How to Season, Cook With and Clean Cast-Iron Pans
A cast-iron pan can last for a lifetime and cooks food so well that you may wonder why you waited to try one. It's exceptionally good at high-heat cooking—think searing steak or roasting vegetables—but virtually any cooking method will work in cast iron. Sauté, roast, deep-fry, broil, braise...all your favorites come out beautifully. Here are some basics to consider.
Benefits of Cooking with Cast Iron
A kitchen workhorse, cast iron moves from stove to oven to grill and even to campfire. It heats slowly but then stays hot, an ideal quality for roasting, frying, griddling, baking, broiling, braising and searing. Basic black pans are bargain priced, yet virtually indestructible. In fact, cast iron actually improves over time. Food particles season the porous iron, giving it a glossy sheen that's as nonstick as any modern pan.
How to Season a Cast-Iron Pan
Many new cast-iron pans come preseasoned and ready to use, but vintage pans (or newer ones that have lost their seasoned sheen) need TLC. Scour and wash the pan to remove dirt or rust. Using a paper towel, rub the clean pan inside and out with a thin coat of vegetable oil. Place aluminum foil on the bottom rack of the oven to catch any drips, then bake the pan upside-down on the top rack at 350° for 1 hour. Cool the pan inside the turned-off oven. Now you can cook!
How to Clean a Cast-Iron Pan
Fill the pan with hot water to loosen food bits, then scrub it with a stiff brush or scouring pad and rinse. No soap! Suds damage the seasoning on cast-iron pans. Place the clean pan over low heat on the stove top or in a warm oven to dry it fast and avoid rust. If you like, rub the warm, dry pan with a bit of vegetable oil to help maintain the seasoning. Store when cool. If the pan dulls or rusts, or you notice food sticking, just reseason as if it were new.
Made in the USA
Colorful enamel-coated cast iron is beautiful and needs no seasoning, but it's expensive and can chip over time. For no-frills cast iron, you can't beat Lodge Manufacturing, which has been making cookware in Tennessee since 1896. Choose among skillets, casseroles, Dutch ovens, griddles and more.
If you want a lighter-weight pan with many of the characteristics of cast iron, Lockhart Ironworks in Hocking Hills, Ohio, forges skillets that are naturally nonstick, thinner and lighter than most cast-iron pans, and have long handles that stay cool longer. They're a big splurge. But these pans will last generations.
Food absorbs traces of healthy iron from the pan, which is good for your body. But cast iron also may discolor or impart a faint metallic flavor to acidic foods such as tomatoes, especially if the pan is not well seasoned. The reaction is harmless and doesn't always happen. Play with a pan to see what you like to cook in it.