For many people, the only cast iron they own is a favorite skillet or treasured pan that has been passed down from one generation to the next. These wonderfully aged pieces already have the smooth black patina that gives cast iron its unique cooking surface. But cast iron doesn't come with that look and new users need to know how to "season" their new pieces.
Seasoning, the process whereby the pores in cast iron absorb oil and create a natural non stick finish, is not complicated and shouldn't discourage first-time cast iron users.
1. In order to start the process, wash, rinse and thoroughly dry the new skillet or dutch oven to remove the protective wax coating. I recommend drying the utensil over a low flame to remove all moisture from the porous metal, 2–3 minutes.
2. Preheat the oven to 500°F for 30 minutes. Put 2 tablespoons of liquid vegetable oil into the utensil. Do not use saturated fat, such as butter or bacon fat, because this fat will become rancid during storage. Use a paper towel to coat the entire surface of the utensil with the oil, inside and out -- including all corners, edges and lids.
3. Line a large baking pan or cookie sheet with aluminum foil and place the utensils on the sheet, with the pot upside down and the lid right side up, to prevent the oil building up in the concave areas.
4. Bake the utensils for 1 hour, turn off the heat and allow the skillet or dutch oven to cool completely in the oven with the door closed, 4–6 hours.
5. Remove from oven and wipe with a paper towel. This completes the seasoning process and you are ready to use your nicely seasoned cast iron skillet.
In addition to seasoning, the general care of cast iron is also important. By following these easy steps, you can ensure your cast iron pieces will be around to serve you for a long time to come.
1. Always wash with a mild detergent, rinse and dry thoroughly. I recommend placing a thoroughly rinsed utensil over heat or flame, 2–3 minutes, to remove any moisture from the porous metal. Never scour or use a dishwasher. (You may use a plastic sponge to remove stubborn food particles).
2. Cook food with little water content the first few times. Avoid cooking acidic foods such as tomatoes unless combined with other food. Uncover hot food as you remove from the heat, because steam may remove the protective coating.
3. Rust, a metallic taste or discolored foods are signs of improper or inadequate seasoning. If this occurs, wash thoroughly and re-season.
4. Since cast iron heats evenly, it is not necessary to use extremely high cooking temperatures. Best results are obtained with medium to medium-to-high temperature settings. Do not overheat or leave empty utensil on the burner. Never place the utensil on an already heated burner; rather, allow the utensil to heat as the burner does.
5. Always store cast iron utensils with tops or lids off so moisture won't collect inside. Store in a warm, dry place. A paper towel placed inside the utensil will absorb any moisture and prevent rust.
That black finish that good cooks covet will develop over time, providing years of good cooking and creating a new heirloom for future generations.
How To Clean An Old Black Cast Iron Pot
Extensive use of a cast iron pot will cause a crust to build up on the inside and outside of the pot. No amount of washing will prevent this build-up.
To clean follow this procedure:
• Wash pot as normal.
• Place empty pot in an open fire, fireplace, wood heater or in campfire.
• Allow pot to cook until the residue is burned away.
• HANDLE CAREFULLY - remove from the fire and set aside, allowing slow cooling until the pot is cool enough to touch.
• Use light sandpaper or steel wool to scrub the inside and outside of the pot.
• Rinse thoroughly then follow seasoning instructions for a new pot.
• Your 20-year-old pot will look the same as when it was new. Follow the same general care procedures.