Cast iron cookware is a fantastic addition to your kitchen cabinet, particularly if you regularly cook outside and barbecue over the summer months. Cast iron pots and pans (often called skillets in the States) are heavy, and they hold and distribute heat really well. They also last FOREVER with the right care and upkeep. Compared to a set of cheap pans that may have hotspots or warp with heat so that they wobble on your hob, cast iron is solid, dependable, and super versatile.
Whether you bought a pre-seasoned cast iron pan from a shop or online, or found a vintage gem at a car boot sale, it will need seasoning every now and then and there are a few golden rules.
Cleaning A Cast Iron Pan
After use, clean your cast iron in hot water with a non-abrasive sponge or cloth, using a wooden spatula to scrape off any stuck-on bits. You can use a small amount of washing up liquid although many people advise against this as it can remove the seasoning on the cooking surface. If food is really stuck on then you can use coarse rock salt as an abrasive to help remove it. Dry the pan thoroughly with a dry tea towel, and you can even put it back on the heat or in a warm oven to dry completely. It’s really important that you pan is absolutely dry before you store it away, so that there is no moisture left on it that might trigger rust. Whatever you do, do not put your cast iron in the dishwasher or leave it in a bowl of water. Once dry, add a teaspoon of neutral cooking oil, such as rapeseed oil, and wipe around and all over using a piece of kitchen paper.
Restoring A Cast Iron Pan
Just like tools, they don’t make them like they used to. Or, when they do, they’re expensive. If you manage to get your hands on some old cast iron cookware from a car boot sale or the like, or if perhaps you left your Dutch oven with all of your camping stuff in the shed or garage over the winter, then nit might need a bit of restoration.
Remove any surface rust using an abrasive sponge or a wire scourer in hot or hot and soapy water. This will almost certainly affect or remove the layers of seasoning that have built up on the surface, so once free-from-rust, clean and thoroughly dry, you will need to re-season it.
Seasoning Cast Iron Cookware
The seasoning on cast iron cookware is simply layers of polymerized cooking oil, which means that the oil has been heated to the point where it naturally hardens and creates a blackened, almost non-stick coating. To re-season a pan, you are simply rebuilding these layers of hardened oil. I’d suggest using rapeseed oil, although you can use other neutral cooking oils with high-smoke points (don’t use olive oil). You can either add some oil to you pan and heat it on the hob until it begins to smoke, then turn off the heat and allow to cool before discarding any excess oil and carefully using a clean cloth or piece of kitchen paper to wipe the warm oil around the pan, or you can wipe oil all over your pan and then put it in your oven upside down. Heat your oven to 220, with your extractor hood turned on or a window open in case it creates any smoke. Leave for up to an hour and then turn off and allow to cool thoroughly before removing from the oven. We use our large outdoor pizza oven for this job! Repeating this step (hob or oven) several times will build up layers of seasoning (it should end up looking shiny, like it’s been varnished) and increase the non-stick-ness of your pan.
If you frequently cook fatty food in your pan, such as bacon or steaks, then this will continue to add to the seasoning.
You ought to do this re-seasoning process a couple of times each year, if you’re cooking with your cast iron regularly. Perhaps that means at the end of the summer after a season of barbecues and campfire cooking, and then again in late spring when you take it out of storage before a summer of use, if you primarily use them for outdoor cooking. However, I’d encourage you to use it throughout the year in your kitchen, as they’re such good bits of kit.
Some Tips For Cooking With Cast Iron Pans
Always pre-heat a cast iron pan before cooking with it – if you try to cook from cold your food will likely stick to it, regardless of how much you’ve built up the seasoning! Because they’re solid and heavy, it’s best to preheat for longer and on a slightly lower heat than with other types of pots and pans.
Only occasionally cook acidic foods, such as tomato sauces, citrus fruits and the like in your cast iron pan, because the acids can reduce the seasoning.
“Respect the first touch” as live-fire chef Francis Mallmann famously said – that means put your food in a hot pan and leave it – don’t be tempted to move it around too soon, or too much!
Clean your cookware as soon as possible after use, and dry it thoroughly – I can’t emphasise that enough!
Cooking with cast iron pots and pans may seem like a lot of effort, when you could just use any old cookware. But believe me, it is worth it – for minimal effort (you wash your pans anyway, right?!) you get a great cooking experience and a pan that can cook most things, on the stove top or in the oven, or both for the same dish. If you see an old pan for sale on your travels, pick it up, clean it up, re-season it and enjoy many years of good cooking with it.