after some trial and error. (There are 800 conflicting websites/sets of instructions!) I began with the Lodge company's instructions--just coat with oil, bake at 350 for one hour. Didn't work, left pan tacky. Another suggestion, to bake at 500 for one hour, BINGO! Pan is now dry and covered with hard smooth oil. Some sites say animal fat is softer than vegetable oil, so don't use chicken or bacon, but of course MANY people don't agree. (I used canola.) I'm hoping the pan will just keep getting better and better.