Cooking Basics

How to cook with cast iron

Info Guru, Catalogs.com

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Cast iron skillet
Take care of your cast iron, and it will last a lifetime
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Learning how to cook with cast iron is simple

Owning a cast iron skillet (or any other cast iron cookware) is like owning a legacy. What you have in your hands, if treated properly, will last for ages. It can become a family heirloom, being passed down through the generations and gathering all sorts of stories and memories accumulated through years of cooking and family meals.

Or, it's just a good, sturdy piece of cookware that will never let you down. But, it requires the proper care.

The first thing you must do when you bring home a new, or even a used, piece of cast iron cookware is to season it. This doesn't mean to start sprinkling on the salt and pepper. You may have heard that cast iron is inherently non-stick, better and longer lasting than Teflon. New cast iron, however, or a pan or pot that hasn't been properly seasoned, is definitely not.

The seasoning, which is a thin layer of fats and oils that is constantly being relayered and replenished, is what keeps the surface slick enough to be “non-stick.” Without adequate seasoning, your cast iron is practically useless.

Seasoning Cast Iron

Before seasoning your new pan, you'll notice that it is sort of silvery in color, and not the deep coal black most people associate with cast iron. That blackness comes from the oils you will soon be adding. 

First, wash the cookware with soap (and this is the ONLY time you will use soap). Dry it thoroughly, and then apply a thin layer of high smoking point oil or animal fat. The preferred oils for this task are peanut oil or pastured lard. DO NOT use olive oil or butter for seasoning, since they are too delicate and will burn at high temperatures. 

Once the entire pan is coated, outside and in, place the oily cookware in the oven at around 350 degrees and bake for an hour or two. This cooks the seasoning on, creating a protective layer upon which all future layers of seasoning will build.

Cooking

After your cooking implement is properly seasoned, then it's time to get cooking. The versatility of cast iron is unparalleled as it can go directly from the stove top to the oven, making it the standard in baking traditional cornbread. So, use your skillet or pot or what-have-you as you would any other cookware, and again as you would any bake ware. 

It will conduct heat evenly, so go ahead and pan fry that fish or saute those vegetables in a little olive oil as you normally would. You may even be able to use slightly less heat, since the cast iron holds and conducts heat better than other types of cookware.  

Maintenance

After you are done cooking, scrub the pan under the hottest water you can stand. Using a dish brush for this task will make things easier. 

Whatever you do, NEVER EVER PUT CAST IRON IN THE DISHWASHER. 

Once any bits of food are scrubbed away, place the pan on the stove top over medium-high to high heat to dry thoroughly. Once the water has all evaporated, put a small bit of lard or peanut oil into the bottom and coat the inside of the pan with a rag or paper towel. Let this sit on the burner until just smoking, then turn off the heat and let cool. 

If you are working with a corn muffin pan or some other item that doesn't work so well on the stove top due to its shape, simply towel dry the cookware thoroughly, then lightly coat in oil and place in the oven on low heat for about a half hour. Your cast iron is now ready to be put up for the night.  

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