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Cast Iron Seasoning and Cleaning

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Had a George Forman small grill that didn't get hot enough for my frozen turkey burgers and wound up steaming them. (I had also witnessed some plastic smell coming from the unit.) The non-stick skillet I used cooked the turkey burger alright without added oil, but left an oily exterior when cooked in oil.

I thought a cast iron skillet might be an improvement. Pulled out the unused skillet given to me years ago, a Lodge 10-12" one. It felt already seasoned, but for good measure I wiped it in a bit of coconut oil (I do not desire animal shortening.) On the Lodge website, they referred to the skillet as already seasoned. I thought the cookware should always be wiped in oil first. It did seem strange that the surface seemed so smooth (unlike my carbon rolled steel surfaced wok which I had to season.)

I placed the skillet in a 350 degree oven, face down on a sheet of aluminum foil, and after one hour and cooling time, removed it and wiped down the extra oil on a paper towel.

I turned up the heat on the electric stove, and later saw smoke coming from the surface. I removed the extra oil. I had thought that coconut oil had a high smoke temperature. (This coconut oil was refined, organic, expreller pressed oil.)

I lowered the heat, placed the frozen turkey burger on the hot skillet, and got the sizzle. I did not put oil in the skillet, since my experience with the non-stick surfaced skillet had the burger cooking in its own fat. When I had used oil in the nonstick skillet, the result was too oily. When I flipped the burger in the cast iron skillet, part of the burger stuck to the skillet surface. Not too much fat had come out of the burger during the initial cooking. What I saw and heard gave me the impression that the intense heat was evaporating/vaporizing the fat on contact, unlike what I had witnessed with the nonstick skillet. Only part of the burger had the grill marks as the rest of the burger had sort of curled up.

When I put the second burger in, I added some olive oil, and the burger came off the surface more easily and seemed to cook better. These were low fat turkey burgers, for the record.
Maybe oil should always be used on a cast iron skillet, regardless of the food being used? I am new to this cooking equipment!

The skillet was very hot after I turned the burner's heat off. After cooling, I rinsed out the skillet, but some fat or turkey remains had stuck to the surface. Lodge instructs to not use steel wool for cleaning, but that was the only thing that got these food particles off. I rinsed the surface, dried it, and then applied a small amount of coconut oil again to the surface, heated the pan up gently, and then took a paper towel and did a fast wipe.

I cannot imagine attempting to clean such a skillet until after having let the cookware cool off, which seemed to take at least 20 minutes if not longer.

Is this procedure correct? Is there some other oil that is recommended for the surface after each use? Should oil be used to the surface after every use? This skillet weighs a ton, and is not as easy maintenance as the non-stick pans I have, but I figured for cooking a turkey burger and fish, I might get a better result, healthier and better tasting. It seems that the cast iron imparts a more intense fuller heat to the food.

I have used stainless steel skillets, non-stick, both are easy maintenance, but cast iron seems best if you have time to clean up, muscles to move the skillet, and patience for the seasoning.

Was my seasoning procedure recommended? (I did not apply oil to the outside, as I saw no reason to do so. I applied oil only to the inner surface and the edges of the skillet.)

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  1. -----

    I think your real issue is in how to cook such a lean product. Low heat (about 225 degrees) is the key. Oil or additional fats, is the cooks preference.

    Generally I steam turkey burger and be done with it. Browning lean turkey is just for looks in my opinion. So if you desire browning, plan on it near the end of cooking cycle.

    As far as the cast iron issue goes, I feel turkey is too lean and contains a high moisture content, to justify cooking in it.

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    1. Oil should be applied to the inside, outside, handles... everything when seasoning the skillet. The question is, what color is it? If the pan is black it is Lodge's pre-seasoned skillet; these are relatively new to their product line. You won't need to do much to the pan to continue the seasoning process. If it's a silver "traditional" style cast iron you'll need to continue to develop a seasoning. The main idea is to create a water/moisture barrier to resist rusting and develop a slick, "non-stick" surface. You had it right, apply the oil and bake it.

      **You sound health concious which is a good thing: You should read up on the recent research pertaining to teflon coated non-stick pans.

      Second part: ALWAYS add oil to ANY pan or ANY cooking surface - even non-stick pans. If you don't, you'll get sticking just like you saw.

      Third: Invest in a plastic scrub brush. It won't damage the seasoning you've worked so hard to develop like steel wool will. Some folks will say to use kosher salt to scrub the pan. I say why waste good salt if you have a scrub brush that will do the same thing, perhaps even work better??! If you still have bit stuck on the pan put some water in it, boil the water and then scrub the pan again - that should do the trick.

      Fourth: All oil will smoke if it gets hot enough. I can tell you that cast iron will get VERY hot and most oils you add will smoke if you just let them sit there and heat up! You did nothing wrong just don't add the oil until the pan has warmed a bit and cook soon after adding the oil.

      Fifth: Once the pan is cleaned make sure you wipe it dry and put it back on the stove top for a few minutes to evaporate all the water. Water + iron = rust. Rust = not a good flavor enhancer. It will take some time to cool down, you're just going to have to get used to that.

      Sixth: Once you develop the seasoning, cast iron is pretty forgiving. Aside from the weight of the pan, as long as you don't put it in the dishwasher, it's pretty bullet proof. With a little care it's a awesome piece of cookware.

      7 Replies
      1. re: HaagenDazs

        HaagenDazs - The cast iron skillet is black, and did feel like it had already been seasoned, but due to the uniformity of that finish, I thought I had to add my own seasoning, and especially since this skillet hadn't been used in over four years.

        Why would the handle and outside need to be seasoned other than if the entire skillet in my case had already been preseasoned by the manufacturer? Everything feels sort of smooth and not like what you described the gray colored skillet would be. (Even with my carbon rolled steel wok, I have only seasoned the inner surface and done ok. I do rinse it out after use, dry it, and then place it on a gently heat on a burner to dry off any remaining moisture.)

        I did sense that the turkey burger as getting zapped with more intense, perhaps more uniform heat than I have gotten in stainless steel and nonstick surface skillets. But the result wasn't THAT much better to justify the extra work.

        RShea78 - When I cooked the frozen turkey burger in the George Forman grill, more liquid/fat was expelled and drizzled down the surface to the collection pan. With the cast iron skillet, it looked like that liquid or fat didn't have a chance to exist for long before it got zapped with the heat. The fact that the burger curled up toward the center probably indicated that the heat was too high. The first attempt resulted in a pretty dry burger. The second one, done with a little bit of oil, was less dry and not as curled.

        I don't eat red meat, just poultry and fish, so the only uses for the cast iron skillet I can think of (staying away from acidic tomato type foods in this kind of surface) for my taste would be for frying fish, turkey burgers, and pancakes. (The nonstick skillet works great for the Hodgson Mills Buttermilk Whole Wheat Pancakes - it is hassle free. Perhaps the cast iron skillet would result in a crisper exterior. With the nonstick, I do not have to use any oil or butter in the pan.)

        1. re: FelafelBoy

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          Most Ground Turkey (GT) is 85/15, thus needs gentle cooking as fat and water content is almost equal. Dry heat sticks or burns. (Ever try broiling GT?) - Wet or oiled heat we come out a bit better. A true non-stick surface even better yet.

          Now water at high heat will pull at the seasoning (the non-stick effect) up from the cast iron surface. Add more fat or change to something else.

          Bottom line is to understand lean cooking -vs- moderate fat cooking.

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          1. re: RShea78

            I'm not clear as to your reference to the "water at high heat will pull at the seasoning." From your post, it seems that a bit of oil and gentle heat is more suitable to low fat ground turkey. What did you mean by the pulling at the seasoning with water at high heat? Sorry for the confusion but I'm having trouble understanding what your point was about the use of water and the non-stick effect. Regarding cooking, were you saying to use it or not use it as another medium to cook the GT?

            1. re: FelafelBoy

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              First of all the water in reference is in the GT or in other words water content of the GT.

              Secondly Cast Iron (CI) gets seasoned with a fat that in essence closes up the pores to make the surface stick resistant. We can strip (pull) the seasoning / fat layer by soap and water or just by boiling water in CI for a few minutes.

              At frying temperatures water normally would get suspended by the fat in the food. However, GT being low in fat, the water content from the GT comes in direct contact with the CI pulling at the seasoning layer. The end result is almost an instant fusing of the meat onto the CI surface.

              In reguards to cooking with CI, I do not recomend it for low-fat cooking unless the user fully understands the ins and outs of using it.

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              1. re: RShea78

                Interesting explanation. Something like what cookbook author Shirley Corrier would have done to explain the chemical reaction between foods and/or cooking equipment!!

                That might explain what happened with my next experiment. I went back to the George Forman grill and wiped both sides of the lean frozen turkey burger with olive oil, shut the lid on the grill, and the result was a more moist burger. It did stick to one surface of the lid, and I know I did not put the same amount of oil on both sides - one side was still a bit dry.

                Next time I use the CI skillet, I will definitely use oil. I had gotten into the habit of cutting down on the use of oil other than for making stir fries. I just associate CI skillets for making fried chicken, fish. I'd rather bake and/or steam those foods.

                1. re: FelafelBoy

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                  Well, low fat cooking seems to have an association with hair loss. The cook pulling their hair out, that is... ;-)

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          2. re: FelafelBoy

            If your skillet is black, you're good to go. Seasoning won't deteriorate over time. As far as seasoning the outside and handles, etc., it's just like I said before: to prevent and resist rusting; but again, you don't have to worry about that if its already done. Carbon steel will rust too but cast iron is a rust machine!

        2. Hey FelafelBoy,
          I have been reading recently about all this low-fat craze that's going on in the Western world, and I getting more and more convinced that animal fat is good for you. (Not to mention tastier.) If we seem to be going back to what our grandmothers cooked in (ie. cast iron), maybe we will soon realize what our grandmothers cooked with is better for us as well...??? If you're interested, check out Paleodiet.com. Best wishes.

          2 Replies
          1. re: fatfan

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            fatfan: My granny will be 93 in a few days living for 2 years in a residence center. She has standing orders from her doctor to eat much of what she wants. Every so often the dietitian orders up those fake scrambled eggs and she has a cow over them. If she doesn't see her 2 eggs with intact yolks staring at her in the morning, she will soon assume a new role of being their worse nightmare... Hauntings will be optional, but the trying to kill me with this slop is the most used line.

            2 weeks ago I get a call from the dietitian trying to understand granny's grumble over the "NO Hot dog franks". (Hot dog franks to her/ fake breakfast sausage)

            I told them several times granny hates the chicken or turkey franks and actually wants an honest to goodness pork breakfast sausage link. I told them to carefully ask her if pork pattys are acceptable and she went that way to avoid the confusion or casings issues.

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            1. re: RShea78

              RShea78: Your granny made it to 93 and now they are trying to tell her what to eat. What's the joy in life - especially at 93 - if they are not even letting you eat what you want? And how long do they want to keep her going on a joyless life of fake eggs and sausage? It all seems pretty ridiculous to me. It's obvious what she thinks - it amazes me nobody wants to listen.

          2. I have cast iron that was my mother's. She did not care to cook although she was quite capable, but I can guarantee you that she surely did NOT fuss with taking care of the pans. That being said, her cast iron is all black Wagner Ware, and all you have to do to it is - yes, I'm going to say it - wash it with soap and water, non of that scrubbing it with salt ideas - and put on high heat on the stove burner, heat it up, take it off, rub it lightly with vegetable oil, and let it cool away from the heat, then wipe off the excess with a paper towel. I have tried the "heat in oven method etc, etc, and all I have ever gotten is a sticky, greasy mess that I had to wash with soap and water!!!