New to Cast Iron
I have wanted to use cast iron for a long time, so my husband went out the other day to a garage sale and picked a couple up. One is a Griswold #6 and the other is a Griswold skillet. The skillet has rust on the bottom and is flaky, and the #6 needs cleaning and seasoning also. What do i need to do to clean them up and season them so the can be used? Also after they are seasoned how do i keep them that way so they dont get rusted or sticky. I do know not to leave them in water! Any help would be appreciated.
I’ve had cast iron forever – a house fire destroyed most of it – and, no, it wasn’t due to cast iron. The cast iron was just scooped up and thrown away to my horror. I’ve learned many things – sometimes slow is fast.
The thing you’ll learn about seasoning cast iron is that there is so much lore surrounding it you’ll just have to pick your version of what’s right. From horror stories of people painting it black with terrible pains or chemicals to the perfect mixtures of oils to make it smoother than snot on a wet bar of soap. Forget the horror, most cast iron is fine, even it it’s been used to water the dog and is well rusted.
CLEANING IT: clean it well – you are NOT going to keep what’s there, so bare metal is fine. Steel wool or sand and a rag and water, or SOS, or sand-blasting are all good places to start. You don’t cook on the outside of the pan so don’t worry soap and water is fine, but do clean the edge case stuff does touch it. You can also use sand-or-emery-paper – start at around 120 grit and move to around 220 grit for the fastest clean try using a orbital sander. If you do, heck, in only a few more minutes you can take it to 800 grit or 1000 grit – about the top of the line when it comes to sand or emery paper. Now you have a good, clean surface. Or you can just soak it in some water and soap and scrub it with steel wool until YOU are happy that it’s clean – then rise it well in water. Grandpa taught me that if you could see yourself in the bottom like a mirror that needed cleaning, it was done enough. I think that came from when they ‘flattened’ the bottom by using a high-speed lathe of some kind that left small ridges behind that would disappear when you had enough seasoning done and could stop. But looking at it, it seemed like that would be forever, that I’d still be working on it today. So I was given he job of ‘finishing’ the pan and that included the prongs that dropped down from the lids of some of the tops to help keep the water and flavors inside the skillet or oven.
But using emery paper or sand paper or not, it needs to be smooth and there should be no ‘sticky’ spots on it. That’s why there is the cleaning between each layer – starting with the first which is fresh from the box or garage sale.
Fill it as full as you are comfortable and bring it to a boil – and toss the water – do this several times – the idea is to get the soap and small grits of metal from the pours of the iron. NOW you are ready to season it. It also helps to ‘sterilize’ it, from what ever might have tried to start living inside the microscopic pours of the metal
NEVER leave a cast iron pan without a greasy covering no matter what it is – and never leave it wet – so practice – put it on the stove, and watch the last of the water evaporate, now take some oil and put it on a paper towel and wipe the inside and outside with it. Now you can put it away until you are ready to season it.
Some people (like me) keep a rag in a small glass bowl of oils, and when I’m done cleaning a pan, I’ll set the pan on the flame for a bit until I can’t see any water in it, and then ring the rag and wipe in and out just lightly – NEVER leaving a pool of oil or grease. (yes, you CAN mix bacon grease and olive oil, I only use peanut oil to season the pan since most of my cooking is low temp and I use olive oil – you can add a little fresh peanut oil to the olive oil to raise the burning point a bit, but remember you are using olive oil for a reson (what ever that reason might be)).
SEASONING THE PAN: having seasoned cast iron from when I has a small ranch to when I was a veggie to now you learn that different oils season differently, some better than others. When a veggie I used olive oil, sometimes mixed with peanut oil, when I was ranching I used animal fats. I learned that there is a difference.
Vegetable oils tend to leave a sticky surface – and you CAN season a pan using nothing but olive oil, but it takes forever to get that smoother than smooth surface you want. Like six or eight months of cooking in it nearly every day.
Now I do it a different way, and everyone will have their own way. Remember seasoning is full of myth – this is MY story of that myth. I’ll fill up the pan with peanut oil (despite the above, it’s ok because you aren’t going to keep it for much – and I keep it filled over night – to let the oil seep WAY down deep into the pours of the iron. I might even leave it a few days in a warm oven. This is easier when you have a wood stove, but most of us don’t and most of those who do, don’t use it to cook in or on – so over night in an oven set to warm will keep the pours ‘open’ and allow the oil to seep in -- and deep. On a hot summer day, putting it inside a larger cast iron pot or under some metal painted black and in the direct sun will make it warm enough – a day or a week is really all the same though I have it in MY head that a few days is better than overnight.
When YOU are ready, pour out the peanut oil (peanut oil burns at a higher temperature) and keep it on the side – remember that it will go rancid, it might even go rancid in the pan if you leave it there for a few weeks – but don’t worry. It’s all myth, the rancid part is true, but it is part of my myth).
Now, wipe it dryish. And warm in, and rub a slab of bacon on the inside – OR if you have a bacon container, get some bacon and rub it so all surfaces, in and out, are covered in a thin coat, just damp. I’d never heard of turning the pan over – but now I might, though it would let he oil that had seeped into the metal to start to come out – so on second thought I’d keep it up right. Then put it in the oven (remember you are seasoning the PAN not the bottom – so you want heat to surround it. I’ll turn an over up to about 100-125 and cook over night.
Then I’ll take a rough cloth, like a terry cloth wash rag, and wipe it out using some of the peanut oil, then I’d use more animal grease and coat it about the same, and leave it about 6-10 hours in the oven, then I’d wipe it out again, and do the same thing – take it out of the oven – it should be starting to turn black by now – and wipe it down with peanut oil and a terry cloth wash rag, and put on another coating of bacon or other grease.
Seasoning is building up layers of ‘carbonized’ fat – filling up the pours in the metal, sealing them, and forming a film. Just like painting using a spray can – several coats are better than a single one, and when covering a wall, especially a fresh bare wall, you might need three coats or more to cover it to the same color – but in the end it’s worth it. So twice a day or so I’d clean out the excess oil that’s formed and any lose carbon that may have formed using the terry cloth, and then add another coat of animal fat (grease) and continue.
After about three days, I’d turn the oven up to about 250 degrees and continue for two more days – this will help ‘set’ the layers together – remember this is all myth – everyone has their own way. I had a friend who said that the best way was to get a pan full of bacon fat, put it on a camp fire and keep it bubbling hot all day, setting it down on the wood during the day, and at night keeping it on a grill just above hot coals, you didn’t want the grease to catch fire. After a day, it was seasoned – you could pour out your fat – from hog to sheep – didn’t matter – and you were done – wipe it all down with a good coarse terry cloth rag with grease, let it cool a bit, add some water, let it skittle across the pan – add a little more – until you had about 1/8 inch simmering – then take another rag and clean it out – it would come out brown and black and sticky and all – and the pan was seasoned.
I go slower, but the last step is important –
LAST STEP: CLEAN AND PUT AWAY. Turn the oven off and let the pan cool. Now take the pan and put it on your cook stove – heat it up until when you splatter a little water in it, you get steam, then you just add water by the half table spoon and rock the pan so that the water reaches all corners, keep this up until you have water that’s about 1/8th-1/4 inch deep and has oily stuff floating on top – sop up this water, and add some more water, this time by the teaspoon and when it’s about ½ inch, you’ll also have some foating oily liquid, sop that up – rubbing the inside with the terry cloth to get the small pieces of this and that lose, and keeping the pan about the temperature where water will steam and just start to skittle, add about half an inch of water, and take the terry cloth and wipe the pan – then turn it off, add some water, whipe the pan until it’s dry, and you’ll have a dry pan because it’s hot – take your cloth that has some oil or grease on it and wipe it all over – inside and out – this keeps it from rusting, and helps keep seasoning the pan.
NOW use it – start with something hot – like say sautéed veggies or shrimp – and serve them with a sauce that you like – they will have some flavor of what ever you used to season the pan.
To clean – I’ll use a rag with water – not soaking the pan in water – but wipe it well, and making sure that the pan is warm, add a thin coat of oil in and out. To keep it from rusting. Don’t make things like bean soup, or use it for anything with an acid in it – like vinegar or tomatoes. Bacon and eggs, fried chicken (done right, it cooks slow not fast, and browns slowly, not fast, or potatoes of some kind – and turn often to brown – keep the temperatures medium to medium hot at first – this helps keep the seasoning process going, AND mixes the types of oils and fats in the pours of the iron.
The more kinds you have, the more kinds of abuse it can take.
Once you have cooked in your seasoned pan for a month – treat it like any other kind of pan --- just try to keep soap out. I’ve never used soap, though I have soaked a pan overnight in water and used plain steel wool to smooth it out—but I then heat a bit warmer but don’t use more grease – this kind of makes up for the thin layer of seasoning I’ve removed.
Some people say you have to be careful because of flavors – well that would mean you could never cook lamb, or salmon or liver or tuna or bacon in the pan – let alone something like chicken cacciatore or anything that has tomatoes or wine in it – just treat it like normal pots and pans, but keep the soap away.
I use wooden spoons and what looks like a spatula. But if I have something stuck on the bottom, like say beans that burn – I’ll switch to a metal spatula and scrape it clean with some liquid in the pan – and do it on the stove – and then wipe it with grease or oil – and put it away.
The pans lost in the fire came from my grandmother, great- and great-great grandmother – and God alone knows what’s been cooked in them and how they’ve been treated – from a small ‘chuck’ wagon, through the camping craze of the 1950’s, some coming to me as wedding presents – and the secret is low heat. When I took over the ranch in Nevada we had only a wood stove in the kitchen – even in the summer it was what we boiled water on and cooked bread in – we shoped in town every two weeks. One week we left a bag of groceries somewhere – in the cart, on the fender of the truck – somewhere – and we had no oil or bacon – just the grease can on the stove.
We decided that we wanted to see how long the finish on the pans would last. We cooked eggs for 4 every morning without bacon and without grease, ‘non-stick’ surface – and I can only guess that we cooked 50 eggs without extra grease or oil. Pancakes were different, I think we went just under a week of breakfasts before we had to start adding a thin layer of bacon grease to the pan. But dinners were fine – washing the pan was normal – a bit of hot water, wipe it dry – leave the grease for the pancakes, and use olive oil in the Dutch ovens and chicken fryers and pop-over pans.
So – it’s all myth – but that is my version of the myth. From filling the pan with bacon grease and Crisco and just setting it on a camp fire – from ON a hot coal log, to using a grill over coals when they got too hot tossing it out the next morning and calling it done, to heating it up small layer by small layer – they all work fine. Just keep soap out — and soaking overnight in plain water, while not recommended is better than soap.
The ONLY words that have real truth when it comes to cast iron is NO SOAP – EVER. And if you have to, then all you can do is put down several coats of seasonings before you use it again – and that’s just to fix what the soap has done, and maybe to get rid of the taste – I don’t know, I’ve never put soap in my pans, though I have used sand and a rag from the river every so often when I burn some rice to the bottom – but put it back on the stove, LIGHTLY oil or grease it, and forget it –
I’m sure someone has some ‘science’ behind seasoning – but to me it’s all myth – it’s what’s worked for you and your family, or others and their family. It bonds you to your pan, and your pan to you –you and your pan have energy invested in each other, so you won’t do things to hurt your pan, and it won’t hurt you.
Once I thought ‘blackened fish’ meant ‘black’ as in burnt – so I heated my skillet so hot it was about to glow and tossed in some oil that burst into flame and added the fish. Needless to say, I’d ruined my dinner and my seasoning – but keepiig my head, letting the pan cool evenly, I was able to take that pan and starting from the very beginning – using strips of bacon since I was out camping – I brought back a beautiful glass smooth seasoning in just a few days of paying attention to the pan, and keeping the pan damp with bacon grease.
In a few meals, I was able to boil water and make rice in the pan without much trouble at all –
When you see patterns of oil (or water) on the bottom of your pan, make sure they don’t match the grate to your stove – one day I came into the kitchen after my partner had gone out back for some more eggs as we saw company coming – and was amazed to see a perfectly round area devoid of oil – well, the center part of the wood stove lid had been removed! We’d often do this, or take the entire lid off just to heat the pan a bit faster if it had not been in the oven or on the surface, especially over the fire-box where we normally moved it when starting up the stove first thing in the morning as we saw if we could get a flame by cranking the side blower.
Cast iron has about as many myths as blonds – or composting (the juxtaposition is purely co-incidental!)
So, I hope I’ve helped you a bit, and not only do you get lots of iron from using cast iron, you can even use imperfect pans --- they warp because they got too hot or cooled too fast? They’ll still cook beans, a casserole, soup, fry a chicken, make poached, fried, or scrambled eggs, and even pancakes if you are in the unlikely position of not cooking pancake and egg sandwiches for the Queens breakfast. In which case you MIGHT be in trouble. Even cracks can be fixed, though a new pan or set of pans is cheaper. And if the crack is paper thin, a friend used a product made for automobiles, JB WELD, by simply heating up the pan, starting a screw at each end of the crack just to hold it open a bit, and when the pan was too hot for me, but barely cool enough for him to hold, shoved the paste into the crack as hard as he could and took out the screws. As hard as he could push the JB Weld, it never made it into the bottom of the pan, leaving a tiny crack to season itself closed.
It doesn’t even drip. But like he says, it’s an egg and potato and bacon pan, not a slow cook stew pan – just incase there’s something in the JB Weld that might come through with enough concentration to hurt him – but, as he pointed out--- a few uses and it would be ready for regular use again once it had seasoned up enough.
There are as many myths about seasoning a cast iron pot, pan, pop-over maker, poacher, or oven as there are people who think they know the best way. My way, although the best, is only one of many. I’ve skinned enough cats to know that most ways work just fine, the others just take longer and are more difficult than the others. And I’ve seasoned as a vegetarian using no animal fats or oils of any kind, to using mixtures of mutton lard, bacon grease, bear fat, Crisco, and peanut oil – and each method worked fine, olive oil was not a favorite, but worked best with a little peanut oil – but what remains a constant is that you have to keep the pan ‘smooth’ between oilings and while using a real piece of clean venison hide (or other untreated animal hide), is best, terry cloth is easier to get, and advantages over other materials is that it can ‘scour’ without scratching which is very important – the ‘smoothing’ should be done BEFORE seasoning starts, not during, and certainly not after. But a well seasoned pan will out-do Teflon in many respects, and will always give you your daily amount of iron – and don’t use soap.
I once thought I’d do my step-mother a favor and cleaned her seasoned pans handed down to her when her mother died. I took me three days, but I got them so clean you could see your face as if in a dirty mirror. I didn’t understand many of the words or contortions used for the next three to five minutes. They became the foundation of my first sets of cast iron. The one thing my grandfather kept telling me was to make sure that the pan is bright and shiny and smooth BEFORE you start, and once you start, do not stop, unless the pan is FULL of what you are using to season it – from bear to pig to cow to seed to legume – make certain that once you start, you don’t stop because the idea is to bond one layer to the one below it, and to get it ready for the one above it. And there goes the flaming campfire technique – but I’ve no doubt that it works.
I hope this helps you, and remember it is all about Myths and how much you believe in what you are doing. The more you believe, the better a pan or oven or poacher or egg fryer you have, and the better it will work, for you, and your great-grand children, and their children. Just remember you are using old technology where people moved slowly and cooked slower. So the best fried chicken is cooked slower so black never has a worry even in the back of your mind, let alone in the pan; and the slower you season your pans or griddles the longer they will last, the better they will work, and the happier your great-great-great grandchildren – and the better deal someone will get a t a garage sale.
Just as pressure cooking is the microwave of your grandmother – only it tastes better – cast iron is the quality that can’t go away, and a love that grows over the years. Grandma had my grandfather make a cast-iron skillet holder so that at 89 she could use a 16 inch skillet and fry a full chicken with potatoes, and then make the gravy as the chicken wept just a tiny bit oil onto the kitchen towel wrapped platter so dinner was done with the peas – and using the handles she could move the 5 pound skillet around on the stove like it was aluminum. Not only was it dinner from cast iron inherited from her mother, it was true love too. Grandma! What’s for dinner tonight? True Love, son, True Love. Go wash up.
Congratulations!!!! Cast Iron is my favorite way to cook.....all the benefits of nonstick but all the searing ability of traditional pans, and garage sales are definitely the best place to pick them up.
Sounds like they are definitely in for a good scrubbing. I always season mine in the oven though. Just soak a paper towel with oil and rub all over the pans. (traditionally vegetable shortening has been used but with all the health hazards I've been staying away from it.), and put them upside down in a low oven for an hour (upside down prevents the oil from pooling) Then wipe out with a paper towel and you're good to go. Even if you take good care of them, they should still be seasoned periodically. Maybe once a year or so. Oh, and be sure to open a window and turn on a fan if possible. It can start to smoke a bit.
Washing them right is critical. I never use soap. If something is stuck to it, I just sprinkle in some kosher salt for abrasion and use a damp sponge to get it clean. (If you do get soap in it, it's not the end of the world, but try to avoid it. It will keep the seasoning better). And to prevent rust, I always stick it in a low oven for 10 or 15 minutes to dry.
Enjoy your new pans!
Considering the condition they're in, I would give them a good heavy scrubbing with SOS until all the rust is gone, then give them a really good rinsing, dry with paper towels and set them on a low burner to completely drive all moisture out of the pores of the metal. When that's done, rub it with something oily like peanut oil or butter and put it back on low heat for half an hour or so. If it is solid cast iron, as in no wooden handles, you can put it in a slow oven for an hour or so. Sometimes I repeat this step. Couldn''t hurt. Then wipe it well with a paper towels and it should be good to go. I always wash my pans by hand immediately after use and rub with a paper towel with peanut oil before storing. Or if I've only done something like fry an egg and there is no heavey residual flavor to worry about, u just wipe the pan out with paper towels and put it away.