Hopefully you didn’t have to learn this the hard way, like my mother did.
Properly cleaning and caring for un-coated cast iron cookware has a bit of a learning curve, but it’s well worth mastering. A good solid cast iron frying pan will last through generations of great meals, and it retains heat better than anything else available.
Cast iron cookware will also stand up to serious abuse, and can be de-rusted and revived–even if you got mad and threw it out in the rain for months on end.
Ahem. Not that I’d know anything about that sort of thing.
So you found great-grandma’s old cookware in the attic, or maybe scored some rusted old pans from a Craigslist ad? Great!
Here’s what to do next:
DEEP CLEAN IT (if you must) – If your cast iron cookware is rusty, has spent many seasons behind an old shed, or is otherwise hideous, unfortunately you’ll need to use an oven cleaner just this once.
Wear gloves, protect your eyes, and work outside if possible (for better ventilation). Oven cleaner is nasty stuff, definitely worth avoiding in most circumstances!
Spray your pan heavily with a commercial oven cleaner and seal it in a plastic bag for at least 24 hours. Then you can remove it from the bag and rinse it off.
Next, scrub it with dish-soap and water, using a wire-bristle brush or steel wool pad.
If there’s still rust on it, you can try buffing the pan with a fine wire wheel drill attachment.
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NOW, SEASON IT – Once your pan is clean and free of rust, you’ll need to create a layer of seasoning on it for it to work properly.
Seasoning is basically a natural way to get a “non-stick coating” on your cast-iron pan by heating fats in it over time.
The more you use your cast-iron pan, the more the layer of seasoning builds up, which is why cast iron cookware gets better as it ages.
You’ll need either lard (Crisco) or bacon grease to create the seasoning. Coconut oil can work in a pinch, but it’s just not as great in my experience.
First, preheat the oven to 125 degrees, and then put the clean, dry cast iron pan in the oven for 15+ minutes. Once it’s hot, you can apply a thin layer of lard or bacon grease all over the pan, inside and out.
You’ll be using some kind of heat-safe oven mitts, of course. I prefer silicone grips and sleeves like the ones below.
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After coating the pan completely, raise the temperature to 225 degrees and put it back in the oven.
Once another 30-60 minutes have passed, take it out and use a rag or paper towel to wipe up any grease or lard that is pooling in the bottom of the pan. Then put it back in for another 30-60 minutes.
This time, wipe away any excess grease or lard, leaving a dull shine (instead of a wet look), and allow the pan to cool. Your initial seasoning is now complete!
Cooking fatty foods in the pan regularly helps to keep the seasoning in good shape.
AFTER COOKING – Do NOT throw the pan in the dishwasher, or use ANY kind of soap or detergent on it, ever! This will strip away the seasoning you’ve worked so hard to create.
Instead, get in the habit of cleaning your cast iron cookware immediately after using it.
Put hot water (not cold!) in the pan and bring it to a boil. Let the water simmer for a few minutes, then pour it out and simply wipe the pan with a paper towel.
If you need something abrasive, rub dry kosher salt into the pan with a paper towel or rag. This will mop up any unwanted flavors and stuck-on food bits without removing your seasoning!
Next, reheat the pan and add a thin layer of shortening, coconut oil, or bacon grease, so it will be ready to use next time.
You can store the pan in the oven, where it may or may not be forgotten the next time you turn on the oven. This extra heat treatment every now and then will also add to the seasoning!
By following these steps, you’ll have fantastic cast iron cookware that will last a lifetime.
Just don’t throw it in the dishwasher, or out behind the shed.