7 Tips for Cast Iron Mavens or Soon-To-Be Mavens

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I love my cast iron skillet.  Even though I have had it for just a few years, it is the most used piece of cookware in my home.  Perhaps it is nostalgia for what I perceive to be the good old days – think Pa and the boys cooking up some chow on Bonanza – or simply a longing to, in some small way, shun our spit-shined, high tech society.

Whatever the case, I am now really “in” to cast iron.

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If you were lucky enough to get some cast iron cookware as a gift, you probably have some anxiety about using it.  And even if your are a cast iron diva – well experienced in its glories – you may have some questions about it’s use and care for the long term.  Today I offer some cast iron tips and suggestions that will guarantee your cooking adventures with cast iron succeed.

1.  Seasoning is your friend

Cast iron needs to be seasoned in order to acquire non-stick capabilities.  An unseasoned piece is a disaster waiting to happen.  You food will taste like, well, rusty iron.  Food will stick like crazy.  And clean-up?  Forget it.

7 Tips for Cast Iron Mavens or Soon To Be Mavens | via www.backdoorsurvival.comThese days, if you are starting new, you can purchase a pre-seasoned pan.  That is what I did.  Lodge as well as other manufacturers sell  pre-seasoned pans for just a few dollars more than the unseasoned kind.  But not to worry if you acquired an old rusted out or unseasoned pan from a friend, relative  or thrift store,  You can find my instructions for seasoning a cast iron pan from scratch in the tip area below.  (See pictures of some old, rusted cast iron skillets to the right.  These are completely salvageable.)

The key to obtaining a slick, well blackened cast iron pan is to continually re-season.  You do this by wiping a thin layer of vegetable oil along the inside after each use.  (I use this little mop thingy7 Tips for Cast Iron Mavens or Soon To Be Mavens | via www.backdoorsurvival.com I purchased on Amazon).   I am still doing this to my skillet and it is getting nice and dark.  I am sure that the time will come when I can give this up but for now, I like how nice and shiny the pan is getting.

2.  Cook with a bit of oil

Or use cooking spray if that is something you use.  Just like coating the pan with a thin layer of oil after each use, while the pan is new you should cook with a bit of oil.  Of course you would not do this while frying bacon and, as a matter of fact, cooking foods with a lot of fat in them will simply accelerate the long term seasoning process.

Keep using that bit of oil while cooking until your pan has a dark, satiny patina.  Then be brave and try cooking without.  If you find you now have a non-stick pan, great!  You can add extra oil only if you wish to add some flavor.

3,. Preheat the pan

7 Tips for Cast Iron Mavens or Soon To Be Mavens | via www.backdoorsurvival.comCast iron heats evenly; no hot spots or cold spots on this puppy.  To take advantage of this even heat, preheat first.  Be sure to let you cast iron heat up gradually as the burner or oven heats up since a cold pan on a fiery hot burner could break or crack from thermal shock.

And remember, that pot or pan will be very hot.  Use mitts (or Ove Gloves7 Tips for Cast Iron Mavens or Soon To Be Mavens | via www.backdoorsurvival.com) for protection.

4.  Store cooked foods somewhere else

The acid in foods will break down the seasoning in your pan and impart a metallic taste.  When the meal is over, take the time to store your food in a suitable container.

5.  Never every use soap for cleaning and dry thoroughly

Soap will destroy that wonderful, non-stick patina.  Don’t do it.  Instead, scrape off the bits of food left in the pan and if necessary, use some salt and a tad of water as a scrubbing agent.  I have a scrubbing sponge that I use exclusively on my cast iron.  When done cleaning, I store it away in a Ziploc baggie so I do not mix it up with the day to day soapy sponge.

Whatever you do, do not allow your cast iron cookware to air dry.  It will rust.  Instead, dry it well and for good measure add that coat of oil we talked about in #1 above.

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6.  Quality counts

The best quality pan is a pan that has been passed down from Grandma with a 50 year history of use and seasoning.  Alas, not all of us can be that lucky.  For the rest of us, a good quality pan will more than pay for itself.  Look for a fine grain on the surface without a lot of pitting.  Equally important, make sure the cast iron has a uniform thickness and that it sits level on flat surface.  No wobbles, please.

7.  Have a blast!

Sure you may have some fancy, department store cookware in your cupboard.  I do. And I must admit, it does a great job.  But there is something rewarding in pulling out a pan that is steeped in tradition and history even if it is brand new.  Experiment cooking with your cast iron.  Try oven frying and baking and whatever you do, use it often.  Have fun.

Favorite Cast Iron Foods

7 Tips for Cast Iron Mavens or Soon To Be Mavens | via www.backdoorsurvival.comThere is no question that I have a love affair with my three cast iron pieces:  a 12” skillet, a 4 quart Dutch Oven (also called a camp stove) and a smaller, 10” skillet.  So what are my favorite uses for cast iron?  Just for fun I will list them for you:

Hamburger patties: Fried in a bit of Worcestershire sauce they are perfect.  The splatter does make a mess.  Try this outdoors on your rocket stove.

Fried potatoes:  Don’t knock it until you have tried it.  I cut the spuds into wedges and toss them in about a tablespoon of oil.  After preheating the skillet in a 450 degree over, in go the potatoes.  These are sooooo good.

Biscuits:  I cheat and use a mix (Fisher’s).  I drop them in the skillet (indoors) or Dutch over (outdoors) and bake.  Great with soup.

Salmon fillet:  Yep, even the salmon goes into the over on my cast iron skillet.  I add a bit of butter, garlic and basil if it is in season.

Pineapple Upside Down Cake:  Wishful thinking since I actually have not made this myself but I have had it at a friends house.  To die for.

The Final Word

Cast iron is inexpensive and, with nominal care, practically indestructible.  It can be safely use indoors or out, over gas, electricity or a campfire.  With two or three pieces, you can cook almost anything.  What is not to like?  As you think about outfitting yourself with gear, consider versatile cast iron.

One thing for sure:  it will not make you sick from toxic fumes or coatings that come off during the cooking process.  And for that reason alone it is highly recommended.

Enjoy your next adventure through common sense and thoughtful preparation!

Gaye

Backdoor Survival Tip:  Need to re-season an old cast iron pan? Here is what you do:

  • Wash the cookware with hot, soapy water and a stiff brush. (It is okay to use soap this time because you are preparing to re-season the cookware).
  • Rinse and dry completely.
  • Apply a thin, even coating of MELTED solid vegetable shortening (or cooking oil of your choice) to the cookware (inside and out).
  • Place aluminum foil on the bottom rack of the oven to catch any drippings.
  • Set oven temperature to 350 – 400 degrees F.
  • Place cookware upside down on the top rack of the oven.
  • Bake the cookware for at least one hour. After the hour, turn the oven off and let the cookware cool in the oven.
  • Store the cookware uncovered, in a dry place when cooled.

From the Bargain Bin: Here are my favorite cast iron items.  Next on the list?  A 15” skillet!

Lodge Logic 12-Inch Pre-Seasoned Skillet7 Tips for Cast Iron Mavens or Soon To Be Mavens | via www.backdoorsurvival.com: This purchase changed the way I cook. I se my cast iron cookware for everything from salmon, to bacon and eggs, to biscuits. For under $20, there is no excuse not to own this survival basic. Don’t forget the Lodge Set of 2 Pan Scrapers, a must have for cleaning those food bits from your cast iron cookware.

Lodge Dutch Oven/Camp Stove:  I originally purchased this Dutch oven because it was so darn cute.  But over time, I have learned to love it for its versatility.  Remember, a camp stove is designed so that you can bake with it by arranging charcoal on top of the lid as well as underneath the Dutch Oven itself.

Ove’ Gloves Hot Surface Handler:  I cannot say enough about these hand and arm protectors.  I have permanent scars from hitting my arm on the rack of my oven.  I can only imagine what I would look like if I did not use these with my cast iron cookware.  Forget the colorful silicon hot pads.  These are 1000 times better!

Four Silicone Brushes7 Tips for Cast Iron Mavens or Soon To Be Mavens | via www.backdoorsurvival.com:  I call these”mop thingies”.  Great for layering a nice thin coat of oil on your cast iron pans.

Lodge 5-Quart Double Dutch Oven and Casserole with Skillet Cover:  This is another cool piece.  This Dutch Oven does not have legs and is designed for indoor use – but it can be used outdoors too.  Just don’t forget the Ove Gloves.

Lodge Logic Pre-Seasoned 15 Inch Cast-Iron Skillet:  Similar to the 12” skillet only bigger.  Definitely on my bucket list.

One for Thing:  It is freezing cold up here in the Pacific Northwest.  We had a monster snow storm and now the ice storm has arrived.  Next are the floods as the big melt begins.  Make sure you are nice and toasty by having a heater that will work of the power goes out for an extended period.

7 Tips for Cast Iron Mavens or Soon To Be Mavens | via www.backdoorsurvival.com7 Tips for Cast Iron Mavens or Soon To Be Mavens | via www.backdoorsurvival.comMr. Heater Portable “Big Buddy” Heater : A number of readers have mentioned this portable heater to me. Using propane and safe for indoor use, the Big Buddy Heater features an automatic low-oxygen shut-off system that automatically turns the unit off before carbon monoxide fumes reach dangerous levels in home. Now how good is that? Read the reviews and decide for yourself. I think that in a power down situation (or SHTF), this is a great option for someone without a wood burning heat source.

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Comments

7 Tips for Cast Iron Mavens or Soon-To-Be Mavens — 27 Comments

  1. Good article. Thanks for posting it. I have been a cast iron maven for about 5 years now. Christmas Day 2011 our power went out here in Seattle for 8 hours. After the initial panic wore off (company coming and nothing to feed them) We pulled out all the lodge ware which includes 2 dutch ovens and various sized skillets with lids. We cooked everything in cast iron on the gas BBQ in the back yard including the turkey which fit (snugly) in the large dutch oven. By 6 pm we had a perfect dinner with the best turkey we have ever made.

  2. I just found a few really old rusted pieces of cast iron (skillets, but I dont know the sizes)!

    I super excited to start using them, I just have to go on youtube and find videos. lol

    I think I’m going to fry bacon and hamburger patties the first time! :-) thanks for the tips!

      • Carla Emory published an excellent seasoning method using beef fat to build up a really attractive and slick layer of polymerized fats. Used after the clean cycle stripping it works very well.

        I’ll paraphrase it here with my wife’s instructions:

        Seasoning Cast Iron

        1) grease thoroughly cleaned iron with suet (beef tallow). IT MUST BE BEEF SUET!

        2) Place in a 425 degree oven for 15 minutes

        3) Regrease and repeat step 2 at least 3 times

        4) After the final coat, bake for at least 2 hours

        5) Turn oven off and allow to cool gradually. Or set “time bake” and let it cool in the oven over night.

        Over the years I’ve learned that using pieces of clean, torn up t-shirts works really well for greasing the pan. I use a small amount of grease (tallow, suet) each time I remove the pan from the oven. Rub the pan all over with the cloth piece. I also use tongs to hold on to the cloth as it gets really hot. Too much grease will cause streaks, which, while it doesn’t affect the usefulness of the pan, makes it less “pretty”.

        Another important time saver is to use your self cleaning oven to clean all the old grease off the pan. This should only be used when you’ve acquired a “new” pan from a garage sale or a dumpster dive. I don’t know about you, but I want all the stuff on that pan to be MINE, not someone else’s! Just put the pan in the oven and set it to “heavy” clean. A couple hours later and the pan will be ready to clean with steel wool. Once the rust and the rough spots are buffed out it’s ready to season.
        :

  3. gaye

    Great site; you and Mr U really have useful info on so may subjects

    Regarding cast-iron … I place a vote for the small 6″ Lodge [or Wearevers if you can find them]. They would be part of any basic 1-person or small group kit for bug – out or relocation

    small, relatively light and with tin foil “lids” they’re extremely versatile

  4. Instead of gloves, I use a silicone handle sleeve which works well for handling hot skillets. Have been using Lodge for a couple of years and LOVE how it goes from the stove to the oven without any worries and no more black teflon flakes in our food. We use stainless steel cookware for our other needs. If food gets stuck, I just fill with enough water to cover bottom of the plan and put back on the warm burner. Comes up with very little effort.

    Another tip is to use a wet tea bag to prevent rust. After washing and drying your cast-iron pot, wipe it out with a brewed tea bag. The chemical compounds in the tea will create a rust-preventing layer in the pot.

    http://www.dtydirect.com/Kitchen-amp-Dining/Housewares/Housewares/Trudeau-Silicone-Stay-Cool-Pan-Handle-Grip.axd?mr:trackingCode=97CDF609-ECE0-E011-9F24-0019B9C043EB&mr:referralID=NA&CAWELAID=813171607&mr:adType=pla&gclid=CKWj6uyS360CFQpV7Aodo3vRnw

  5. I have a couple of those handed down after 50 years skillets so they are not about 70 or so. They are wonderful. I also have a chicken fryer, a deeper version of a skillet, a griddle.
    Pineapple upside down cake is one of the easiest there is.
    Melt butter in the bottom, a good glob, pineapple rings with a cherry in the middle first, cover good with brown sugar, you want the butter to be absorbed by the brown sugar. Use a yellow cake batter. A mix works or scratch always better. Only fill the skillet up half way with batter or it will run over when it cooks.
    Be sure to heat the butter in the pan on top of the stove, you want the pan about the same temp as the oven when it goes in so it cooks evenly. So have the batter ready before you melt the butter.
    You know how long it takes to heat a cast iron skillet. The top cooks before the sides and bottom otherwise. That’s all there is to it. Enjoy. Thanks, great article!!!

  6. I’ve been using cast iron for years. I have my Mom’s Griswold #9 in which she always made fried chicken, and fried potatoes. I have a newer 6 inch which is seasoned enough to fry eggs with no sticking. I agree with everything you have said. No soap, oil after every use. I dry them on the warm burner before applying oil, and then just turn off the burner and let them cool. I’ve heard that you actually get a little iron in your food, which the body needs, but not sure if that is true. Keep up the good work.

  7. I have used cast iron for many years, I was passed on many pieces from my parents. One thing i have noticed is that the older cast iron is finished much better than the new stuff. All my old skillets have an inside cooking surface that had been machined from the foundry. It is nice and flat and cooks well. The new cheap (never again!) stuff from China, has a rough finish as it is just “sand” cast and has very minor grinding and finishing. Not even the better brands are immune from this, I have several new Lodge 12″ dutch ovens that don’t have a very smooth finish, better than the Chinese, but not near as nice as the stuff that’s 70-80 years old.

    Great article!

    Tex

  8. A good place to get an iron skillet is eBay. Don’t get a new one with a rough surface. Stuff will stick. Also, nothing seasons like beef tallow!
    I have two iron skillets. One I use exclusively for eggs. That keeps the finish mirror smooth. The big one is for everything else.

  9. I have several cast iron pieces I’ve used for 15-20 years. I love using cast iron, but I wash mine with soap and water every time. I have had old ones and started fresh with new ones. I’ve treated them the same. Cook in them, wash with Dawn and water, and treat them with oil before storage. The old one’s seasoned up fine as well as the new one’s. I have a dutch oven I’m using right now that is new and in the process of seasoning. I love to cook my bacon in the oven in my cast iron. I also love to make cornbread in my cast iron. I know they say not wash them, but I do and it’s worked wonderfully!

    • You are not the first one to mention washing cast iron with soap and water. I thought I had scraped off my seasoning last week so I called Lodge to ask them about it. They highly recommended no soap plus told me I had to start all over with my seasoning (by going back to bare metal). I ignored them and just added more oil, baked the skillet in the oven a bit and it is perfectly fine.

      They also said a big no to metal spatula’s and although I have always used plastic, I am starting to use metal with good results. Think about it – in the pioneer days there was no plastic!

      I am still learning but am beginning to believe that there is no right or wrong way to use cast iron cookware.

      — Gaye

      • When I married my husband, I also married his cast iron skillets. My mom and grandma had cooked on cast iron, but I had not. It was a learning experience, but I love it. He told me to always dry with a towel and then on a warm burner before rubbing with a bit of oil. I wash in soapy water, but I don’t scrub too hard and you can see the water beading up on the finish. I tried your tip about using salt to scrub with and it really works well. I always use metal utensils. Why abandon Teflon because of it coming off in your food and then use plastic spatulas and spoons that melt on the hot surface? I find cast iron to be pretty forgiving as long as you keep the finish oiled before storing it away. I agree with the comment about the old pieces having a better cooking surface. I got a long griddle from Lodge for Christmas last year to use on the wood cook stove. It was pre-seasoned and is pretty much non-stick, but the finish is rough and pebbly. Nothing like the old timers I already had.

  10. I cook on bare iron. I have none of the problems you describe. Every cast iron utensil I have has cooked an egg over hard as its first test. I get back 95% – 100% of the egg. Hamburger, potatoes,and other foods fry up well with just a little olive oil. A peeling Tefloned wok returns roughly 70% in scrambled-only form.

    My latest iron cookware is a lightweight 12.5″ wok. Probably restaurant style, it is machined both sides to nearly sheet metal thickness. It’s been over an electric stove, a Rocket Stove (it accomodates the round bottom), my tiny SOLO Stove (boiling water for pasta, little waves would threaten to tip it over first one direction and then the other as they moved back and forth) and a campfire. I’ve experimented with using it for up to 3 meals a day. I’m not afraid to take a Brillo pad to any discoloration and boiling water in it keeps it clean. Oh, and hold out for a round bottom for a real wok experience. Cast iron cooks.

    I once bought a small skillet with a perfect seasoned finish of polymerized animal fats and it performed perfectly. Then I gouged it with some energetic scrubbing and it continued to perform flawlessly. So I scrubbed it down to the bare metal, oiled it up and it cooks as well as it ever did. Don’t be a slave to your iron.

  11. I got several cast iron pans from my folks that were really rusted, Debra, I had my dad sand blast them, all rust gone, then started the seasoning process from scratch. They work great now.

  12. Old cast iron skillets are the greatest. To clean an old pan put in a self cleaning oven for the cycle. It will come out rusty looking but clean. You can also turn it upside down over a good bonfire. Wash it well with soap and water and dry it. Coat it in shortening or oil and return to a hot oven 350 works. Leave it in till smoking hot. Remove and oil again. It can be reheated. After it has been re-seasoned, oil and store. I usually do all of the iron skillets at one time. unclean cook wear kinda freaks me out so I wash as I would any cook wear, even in the dishwasher when I have one.

    ALWAYS pre-heat the skillet with some form of oil before adding food to the skillet. That in itself is a type of seasoning. Food in a cold skillet will always stick. Happy cooking.

  13. Became interested in cast iron after reading about old Griswold and Erie skillets. Purchased my first Griswold about a year ago. A month later, I found a WagnerWare #7 at an antique store in central Indiana. The price was $15 and the cooking surface is like glass. It is a beautiful piece of equipment.

  14. great article, & i agree for most part that cooking with cast iron is the bomb.

    however…

    if you are going to simmer soups & stews for extended periods of time, especially with some acidity involved (tomatoes, etc) raw cast iron is the absolute the worst choice, you will not only trash your seasoning, but your resulting stew will totally suck, with metallic “flavors” at the forefront. that’s not to say cast iron cookware can’t be utilised, far from it, they actually excell in such applications, but you need ceramic coated dutch ovens like what le creset or fontignac offer.

    the proper tool for the job. that’s why i have an inordinate amount of cookware in my kitchen.

    good eats to all, eric

    • Not sure I believe everything people say about boiling, or simmering for long periods. Chuck wagons used them in the 1800’s, Mid-westerners used them in the 1930’s to 50’s and they’ve all held up find, and I’ve never seen any recorded comments about food tasting metallic. Heck – Chili is always cooked for a long time, and most of it has tomatoes in it. Just sayin’! :)

      Be Well!

      PipeMike

  15. love the commentary, but your website is kinda weird. coming from a long time IT dude, your click-thu “or not” could use a bit of clean up.

  16. Whatever you season (or cook) with, do NOT use “solid” (hydrogenated) vegetable oil except coconut oil. Not fit for human consumption. Same w/most vegetable oils sold in the supermarket. They are GMO and/or extracted with solvents such as benzene.
    The gentleman that suggested beef tallow was on the right track.

  17. Cast iron does indeed add iron to food. How seasoning works: iron has microscopic pores and when it is heated these pores expand allowing the oil to enter and upon cooling entraps the oil in the surface. How cool!

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