Cast iron is one of those things that usually gets passed down from generation to generation. And rightly so – because it lasts forever if properly cared for. But therein lies the trick: proper care. If the piece gets handed down, then the care and cleaning of the piece usually gets handed down with it. But that’s not always the case.
Then there are those people who just decide they’re going to start collecting it one day, because there is a lot of hype out there about it. In antique malls and shops around they country, they can sell for a pretty hefty price. Which makes them seem important for reasons other than what REALLY makes them important. At least to me.
There are a few things anyone should know before committing to cast iron. And by committing, I do really mean committing. You don’t simply get into cast iron – especially if it’s purchased brand new – and then one day just leave it sitting without the proper care. Even though I’ve seen some pretty nasty looking pieces get refurbished, it just doesn’t need to happen 🙂
First of all, let’s talk about the brand new pieces. They do come preseasoned, but this doesn’t mean it’s going to cook like your grandmother’s piece that she’s had since her wedding day. No, even when you pull that new iron from its packaging, you still need to wash it and coat it with a light layer of vegetable oil. I am a HUGE fan of Lodge, which can be purchased at Wal-Mart or directly from the Lodge website, and they have an awesome article here, about the ins and outs of new iron cookware. Please do take a minute to look it over. They even have a video so that you can see some hand’s on stuff, which is a plus for people like me 🙂
Probably the first thing you should cook in a brand new cast iron skillet is bacon. This seasons the iron AS you cook and some people swear by it. I’ve also found that, really, cooking anything that has a good amount of fat in it is also a good way, though never as good as bacon 🙂 When I got my new cast iron dutch oven for Christmas last year, the first thing I did was roast a chicken in it.
The pieces that get handed down are generally already well seasoned because they’ve probably been in use for years. These need little in the way of preparing, but there’s always the care and procedure for clean up, which is pretty easy. For me, it boils down to not letting anything sit in the piece. When I’m done cooking and serving, anything left in the iron goes into a dish I can stick in the fridge and that piece immediately gets washed. After you wash a piece of cast iron, don’t just throw it on the dish drainer and leave it or IT WILL RUST. No if, and’s or but’s here – it’s iron, and iron is a metal that rusts. It will rust if you leave it in the drainer and it will also rust if you leave it setting on a wet counter or even a damp cloth. So don’t do that.
If you DO wind up with a little rust in or on your iron though, please don’t freak out! Although, whenever I’ve had a piece that has rusted, I did usually freak out just a little. However, it’s savable! It sounds crazy, and yes there are other ways to do it, but the best way to clean a little rust out of your iron skillet is to give it a generous dousing of kosher salt (because it’s very coarse), cut a decent size potato in half and use the cut side to scrub your skillet. The rust usually comes right off and all you have to do then is rub on a little oil and set it aside. All is well.
The harder cleaning comes when a piece has been found, say, in an old barn after an estate sale, or buried in the yard (YES, I’ve had friends that have found pieces that way!), or just cast aside and not properly cared for. The rust can build up to the point that you’ll think you might as well just throw it in the trash. But very few cases are actually to the point that they are not able to be saved.
Now, where I’m from in the Appalachian mountains, when a piece is this rusted, the women-folk just start a big fire in the yard (we called ’em gnat-fires, but some of you all know them better as bonfires, lol) and just threw the afflicted piece in and burnt the rust off. It works great, and after a little re-seasoning, you’d never know there was any rust on it to start with.
HOWEVER… let me just go ahead and throw this out there because there are some people who will literally freak out, get nasty-mouthed and have a true to life conniption fit! IF you do put a piece of iron in a fire, some pieces will warp. Now, I’ve never seen the GOOD pieces do that, because back in the day, they didn’t make thin pieces of wanna-be cast iron, but apparently they do now. So if you’re not sure if yours is “good” or not, don’t try that. Well, unless you’re like me and think even a warped cast iron skillet is WAY better than these Teflon coated things that some people want to cook in.
There is another way to clean the really gnarly looking, super-rusted pieces using something called an “E-tank” that uses water and electric current and lye…I’ll admit, I don’t know much about that method and may even be wrong in listing those three things as being a part of it – so don’t quote me – but I HAVE seen the results of the pieces that were cleaned that way and they are phenomenal! If you are thinking of using this method, let me just point you towards YouTube, where there are an array of great video tutorials and walk-through’s on the subject.
Now I’ve also had people ask me about cast iron and the glass-top stoves. Some people swear you absolutely cannot use cast iron on these stoves, but I have seen it done. There are a lot of precautions though, and you can’t skimp on any of them if you want to keep your stove. Cast iron is no joke: it’s heavy, it’s abrasive and it can do irreparable damage to your stove tops. So if you have a class top, here are a few things to keep in mind…
- Do NOT leave them sitting, especially stacked one atop another, on the surface of your glass top stove. After awhile, they will crack or flat out break the glass top.
- Don’t ever use cast iron on a glass top stove if you’re angry. Slamming down that first iron skillet will also break the glass top. Yes, I’ve seen that done too, so trust me.
- Don’t shake the skillet back and forth on the burner like you can normally do with traditional burners. It will leave scratches on the glass top that you won’t be able to get out and it looks hideous.
So there are some thoughts on cast iron that might help someone out there, I hope. I love my collection and wouldn’t take a million dollars for it. If you’re avid about yours, I know you wouldn’t either. And if you’re just honestly starting out, you’ll soon get that way. A well-seasoned cast iron skillet works far better than Teflon – even eggs won’t stick!
How about you guys? Any cast iron tips or love stories you’d care to share? Please, by all means, feel free to share!
As usual, thanks for stopping by! I appreciate it!