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Cast Iron - huh?

So I read all these cast iron threads and hear about building up layers, black flakes coming off, and even one person that says they can peel off big chunks of built up seasoning layers.

I want to know what in the hell you people are doing to your pans to experience this stuff?

I consider my pans seasoned (as I have been using them for decades), yet I don't have a layer of anything "built up" on the bottom. When I look into my pans I feel as though I am seeing the actual iron in the bottom...not the burnt on crap people describe and seemingly strive for.

My pans are black and what I would describe as "clean" without any build-up of crap on the bottom.

So, why the craze of "building up layers"? That just seems to bring headaches to people...

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  1. I am the one that had the huge flakes, and honestly, I have no clue wtf was done to that pan. My mom and grandmother were both terrible cooks and that is who I got it from. Decades of buildup that never were scrubbed I guess. None of my pans are skanky like that anymore.

    1 Reply
    1. re: LaureltQ

      The buildup is what I don't get either. I don't usually use soap, but I do scour my pans with each use...from scotch brite pads to metal scrubbers...the bottoms come clean. I see no reason to neglect a pan in the false name of "seasoning".

    2. 'I have been using them for decades' There is your answer.

      1 Reply
      1. re: mwhitmore

        Even my "new" pans don't suffer this affliction.

      2. Got back into CI a few years ago when I picket up a Griswold & Wagner skillet for $1 each at a yard sale. They were totally crusty with UNKNOWN stuff... so I went quick & dirty on them with cheapo spray oven cleaner. Basically stripped them bare, then reseasoned. USING CI OFTEN is what makes it work well.

        1. I'm with you. I've been using my cast iron for many years, and although they are so seasoned that they function as well as any new non-stick pan, there is no build up or "flakes".

          After each use, I don't scour them, but I do wash them with warm to hot water and just a little detergent until clean. I also make it a point to not let any food sit or dry on the pans. I'm not sure if this is the best way to take care of them, but it's worked for me!

          http://burghfeeding.blogspot.com/

          1. Hi, Jay:

            If your pans are glossy black after having been seasoned and cooked in, there *is* a layer built up. It may be thin, but it's there.

            I think the problems you are referring to others experiencing fall into 3 categories, none of which you apparently experience:

            1. They try to season with far too much oil.
            2. They char foods and then don't clean the char away.
            3. They try to season the pan without stripping it.

            The fixation on "building up layers" is an I-want-it-now mentality. Unfortunately, this makes it tempting to think that what the person wants is some *depth* to the polymerized coating, when in fact that is a recipe for frustration. As you point out, when done right (or slowly, etc.) there really isn't any perceptible layer of "crap". But there is a thin coating there.

            Aloha,
            Kaleo

            3 Replies
            1. re: kaleokahu

              We know there may be a polymerized layer there, but there is nothing that threatens to flake off.

              You are absolutely correct that people want instant gratification.

              I remember seeing things "seasoned" way back when. It got one coat of lard after reaching a scorching hot temperature and then was simply used.

              There was none of this "you need to heat the pan to 362 degrees and let it bake at a 32 degree angle for 2 hours, 37 minutes, & 21seconds...then repeat that 6 times before the sun sets on Sunday."

              Folks think there is some sort of magic to seasoning cast iron.

              THERE ISN'T, PEOPLE. NO SECRETS, NO TRICKS.

              Season it and use it. Cook fatty or oily dishes. In the beginning don't use soap...just scour the stuck on bits. Once the pan is sufficiently black you can use soap if you wish. I hardly ever do...opting for a stiff scrubbing and hot water...wipe dry with a paper towel and put it away.

              The best thing...it's cast iron...you can't screw it up.

              1. re: JayL

                Exactly -- use it, clean it, dry it. It's a piece of metal you put between a heat source and your food, to transfer heat from A to B. It's not the space shuttle.

                The only "trick" I use is to wash my pan the moment I'm done cooking. Food goes from pan to plate, pan gets a quick rinse, a little spray of dilute dishwashing liquid (not essential but I prefer it and it's a minuscule amount of soap), quick once-over with a brush, and rinse. Then the pan goes back on the still-hot burner to dry.

                Takes less than 30 seconds, and it's a quicker and easier clean than if I wait until later. I've never done any magical seasoning rituals, never had any flakes or chunks (eww...) falling off, and I've never had anything less than an excellent cooking surface.

                People seem to like to make it hard, when it just isn't. I really don't get that.

              2. re: kaleokahu

                kaleo, i was looking at my "dry spice" pan the other day: this is a small CI pan i use exclusively to roast my spices for indian cuisine...and to toast coconut and peanuts. I realized the coconut oil has created the thinnest possible polymerized coating over several years of cooking! not even trying to and i seasoned the pan perfectly!

                THAT gives an idea of how thin the oil layer should be to avoid buildup.

              3. "You are absolutely correct that people want instant gratification."

                Yep.

                They are led to believe that a run in the oven with some vegetable oil will season their pan.

                Just the word "season" suggests otherwise.

                1. For the record, I don't think that the horrific huge chunks of black mystery material that came off of the pans that I got from my mom are normal. Once I chipped them off (and they were primarily on the outside of the walls of the skillets), they have not returned. I use my cast iron for normal cooking of anything but the messiest stuff, including searing meats and then making pan sauces. I clean them with water and soap with a nylon bristled scrub brush or scouring pad.

                  The most effective way to improve the surface of cast iron, IMO, is cooking bacon, and lots of it.

                   
                   
                  1 Reply
                  1. re: LaureltQ

                    I agree.

                    "The most effective way to improve the surface of cast iron, IMO, is cooking bacon, and lots of it."

                    It's a tough job, but someone has to do it.

                  2. You (and others) are quite correct that people trying to make their pan fully non-stick are looking for instant gratification.

                    There's an obvious reason for this: because well seasoned cast iron performs better than new pans do, and building up the seasoning via cooking takes time.

                    It's tempting because there is no convincing explanation (AFAIK) why the surface of a slowly-seasoned-by-cooking pan can't be mimicked in a quicker manner. There is, of course, a lot of experiential data that quick seasoning doesn't work as well. Maybe no one has found the ideal method of quick seasoning yet; or maybe some as-yet-unexplained byproduct of months/years of repeated cooking makes for better results than are possible with quicker methods. But until that little mystery is explained, the impatient and the tinkerers (and I am both) will likely keep trying to make new pans perform like old ones.

                    (I wrote up some of my experiments here:
                    http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/785489 )