I’m partial to cast iron cookware. I also use stainless-clad aluminum pots and pans for soups and blanching vegetables and making oatmeal, but my daily-use pans are a set of five Lodge Cast Iron Skillets.
I say ‘set’ like I went down one day to my local Williams-Sonoma and got a deal for buying the 5-Piece Damn Heavy Collection by Lodge. In fact, each piece has been acquired over years. I bought one of my 10-inchers for $5 at a thrift store when I was a college kid. At the time it was patina’d orange with rust and neglect. I’m pretty one of the big-guns was handed down from my Grandma (aren’t all cast iron skillets handed down from someone’s Grandma?). The baby of the set I bought new because I needed something small to cook eggs in for my daughter’s breakfasts, but at $13 it’s not like it was a break-the-bank investment.
The skillets sit stacked up on my stove all the time. I don’t bother to put them away because I use them multiple times a day, they are (as I may have mentioned) rather hefty, and I like to deck my stove out in as much black metal as I can get my hands on.
They’ve been moved, lost, found, forgotten about, remembered, abused, scrubbed, and always come back better than ever. Go at a Teflon-coated pan with a metal spatula or whisk and you’ll come away with flaked Teflon (and maybe an emergency room bill, but that’s another story).
Take a scouring pad to your gorgeous shiny stainless and suddenly you have brushed stainless, ala 3-year-old. Apparently the high-end copper stuff discolors over high heat. Cast iron has none of these frailties. There is very little you can do to damage it, since it’s just a big solid hunk of, well, iron.
The only way you can really mess cast iron up is to leave a bunch of soapy water sitting in it for an extended period of time. Even then, you can call a Mulligan. Cast iron is easy to win back with a simple re-seasoning.
The Lodge official method for re-seasoning calls for coating a clean pan with shortening or oil and baking the pan in the oven for at least an hour to allow the iron to absorb the fat and form a naturally stick-resistant coating. I have a faster, stovetop way, which is based on how you season carbon steel woks. Woks, like cast iron, develop a black patina of seasoning which prevents food from sticking to the cooking surface.
My Simple Cast Iron Seasoning Technique
To season a cast iron skillet wok-style, heat your clean skillet over high heat for several minutes. You want that puppy good and hot. Now, turn off the heat and let the skillet cool slightly. Pour a tablespoon or two of high-heat fat, like grapeseed oil or vegetable shortening or lard into the hot pan. Experts say that you shouldn’t use saturated fats because of rancidity issues, but if you are using your pan twice a day that’s not really a concern, and lard is, in my experience, the absolute best fat for seasoning cast iron.
Immediately start rubbing the fat into the pan with a lint-free rag that you don’t much care for. I keep a few dedicated kitchen towels around for this purpose. Your rag will turn brown and icky. Keep rubbing the fat into the pan until the pan is black and shiny.
Now, put the pan back on the heat and get it quite hot again (that handle’s hot, so make sure you are using a pot holder or towel to move the skillet). Let cool slightly and rub yet more fat into the pan. Repeat one more time for a total of three heating/fat-rubbing sessions. On that last session, keep rubbing the pan until you aren’t seeing additional brown gunk coming off on the towel.
All done! A little more hands on and active, but total time is about 10 minutes and you can get on with the business of making dinner.
Now the best way to keep a cast iron skillet seasoned is to do a little mini-version of the stovetop seasoning method each time you use it. Wash your skillet (should be easy to do since the patina makes it virtually non-stick) by wiping it clean or rinsing it out with warm water and, if necessary, giving it a quick scrub without soap. Place the skillet over high heat until any additional moisture boils off and the pan is absolutely dry. Turn off the heat, throw a little oil in your skillet, rub it around and store your pan until you next use it.
If you are like me, that will be in about 3 hours.
What do you cook in? Cast iron, non-stick, stainless? Have you thought about using cast iron but balked at the idea of a pan you can’t dishwasher
Be Grim says
Cast iron all the way! I'm like you, with a perpetual stack of iron ever waiting on the stovetop. When the largest skillet (a Griswold with a self-basting lid, "passed down") is full of dinner, I have to ask Sweetie to carry it to the table, it's so heavy!
Edible…As I commented before, I use cast iron skillets and dutch ovens alot. Good info on the seasoning and up keep of these beasts. I truly think the older skillets are the best…in comparing the old to the new, I find that the older ones are much thinner..hence, a stronger, denser material, conducting heat much more evenly. I have resurrected old cast iron for many years and given them as precious gifts to only those that appreciate something that will last their life time and then some…Thanks for an excellent blog.
I love my cast iron! It started with camp dutch ovens and Girl Scouts but quickly moved into the kitchen. My skillets live on the stovetop too. My daughters tease me mercilessly but know that someday they will use these same pans. My grandma's skillet and her griswold muffin pans are my favorites.
I actually broke a cast iron pan this winter – we had one that came from an estate sale, that had sort of torn top-to-bottom near the handle (no idea how) and been welded back together. I dropped it and it landed on the handle and handle and a whole chunk of pan broke off!
I use a cast iron skillet, a heavy-bottomed stainless saucepan, and a heavy-bottomed stainless soup pot most often; we have a cast-iron griddle that is good for having guests because it covers two burners, but I don't use it often because getting it in and out of storage is difficult -sucker's heavy!
Good to see someone educating others on the value of cast iron skillets. I have four I rely on and they have been with me for a long time. No teflon allowed!
I've always wanted a cast iron gril or pan, but never have purchased one. The seem too much work for an occasional user. You get them wet and not completely dry… they rust. You don't really clean them without water, and who has sand around to scrub them "clean".
I do have cast iron grates for my BBQ, but leaving them a day too long outside under cover in Fall and presto, rusted. Now I wish I hadn't gotten cast iron.
To each their own and I'm glad you love yours. Being a chef helps that I'm sure.
I have cast iron grates in my BBQ as well – they are far outlasting the grill itself! I have a spray bottle of oil I use after I grill. I spray it on while the coals are still hot (after I scrape away any chunky stuff) close the lid, and let it bake in, just like you would a skillet. The only time it's ever rusted is when I forgot to spray it – nothing a light brush with steel wool and my trusty spray bottle couldn't fix.
As for cast iron in the kitchen – if it weren't for the remodel going on at the moment, mine would also proudly sit on the stovetop where they belong. Unfortunately, I don't think insulation and sheetrock dust would add much (good) flavor to my steaks and stews, so they must hide in the cupboard with their lowly cousins – my Grandmother's T-Fal. lol.
I scour flea markets, this & that shops, and yard sales regularly for more cast iron stuff. I want a Dutch oven so bad, but I want one of the old big 'uns…not the little bitty things they have in the camping department at Wal-Mart. 🙂
CD and SP says
thanks for this post! i have a serious cast iron-phobia. i have an enameled cast iron dutch oven i use for all sorts of things, and a couple pans that i've let fall into a terrible state. maybe i'll go at them and make them shiny-new again with your method!
I LOVE LOVE LOVE my cast iron skillets! I have three from my Grandpa that live on my stove top too. I clean mine the same way you do – easy peasy.
The pans – oh – they are the best. It was my early inheritance, since I had dibs, but my Grandpa moved into a retirement community this last fall instead of buying-the-farm. Lucky me, I get the benefit of the iron AND his advice. I'd say the men cook on my mom's side of the family, since my Grandpa and uncle are great cooks, but truthfully – we all do, me, my mom and my great aunt at 89 too.
For Christmas I bought my husband a Lodge cast iron griddle/grill that covers two burners and is totally flat and reversible. It weighs a ton but it's great and easy to store upright with my cookie sheets and cooling racks. Easy to clean too – we use it every weekend. Just a quick rinse in hot water with the scrub brush to catch and pancake debris, dry off and back in the cabinet. Haven't yet had to do much seasoning on it.
Erin B says
Thanks for the stove top seasoning method!
Cathy Cunningham says
I made a very expensive mistake. I bought a new stove with a glass top…not knowing that none of my cast iron was suitable for it. I had to get rid of any pans that were not completely flat on the bottom…I kept my grandma’s 3 qt. dutch oven and a Griswold skillet…just couldn’t bear to part with them. The glass top stoves will burn out if you use uneven bottomed pans. DRAT!
Does anybody else use them on glass tops? I’ve had this expensive range for about 5 years now.
I think I’ll have a go at it.
Matt V says
A brand new, (for example Lodge) unseasoned cast iron pan definitely requires some work before it becomes user friendly. Finding a super silky, heavily used one at a thrift shop is your best bet. If you are buying a brand new cast iron pan and you have access to a grinder or metal polishing device it helps to mechanically smooth the cooking surface first and then season per Erica’s method. The smoother surface finish combined with a good seasoning really helps when cooking things such as eggs for example. Happy frying!