Seasoning Cast Iron Cookware

There are a lot of ways to season cast-iron cookware, depending on what you want to do. I do eggs over without a spatula, flipping them with arm and wrist motion*. Before Teflon, my preferred pans were cast iron. New cast-iron cookware has a coating of mineral oil/grease to keep it from rusting in storage that needs to be thoroughly cleaned off. Vigorous brushing with hot soapy water will do it. Pots like the Drip Drop Roaster are adequately seasoned by boiling potato skins in them. I don't know what it does, but it seems to do something; the iron darkens. If you will put the pot away for a long time where the air might be damp, you can lightly oil or grease the machine-ground inner surface. Get the pot good and hot, then wipe on the cooking oil or bacon fat as thinly as possible. It should not feel greasy when cool, and you can cook in it without further cleaning. The hot fat will always come black on the paper towel. I can only guess why, but it's not dirt. You can put the oil or fat on cool, but then you need to get it off before the next use.

Skillets and griddles need a little more care to become non stick. After washing, dry them over heat, add a little fat or oil, and keep heating until it starts to smoke. Start wiping (keep the wad thick enough not to burn yourself), and keep an invisible, smooth coat. As it cools, the surface will mottle slightly; wipe it down again. When it's room temperature, it will feel slick, not oily. It won't rust, and food won't stick. If you cook hamburger, it might seem that you need to soak it: don't for more than a few minutes. The coating of hardened oil will soften and be damaged. Steel wool will cut through your coating or rough it up, but the stainless or bronze pads, used gently, will leave it intact.

Bacon fat works well for seasoning. Of the cooking oils, corn oil is good, canola and cottonseed nearly as good, and flaxseed (raw linseed) oil is the best I've found. These oils set like paint after being heated, and flaxseed oil becomes the hardest. (Although I don't cook with it, I use raw linseed oil from the hardware store to season with.) This works not just on cast iron, but on any iron. I treat my woks this way, and back when I had stamped iron skillets, them too.

After a time usually, several years there will be a buildup in places of crud thick enough to begin flaking off. Don't be afraid to scrape at it with a flat-ended spatula. I usually strip the whole thing and start over. I do that by nearly filling the skillet with water, and pouring in as much washing soda ("Arm & Hammer super washing soda detergent booster" is one brand) as will dissolve, and boiling for about five minutes. (A splash shield keeps things neater.) What doesn't come off will soften, then scraping with that spatula and rubbing down with the stainless pad or regular steel wool will get you down to bare metal again. Treat the skillet like a new one, but you'll have a head start.

Lodge Manufacturing Co. makes cast-iron cookware with an as-cast cooking surface. I have rarely used such ware; my remarks apply to the smooth machined kind typified by Wagner Ware. Lodge's care instructions are here.

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* I learned by watching my father and just doing it. I've convinced others they could do it by urging them to practice with a slice of bread.

Copyright 2001 by Jerry Avins
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