Friday, September 25, 2015

Taking Care of Cast Iron

Cast iron is one of my favorite cooking surfaces. It can handle high heat and low heat, heats evenly, goes from stove-top to oven easily and is easy to clean and resilient. Once it is cured properly, it has a surface that is rust resistant, nonstick, and nonreactive to acidic foods. You have to care for your cast iron properly, but fortunately that isn't hard to do.

Let's deal with some terminology up front: the cure, or seasoning. Seasoned cast iron has had a layer of oil baked into the porous iron. During the baking, the oil denatures and forms a water-proof, non-porous, and non-stick coating. The oil chemically changes and becomes a polymer coating that binds chemically to the surface of the cast iron. This coating is pretty durable, and so well-seasoned cast iron can be used for pretty much any application. However, it shouldn't be washed off with soap and it doesn't do too well if it just sits in water for a few days. Less established seasonings can be damaged by acidic foods, so avoid high-acid foods until you've used you cookware a few times.

To clean your cast iron, you only need 3 things: a stiff scrub brush, a pan scraper, and warm water. A stiff brush and warm water will get off most of the mess, but a pan scraper will help get off anything really stuck down. Again, you do not need soap to clean off your cast iron, as it can hurt the cure. If you really feel the need, use a mild detergent and rinse if off thoroughly.

Dry the cast iron thoroughly either with towels or letting it sit on a iron on a burner set to low to get it it hot but not scalding. While it is still warm, rub on a thin layer of cooking oil. This will reinforce the seasoning.

I own 3 pieces of cast iron that I use regularly. The first is a one burner griddle that I use for making toasted sandwiches, eggs, bacon, and searing meats.

I have a two burner skillet that I use for anything breakfast. It's great for pancakes, bacon, hash browns, or anything else you need to make in bulk for breakfast. Though, in my unfortunate experience, it is not very good for making scrambled eggs.

By far my favorite piece that I own is my 10" deep skillet. I use that for pretty much everything: sauteing, searing, one pan meals, pizza, casseroles, and breakfast. This one is my workhorse.

In the end, it really is not hard to take care of your cast iron, and if you take good care of your cast iron, it will take good care of you. When you take good care of your cast iron, just a little effort will reward you with some really display-worthy cookery that will last you a lifetime.

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