Cooked by TFW: Cooking with Cast Iron

Howdy gang! It’s your favorite fight chef back from the dead! Thanks to Coach LA for holding down the fort while I projectile everything’d last week. Don’t worry, I played Paramore’s “That’s What You Get” on repeat every time I raced to the toilet.

Between only being able to eat Ritz crackers for most of the week and recently starting antidepressants (first time! YAY! This time of year can be tough on folks going through mental health issues. Be sure you’re taking care of yourselves!) that have the fun side effect of loss of appetite, I haven’t done much cooking recently. But it’s the season of giving – or getting? #TymHatesTheHolidays – and I wanted to share with y’all something you can ask Santa for last minute: Cast Iron Skillets!

Way back in the early days of this blog, I wrote a Grocery Guide post (available hurrrr) and briefly mentioned how much I use my cast irons. Everyday. I literally use them every day. And you should, too! They are – say it with me, kids – VERSATILE, and indestructible, and create these amazing flavors, and just are… the best. Every good home cook should have at least one Cast Iron Skillet in his or her kitchen. When I say “indestructible,” I mean… if you properly care for your skillet, you can pass it down to your kids. Shoot, my two CISes are 68% of the reason I want kids in the first place (the other 32% is to see if they have extra fingers, too, and if they can move them) because I don’t trust my currently existing family with these jewels. I worked too hard seasoning them to give them to my good-for-nothing… ANYWAY!

Cast Iron Skillets are amazing. There have been many days where I will make breakfast, dinner, and dessert in my 10-inch skillet. Most of my recipes on this blog were made with them. Cooking meats in CIS is the best; it’s great for searing. I love being able to start a meal on the stove and then move it to the oven all in the same cookware. Today I want to discuss the two “scary” parts of CIS ownership that sometimes deter folks from getting their own: how to properly season and clean your skillets. It’s really not as hard as some folks will have you believe to maintain a CIS. So let’s hop to it and quick, because another fun side effect of those new antidepressants is drowsiness and I have typed gibberish way too many times.

Seasoning

Seasoning is the most important part of CIS care. It’s something you should do when you receive a new or new-to-you skillet. I know most CISes come “pre-seasoned” but what does that even mean? You trust Big Cast Iron™ with seasoning the best cookware in your kitchen? OF COURSE NOT! I try to re-season mine twice a year, which is slightly different than the initial seasoning. The reason we do this is because the surface of the CIS is porous and when we season it, we’re using oil to fill those pores and create that awesome, flavor-inducing, nonstick seal on the CIS.

The initial seasoning is the ONLY… I repeat ONLY… time you will ever let soap touch your CIS. We’ll get to cleaning later, but I need to really drive it home: don’t use soap on your CIS except for the initial seasoning; it will strip off the nonstick layer. The initial seasoning should be done on a brand new CIS or a hand-me-down one that is in bad shape and rusty.

Using steel wool, mild dish soap, and warm water, scrub the entire CIS. Not just the cooking surface… the whole dang thing. The beauty of a CIS is that it’s all one piece of metal. It’s as elegant as it is simple. However, because of this, you have to season it from head to toe. So scrub the cooking surface, the sides, the bottom, the handle. Make sure you get all the rust off your hand-me-down and get all that “pre-seasoning” gunk off your newbie. Rinse off your CIS under warm water and dry thoroughly with a towel. Toss it on the stove on high to make sure you cook off any remaining moisture. It’s important to have it bone dry before the next step.

Quick aside: don’t store your skillet wet… that’s how it will rust. We’ll get into that more during cleaning.

Next step: add a thin layer of oil. According to the internets, flaxseed oil is the new craze. It apparently dries the hardest of all the oils and provides the best nonstick seal. According to Tym, flaxseed oil is expensive AF. You know what I used on mine? Yeah, bacon fat. You can use canola oil if you’d like. Using a paper towel, smear whatever oil you decide to use all over the CIS, head to toe again. Once you’ve done that, use a clean paper towel to wipe off the excess. A common mistake is to put too thick a layer on, which will make your CIS sticky to the touch.

Once you’ve applied your oil of choice, place your CIS upside-down in the oven at the highest possible temperature, which for most ovens is between 450º and 500º. Pro Tip: put a sheet of tinfoil on the rack below your CIS to catch any excess oil still on it. Then, let it cook for at least an hour. I usually go 90 minutes just to be on the safe side. After that, turn your oven off and let the CIS cool inside the oven. The reason you cook your skillet on such a high heat is to bring the oil past its smoking point and let it really bond with the pores on the skillet. Dope, right? You just created a nonstick surface! Warning: your kitchen is going to be a little smoky; handle your smoke detectors however you see fit.

After the CIS is completely cool, it should be jet black and nice and shiny. If food is still sticking to it, just re-season it (cleaning it using the method I’m about to describe; not with soap and steel wool). The more you use it, the more nonstick it will become. Unlike almost all your other kitchenware, the CIS actually gets better with age.

 

Cleaning

Cool, so now we have this amazingly seasoned skillet. We’ve cooked something delicious in it and it’s time to clean up. Toss it in the dishwasher, right?

WRONG, CHAD! GIVE ME YOUR SKILLET NOW! CHADS DON’T DESERVE NICE THINGS! #SayNoToChads

Remember? No soap touches Your Precious ever again. It’s best to clean your skillet right after using it. I have a dish brush specifically for my CISes. Once your CIS is well-seasoned and super nonstick, you should only need to run it under warm water and give it a good scrub…

And then immediately dry it with a towel, and toss it on the stove on high heat to boil off all the remaining moisture. Seriously. Water will kill your CIS. Protect your baby; dry your baby.

Sometimws, though, you’ll have some leftover food stuck to your skillet. I use my smaller CIS to cook cut up bacon in the mornings and it always leaves some hard-to-clean gunk. In those situations, you’ll just fill your CIS with some water, add salt, and let it boil. The salt works as an abrasive to help remove the leftovers without removing the seasoning on the CIS. After it’s boiled for a few minutes, scrub with your brush and dry with a towel.

Whichever method you use to clean your CIS, be sure to place on the stove to boil off all the moisture. What I normally do after every use is add just a little bit of oil, like a few drops, and wipe it all over the CIS while it’s still hot.

And there you have it! A quick guide to caring for my favorite piece of kitchenware. Hope you all get one for whichever gift-giving/getting holiday you celebrate. If you do, check out some of the past recipes on the blog and try them out in your new toy. And, as always, thank me in the morning!

LA Jennings