I have a few kitchen obsessions, one of which is cast iron anything. No farm kitchen would be complete without a good cast iron skillet!
My love affair with cast iron began when I moved to Brooklyn. Around that time my grandparents moved from VA to NC to live with my aunt and I was lucky enough to inherit most of my grandmother’s kitchen ware, including 3 perfectly seasoned cast iron skillets.
I had never really cooked in cast iron before and the first time I tried was a disaster. I tried to make scrambled eggs, but didn’t heat the skillet hot enough before I added the eggs. Long story short, everything stuck and burned and the whole mess went straight into the garbage can. Clearly I was not dealing with your typical non-stick skillet. So I turned to Google.
Did you know that the earliest evidence of cast iron has been found in Luhe, China which is very close to Suzhou, the town where I lived while I was over there? Just a fun fact for you.
Cast iron cookware is reliable and versatile. Most pieces are forged out of a single piece of metal which helps them distribute heat evenly. They can withstand very high heats and are safe for stove top cooking as well as oven use. This makes them ideal for steaks which need to be seared first and then placed under the broiler.
If properly used and cared for, cast iron develops “seasoning” – a layer of protective oils that gives it a sleek non-stick surface. The trick is to heat your skillet to the appropriate heat BEFORE adding your ingredients and to make sure your ingredients are close to room temperature. If you throw something very cold into a very hot skillet, it’s going to stick. That’s just the way it works.
I use my cast iron at least once a day and often two or three times. I make eggs, roast veggies, sear meat, even bake brownies in it. If something needs to be cooked, chances are good I’ll cook it in cast iron.
Cast iron is a bit high maintenance, but it is well worth the effort as good cast iron will last through generations. You should never use soap on cast iron. Never. NEVER! Soap destroys the seasoning and the next time you use it your food will stick and create a burnt mess. Just put the soap down.
All you need to clean cast iron is hot water and a good, stiff brush. Occasionally you’ll need a bit of elbow grease, but if your cast iron is well-seasoned, hot water and a brush should clean it up nicely. If you end up with a big mess, like I did when I forgot I was making baked beans in my cast iron dutch oven, fill the pan with water and bring it to a boil. As it is boiling, scrape the burnt bits off with a metal spatula or spoon. This method has never failed me, even with some of my epic kitchen disasters.
After you “wash” it, be sure to dry it thoroughly to keep it from rusting. You can do this with a towel, but I tend to throw mine back on the stove as I find this method to be more thorough. Once it is dry, you can simply put it away or you can coat it with a thin layer of oil to help maintain the seasoning. Lard works wonderfully for this.
If your cast iron gets rusty or if you are lucky enough to find an old banged up skillet at an antique shop or flea market, don’t panic! You can always reaseason it. I haven’t had to do this yet, but if/when I do, this is the method I would use.