Nothing conjures up memories of weekend breakfasts with my family and camping trips like our large, seasoned cast iron pan. As a hand me down that had come from pervious generations and was “seasoned” in more than one way.
Like many of the good things in life, seasoning a cast iron pan and getting the perfect coating takes patience, a little work and a lot of love.
Why Cast Iron?
I now use an assortment of healthy cookware, but will always have a special place in my heart for cast iron. We’ve found a few more pieces at yard sales and thrift stores over the years and added to the collection.
Cast iron pans are wonderful because they can be used on the stove, in the oven, on the grill or even over a campfire. They are simple to clean (once well seasoned) and less expensive than other non-toxic cookware options. It is so tough that it can literally last forever and if you drop it, it is more likely to harm your floor than it is to harm the pan.
Properly seasoned cast iron is easy to clean and relatively non-stick. It won’t cook like teflon, but it also doesn’t create fumes with the potential to kill small house pets.
Cast Iron is also the only cookware that besides being non-toxic may actually have health benefits! Small amounts of Iron from the pans can be passed into food, which is especially helpful for pregnant women or those who are anemic.
How to Season Cast Iron
Many of the problems with cast iron stem from improper seasoning. Seasoning is the process of using an oil or fat to create a patina, or coating on the surface of the cast iron. This both protects the pan and makes cooking easier.
Once a pan is seasoned, the coating can be easily maintained by proper washing and occasional wiping down with oil.
Best Oil to Use to Season Cast Iron
There is much debate about the best type of oil to use for seasoning. Many sources recommend vegetable oil or corn oil (which I would highly discourage).
Other sources recommend coconut oil, though some people seem to have problems with this, especially if using unrefined coconut oil. I’ve also seen some sources that recommend oils that do easily oxidize, like flax seed, since this process is supposed to help create a tougher coating, though i’ve never had a problem with more stable oils and have never found the need to try flax.
I prefer to use traditional fats like lard and tallow, but refined coconut oil or ghee also work well.
Instructions for Seasoning Cast Iron
- Thoroughly wash the cast iron pan with soap and water. Normally, it is not advisable to use soap on cast iron, but since it is going to be seasoned, it is fine. If there are any rust spots, use some salt and a little water to make a paste and scrub the rust off.
- Preheat the oven to 325. Some sources recommend using a much higher temperature, but I’ve always found that it is more difficult to get a good finish at high temperatures. The onc exception to this rule is old, weathered cast iron that has not been well take care of. If I find cast iron at a thrift store or yard sale, I usually scrub with the salt mixture and place in a campfire for a few hours before seasoning. Heating to this high temperature helps remove any old seasoning and prepare the metal for a new coat.
- Place the pan in the preheating oven for 5-10 minutes to get warm. This added step helps make the oil more effective when it is rubbed on the cast iron.
- Using an old towel or piece of a t-shirt, rub oil or fat of choice around the entire pan, making sure it is entirely coated, inside and out.
- Using another towel or rag, wipe all of the oil out until only a thin sheen remains.
- Place upside down in the oven for 1-2 hours.
- Turn oven off and leave pan until completely cooled.
- Depending on the age and texture of the iron, the pan may need 3-5 of these seasoning treatments before it is optimal for cooking. When I get a new cast iron pan, I use it for high fat cooking for the first few weeks after seasoning so that it develops a stronger finish (deep frying and stir frys are optimal for this).
- After every use, the pan should be washed immediately and towel tried to prevent rusting. I also wipe my pans down with another layer of tallow or lard after each use to keep them ready-to-use.
Cast Iron Care
The most important part of maintaining seasoning on cast iron pans is using proper care techniques to protect the patina. Some important things to remember when caring for your cookware:
- In general, soap and water should not be used. The best practice is to wash immediately with hot water and a brush or a chainmail scrubber.
- A gentle scraper is also very helpful for removing stuck-on food without hurting the finish.
- Oven gloves are also a life saver with cast iron, since the handle gets very hot.
- I order pastured and ethically sourced tallow and lard (at a discount from here) for use on cast iron.
- Most sources recommend avoiding highly acidic things like tomato in cast iron, since it can leach more iron and create an off flavor.
- Much cast iron comes pre-seasoned these days. There are some great sets of cast iron available at good prices, but my favorite by far are old pans that have been passed down by relatives or found at yard sales.
- Take your cast iron camping and use on the fire. Re-season when you get home. I’ve found that doing this once a year or so helps keep the finish strong.
Do you have any cast iron? How do you use it?