Exhibit A: The cast iron
Not too long ago I was given an old cast iron skillet that had seen better days. The pan needed some TLC before it could be used, to say the least. I’m not a major germaphobe, but I am a beautiful cookware lover, and to say that I want my cast iron cookware “OCD level” seasoned would be an accurate description. So you can see why the skillet below didn’t make the cut. I was picturing little flecks of carbon and someone else’s cooking attaching themselves to my food, not to mention my food sticking to the pan because it was not a perfectly intact nonstick surface. But I knew this pan had the potential to become something great.
There is a lot of info out there on how to clean cast iron, which is great for a “facial” or good daily scrub. But for a more serious case, a little more than a facial is needed- think plastic surgery. Time to bust out the big guns- Easy Off. In order to strip this pan down to its original metal surface, 2 good long oven degreaser treatments were needed. This process will work on anything made from cast iron such as dutch ovens, griddles and pots.
For this project you will need:
- oven degreaser such as Easy Off
- large plastic bag
- protective gloves
- steel wool such as Brillo
- flax seed oil or other neutral vegetable oil
- paper towels
First I went outside and placed the pan in a large bag. I probably (definitely) should have worn gloves throughout this process, but I like to live dangerously. Proceed at your own risk and follow the directions on the cleaner bottle. I sprayed the whole pan to coat it very well with the oven degreaser, making sure to get the back and handle too. I secured the bag and let it sit outside for about 2 hours. Next, I brought the whole thing inside and laid it in my sink, where I removed the bag and got to work scrubbing with steel wool. The result was a semi-clean surface. Below are photos of the initial process and result.
As you can see, the result was less than satisfying, so I repeated the process. This time, I left the cast iron skillet in the bag overnight. The results were much better- an almost perfectly clean surface, free of oil and carbon flakes.
The final step in restoration and preparing cast iron for cooking is to season the pan. This should be done as soon as possible after cleaning so that rust does not form on the surface. If this should happen, simply rub with a little steel wool and dry fully. Vinegar is also known to remove rust from pans.
This next step is the most time-consuming. I preheated the oven to 450°F (about 230°C). The clean cast iron was then placed on a heavy duty cookie sheet. I poured a small amount of flax oil onto a paper towel and very thinly coated the inside of the pan with the oil. It is important to rub the surface including the handle until the oil has been absorbed. I turned the skillet over and repeated the process on the back side of the pan. Oil should not drip or pool under the pan. If this happens, too much oil was used and needs to be wiped again until only the thinnest trace of oil remains.
Next, I placed the cookie sheet with the pan in the oven and allowed it to sit for 30 minutes. I removed it from the oven and let cool for another 30 minutes. I repeated this process 2 more times, until the pan was a uniform dark color. The result was a beautiful, hard, nonstick cooking surface that I could not wait to use!
More about Cast Iron- Care, Cleaning and Cooking
I learned how to season cast iron in a Facebook group that I belong to for wok cooking. Using the same seasoning method, I was able to take a new hand hammered carbon steel wok and make it into a fantastic cooking vessel. One of the best things about using seasoned metal for cooking is that you avoid all the chemicals used in the process for making Teflon and other nonstick cooking surfaces. Using oil and heat to make a nonstick surface is a time honored, natural way to keep your cooking healthy and safe.
Once cast iron is seasoned, it is ready to use immediately. I recommend cooking something fatty the first few times you use it, in order to further build the patina coating. As a special splurge after I seasoned my pan, I made a batch of delicious fried chicken. People also recommend making bacon, popcorn, or sauteeing aromatics such as onions in plenty of oil.
As for care, I wash my cast iron and wok using soap and water with a mildly abrasive sponge (like the Scrub Daddy) just until any food bits are removed. I then place it on the stove and heat it until ALL the water has evaporated, give the inside a quick wipe with oil and then heat for about 3 minutes more. I like to store my pan in the oven so that it does not collect dust on the surface.
So, are you a cast iron cook? What’s your favorite thing to make in cast iron? Comment below!