Cast iron pans are so affordable, there’s no reason to pass on the opportunity of owning one (mine cost $20.). There is however, one problem I’ve come across: maintenance. After buying mine, everyone and their mother had advice for me on how to take care of/clean/store/season my pan. And Googling? Forget about it. The second you search for “Cast Iron care” or “How to season a cast iron pan” you’ll be bombarded with millions of “My grandmother used to…” and “This is the correct way…” and “I just throw mine in the dishwasher!” Yikes. So I’m going to give you my honest, easy, and short perspective on first, seasoning your cast iron, using your cast iron, cleaning it, and finally, storage.
The benefit of a cast iron pan is that, when properly seasoned, it’s non-stick without the use of that nasty Teflon (or PTFE – polytetrafluoroethylene. Yeah.. go ahead and look that one up. You’ll be surprised.).
Mini rant: I spoke to a woman in a cooking supply store once who was outraged that, that particular store only carried muffin pans that were coated with Teflon. She was disgusted and angry… which was a little overboard but I completely agree. I’d rather use butter and suffer the extra 2 calories from greasing my pan than to submit to Teflon’s nasty bits.
But how does one season a pan? These days a lot of pans come pre-seasoned for consumers. I’m never satisfied with them, so when I take my pan home, I go ahead and re-season it myself. This process below will also work if you happen to have acquired a really old cast iron pan from a yard sale, or grandma. And here’s how:
If your pan comes out sticky, goopy, and almost tarry to the touch, you used too much oil, and it did not properly bond to the pan. So what can you do? Start over again. Wash it down, dry it, and really restrict yourself with the oil next time.
There are two types of finishes that a cast iron pan can create over time: slick and shiny, or dull and sandy (think about your outdoor grill.). BOTH are non-stick. Using a 500 degree oven to season your pan, can create the latter, and that’s fine! If you’re like me, and you like that smooth ‘n shiny finish, take a paper towel and dab about 2 tsp of canola oil on it, and rub it down. There, now it’s shiny. You didn’t have to do that.. but sometimes appearances are everything dontcha know
Now, for using your cast iron. There are a few things you will want to avoid: no acidic foods. This includes foods like tomatoes and lemons. Secondly, decide what your pan will be used for. If you want to use it for meats, fine. But don’t expect to bake cornbread in it and not have it taste like meat.
See, it feels like a lot of work for just a pan, right? But really it’s not. There’s no trick technique involved, it’s all quite basic.
Cast iron pans last forever, and are often passed down, and if they’ve been taken care of, boy oh boy those things are real beauties! I’m glad I got Iron Maiden (I like to name various possessions.. it’s not weird or anything, right?) She’s my favorite bacon and burger cooking tool, and I still cant believe it only cost $20. I mean really.. what are you waiting for?