There are a lot of benefits to using cast iron cookware. It’s far easier to clean than even the most promise filled non-stick cookware, it’s highly versatile, and cooking in it actually improves the taste of food. And while any metal cookware will leach into your food, cast iron cookware can only leach iron which provides an additional health boost. Best of all, when properly cared for your cast iron cookware can last for generations and makes for a treasured family heirloom that your children will argue and fight over who gets which pieces of your collection.
A good basic cast iron cookware collection should include at least one fry pan or skillet and dutch oven with a lid. If you plan smart and get a skillet the same size as the mouth of your dutch oven, you can use the lid for both. Skillets are available in a range of sizes, with and without lids, and of varying depths. Dutch ovens also vary with a four quart dutch oven being a good all-purpose size with larger seven and ten quart dutch ovens being great for large families or if you’re cooking something large, like a whole turkey.
With the exception of cast iron tea pots and tea kettles, all cast iron cookware requires the same basic cleaning and care routine. Following this regimen helps to protect your cast iron from rust –which is its greatest enemy.
It’s alright for it to be exposed to water and moisture as part of cooking, but once done, your cast iron should be cleaned and stored away completely dry to avoid rusting and pitting.
Store With Plenty of Airflow
While it’s common to stack pots and pans so they take up less space in your cupboards, doing so is always ill advised when it comes to cast iron. That metal on metal can trap moisture, causing your cast iron to mold and rust. Cast iron can be stored in a cupboard or you can store inside your oven. A lid can be stored on top of the pot or pan it goes with, but place a layer of paper towel between the lid and pot (or pan) to allow for airflow and keep the metal from touching. Abit of salt sprinkled across the bottom/inside of the cookware will help to keep moisture at bay.
Cure Before Using
Most cast iron comes uncured and will be gray in color. At this stage, it is not ready to be cooked in and must be cured. Some companies Basic curing instructions can be found below. Never cook in uncured cast iron.
Recure as Necessary
Curing is a basic process that prepares your cast iron to be cooked in, protects it from damage, and produces a non-stick cooking surface. Depending upon what you cook in it and how often you use your cast iron over an open fire, you will have to recure your cast iron from time to time, possibly as often as once a month. You’ll be able to tell if your cast iron needs to be required because food will start to stick to the interior, the inside looks porous, or there’s bare metal showing.
Never Add Cold Fluids to a Hot Pan
While this is a common cooking practice with steel pans, this causes your cast iron to harden and become brittle, leading it to eventually shatter or crack if bumped or dropped.
How to Cure Your Cast Iron
Cast iron is a porous metal. In curing it, a thin layer of lard or vegetable shortening is spread across it entirely. Once heated up, the lard or shortening melts and is pulled into the metal. This creates a barrier between the metal and anything it comes into contact with, protecting it and preventing food from sticking. Cured cast iron will always be black in color.
While lard is often touted as being the best for curing cast iron, I used vegetable shortening for over a decade on my cast iron collection without any noticeable difference –aside from the freshly cured cast iron having a “cleaner” smell.
To begin, coat the entire inside and outside of the cast iron with lard or shortening. Be sure to work in into the corners and into any crevices that may exist due to details in the lid, designs on the handle, or manufacturer information on the bottom.
Now, it’s time to gently heat the cast iron over low heat so that the lard/shortening melts into the pores of the metal and then bakes on to create a protective barrier. This can be done in an oven or over an open fire. If you do cure your cast iron over a fire, you’ll want a moderately hot fire with low flames. In the oven, set the temperature to about 250 degrees. Bake the cast iron until the metal is shiny and black.
Once done, you can just turn off the oven and allow the cast iron to sit inside until cool. This can take over an hour.
Your cast iron is now ready to be cooked in or can be stored until needed. See above for tips on safely storing your cast iron cookware.
Recuring Your Cast Iron
Recuring follows the same procedure as curing, only it requires some extra prep work first. To get a nice and even curing, thoroughly cleaning your cast iron will help. The easiest and most thorough way is to put your cast iron in a roaring open fire. The flames will eat off built up food and take off the curing, leaving clean gray metal. From there you can easily cure your cast iron.
If you don’t have access to an open fire, you can scour off built up food with a wire bristle brush or steel wool.
Cleaning Your Cast Iron
Unlike every other piece of cookware you own, your cast iron should never be cleaned with dish detergent and water. This will not just clean your cast iron, but will effectively strip off the curing that you worked so hard to do. Plus, this greatly increases the chances of your cast iron rusting.
That curing not only protects your cast iron against damage, but also absorbs flavors from your cooking, making every meal more delicious than the last.
To maintain that curing, cleaning is done carefully with a stiff wire bristle brush and salt. Sprinkle a good bit of salt into the pot or pan. Using your wire brush, scrub at the inside of the cast iron to thoroughly remove caked on food. The salt helps to pull moisture away from the metal, as well as removing germs. The wire brush helps to loosen cooked on food.
Once finished, dump the contents into the trash and spread a thin layer of oil, lard, or shortening on the cast iron to bump up the curing and seal any weak spots in the curing from the cleaning process.
Final Thoughts on Cast Iron Cookware
By following the steps and care procedure outlined above, your cast iron will provide you with years of service. Although cast iron does cost a bit more, initially, the fact that it can last for generations means that it is not only a smart investment, but one that quickly pays for itself. You’ll be able to use your cast iron cookware for everyday cooking, baking, and even while camping or grilling out. And someday, you’ll be able to pass on the tradition of great tasting cast iron cooking to your children, with heirloom skillets and dutch ovens that they’ll cherish and one day pass on to their children.