Is your cast iron smooth and perfectly nonstick? I know mine isn’t. I’ve been cooking with cast iron for about 10 years and I still don’t always get it right. Homestead cast iron care doesn’t have to be complicated, it just requires consistency.
- Why Cook with Cast Iron?
- Day to Day Homestead Cast Iron Care
- Deep Seasoning Cast Iron
- How Do I Clean Ceramic-Coated Cast Iron?
- How does it get clean without soap?
Why Cook with Cast Iron?
I absolutely love cast iron. The only pans I have that aren’t cast iron are my stockpots. There are so many great reasons to cook with cast iron, but it can take a bit of getting used to.
Why is cast iron so great?
Why does everyone love cast iron?
Well, it is great at conducting heat and holding heat, so you get much more even cooking. You don’t get hotspots in your pan. While it is not an inexpensive pan; for the most part, they last forever. If you take good care of your cast iron, it is a family heirloom and will last for generations.
For people who are iron deficient; women, in particular, cast iron actually adds small amounts of iron into your food, helping to maintain iron levels. Now, if you are someone who happens to have high iron levels, you may not want to cook in cast iron daily, if at all, if it is a health concern for you. While it is something to keep in mind, the amount of iron added into your food is not so great that, if you have average iron levels, it is going to cause iron overload.
One of the other great things about cast iron is that, when you take care of it properly, it is naturally nonstick without any of the risks of the chemicals associated with nonstick cooking surfaces like Teflon and similar products. It does take time to get your cast iron up to that level, especially if you bought brand new cast iron. I have a variety of cast iron pans; some of them I bought at thrift stores. I think only one of them I bought new but. They do become nonstick with proper care and, once you get the hang of it, are really easy to use.
Day to Day Homestead Cast Iron Care
How to Clean Cast Iron After Cooking
There are several ways to clean your cast iron after cooking. For example, when I make something like a grilled sandwich, it pretty much just has leftover oil in the pan. This is the easiest to clean because all you have to do is wipe out the oil, preferably while it is still warm, as it is easier. Just take a paper towel and rub all the oil and any bits of food out of the pan. The oil from cooking acts as the seasoning for future uses.
For a pan that has just a bit of food stuck on, like scrambled eggs or something, it is easy to just use a plastic scraper and scrape the bottom and sides of the pan, removing as much of the food as possible. Some people love chain mail scrubbers for cast iron. I have not used them, so I can’t attest to how well they work.
This scraper is indispensable. It really helps to get off cooked-on food without damaging the nonstick coating as scrubbing could. Once all the food is all scraped off, give it a good rinse and see if there is anything you missed.
I don’t use a towel to thoroughly dry my pan because I find it tends to stain the towel, so I just lightly dry the bottom (I have a glass cooktop) and then turn the burner on to about medium and place the pan on the burner. The heat helps thoroughly dry the pan and opens the pores of the iron. It is essential to dry your pans well after you’ve washed them and before you season them because they will rust. A rusty pan is not a ruined pan; you can fix it but, ideally, you don’t want to let that happen in the first place.
Whatever you do, don’t walk away because it is really easy to forget that you put an empty pan on the stove and could burn all the seasoning off, setting off your smoke detector, and creating more work for yourself. Ask me how I know :D.
How to Season Cast Iron After Cooking
Once the pan is dry, add a little bit of oil. You can use bacon fat, ghee, coconut oil, or almost any fat that tolerates higher heat. Avoid olive oil and butter. With a paper towel, rub the oil around the pan so it gets to the sides and coats the bottom well. Then, with a new paper towel (or a non-oily part of the one you already have) wipe the fat right back off as best you can. Leaving excess oil can cause your coating to become sticky. It should look slightly shiny by you shouldn’t see visible oil in the pan.
You want to season your pan every time you use it. Every time you season, that coating gets heavier and thicker and becomes more and more nonstick. It is really important to season your pans after every use. This is just a light seasoning; it is not a real labor-intensive thing. Any time that the nonstick coating seems to start sticking a bit or if you don’t use it as frequently it is time to do a deeper seasoning. I will do a deep seasoning once or twice a year in the oven.
If you’re more a visual learner, here is a video I made walking you through the process.
Deep Seasoning Cast Iron
To deep season cast iron, you want to start with a clean pan. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Once the oven is hot, put your cast iron in the oven for about 5-10 minutes so it is nice and hot. When the time is up, pull it out of the oven (use a mitt!). Increase your oven temperature to at least 450 degrees, up to 500 if your oven gets that hot.
For this deep seasoning, we are going to use flax oil. Even though flax is a very volatile oil and goes rancid very quickly (always keep it in the fridge!), at high heat, flax polymerizes; it forms a polymer coating on the cast iron that makes it nonstick. It is a longer-lasting, deeper coating than the day-to-day seasoning, which is why I do it about once or twice a year. That way, you are using that as a base and building on it even more. Sheryl Canter did an in-depth post about how the chemistry of this process works. Check it out if you’re a science geek or just want some facts.
Pour a dime-sized dollop of oil into your hot pan. Carefully, (remember it is hot) use a paper towel to spread the oil all over the pan, including the top lip, the handle, and even the bottom if you wish. Take a separate, clean paper towel and, as before, wipe off as much of the oil as you can. This is important because if you have too much oil, the coating will become sticky instead of polymerizing and becoming nonstick.
The pan will not be bright and shiny but will have a slight sheen from the oil. Now, place the pan in the oven at 500 degrees for 1 hour. Be sure to turn on your vent hood because it will smoke a bit. When the hour is up, turn the oven off but leave the pan in the oven to cool; it will take at least another hour.
Once the pan has cooled completely, remove it from the oven and use it as usual.
How Do I Clean Ceramic-Coated Cast Iron?
Homestead cast iron care of ceramic-coated pans is quite easy. The ceramic coated pans are managed differently than your standard bare cast iron. Ceramic coated pans do not require seasoning though the coating will discolor a bit over time, a little bit like seasoning. If there is food stuck on, do not scrub it too hard and scratch the coating. If needed, you can let the pan sit with a bit of water to loosen up stuck food but not too long (5-10 minutes and set a timer!) because the rim and scratched areas can rust. Again, I love the scraper for these pans. Scrape that food off with the plastic scraper.
Another option that I found works well is to put water in the pan and put it on the stove. Bring the water to a boil, then add 1-2 tablespoons of baking soda. The baking soda helps to release the stuck-on food particles making it much easier to scrape off. Then wash as usual.
How does it get clean without soap?
Many people get worried because they’ve always been told NEVER to use soap on cast iron. If you think about it, any restaurant that uses cast iron will be using soap. The health department isn’t going to approve of not using soap to clean pans. My personal feeling is to do what is right for you.
Personally, I do not use soap on cast iron and, to my knowledge, we’ve never had a problem. That is my personal experience and not necessarily based on any research or science.
My best advice for homestead cast iron care is to limit your use of soap if you do feel the need to use it. It can degrade the seasoning (soap breaks up all that oil you use to season). If you feel more comfortable using soap, do it but, be sure that you rinse really well and try to use only warm water, not hot. Hot water opens the pores in the iron letting in the soapy water. If you haven’s sufficiently rinsed and dried, food might end up tasting like soap. Also, make sure you dry it thoroughly on the stove to get all that excess moisture away from the metal before storing it.
One last homestead cast iron care tip!
If there are just tiny bits of stuck-on food (sometimes when the fried eggs get too hot), you can use salt to scrub the pan. Sprinkle coarse salt into the pan and then scrub with a paper towel. This is gentle and won’t harm the coating and is another form of water-free cleaning. This is better for bare cast iron. I have not tried it with ceramic coated cast iron because of the risk of scratching.
I hope you these tips give you new confidence using your cast iron. Just remember, seasoning after every use is the key and, once or twice a year, do a deep seasoning with the flax oil to reinforce the polymer coating on the metal that will help build that nonstick coating.
Do You Struggle With Homestead Cast Iron Care or Is It The Best Tool Ever?
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