When the going gets tough, the tough get cast iron. I say that a bit tongue in cheek but there is a lot of truth to that. After all, when the grid is down and you need to cook over an open fire, you can bet that you will not be using your $200 department store pan. That is why I say that when it comes to cooking, the most useful item you can have in your kitchen or pantry is a good, solid cast iron skillet.
Or put another way, every prepper needs a big, beautiful cast iron skillet!
For those of you that are not familiar with cast iron, it has been around for years and is one of the most durable, lasting and coveted forms of cookware on the planet. Not only that, but cooking with cast iron will result is some of the most well-prepared and good tasting meals you will even eat.
As I have written before, I love my big beautiful cast iron iron skillet.
Even though I have had it for less than three 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.
A 12-inch skillet is versatile. It can be used on the stove top to fry up some eggs or in the oven to roast some veggies or a slab of salmon. It can be used to bake a deep dish pizza (my favorite) or as a baking surface for those Thrive macaroons I love so much. And then there is cornbread, burgers and stir-fry’s.
WHY I LOVE CAST IRON
· Cast iron can be used both indoors on a traditional stove or outdoors over an open fire, rocket stove or gas grill.
· It conducts heat and gets really, really hot. And then it holds that heat for a long time which is important if you must conserve fuel.
· A well seasoned (meaning well-used) cast iron skillet is extremely non-stick.
· Any old utensil or spatula can be used without harming the surface. Shoot – you can even stir food around with a tree branch or twig without harming the surface.
· Foods browns quickly. And browned food = flavorful food.
· Cast iron is practically indestructible. There are no rivets, screws, or welded points that can fail. That makes it so durable that with proper care, it can be used for decades if not centuries.
· It is healthy. A tiny bit of iron will leach from the skillet into your food. I am talking about a teensy tiny few milligrams which, in a survival situation, will be especially vital to your good health.
IT CAN’T ALL BE GOOD CAN IT?
OK, truth be told, there are a few negative aspects to a cast iron skillet.
· At 8 pounds, it is downright heavy and the handle gets extremely hot – burnable hot. You must be careful. I swear by my Ove Gloves and use them whenever I cook. A less expensive alternative are welding gloves that can be purchased for a very modest price either on Amazon.
· After cooking in it, you need to scrape out the leftover bits of food and rinse it out (without soap if you are a purist like me) and dry it really well so that it does not rust. A little coating of oil does not hurt either.
· You also need to be careful that you do not remove your cast iron skillet from the heat source and plunge it under a stream of cold water. Doing so may cause it to crack or to shatter. Not pretty.
· If not cleaned and dried properly, cast iron will rust.
CAST IRON TLC – TIPS TO KEEP YOUR CAST IRON HAPPY
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.
These days, if you are starting new, you can purchase a pre-seasoned skillet. That is what I did.
Lodge as well as other manufacturers sell pre-seasoned skillets 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 re-season them yourself and I include some easy peasy directions below.
The pictures above and to the right are of some old, rusted cast iron skillets that I rescued. I cleaned them up and re-seasoned them myself. Skillets like this are completely salvageable.
The key to obtaining a slick, well blackened cast iron skillet is to continually re-season it as it is being used for day to day cooking. You do this by wiping a thin layer of vegetable oil along the inside after each use. (I use this little mop thingy I purchased on Amazon). Even though my skillet is already nice and dark, I still like to coat it with a bit of oil. Think of it this way. You are giving your beloved skillet a nice gentle and relaxing spa treatment.
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
Cast 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 your cast iron skillet 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 Gloves) 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 using a scrubbing sponge that you use exclusively for this purpose. Another secret is to use salt as a scrubbing agent. Add salt to the skillet, scrub away then add a bit of water. Bring the water to a boil and those stubborn bits will just float away. Dump, rinse, and drain and you are good to go.
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 above.
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 fortunate For the rest of us, a good quality pan that we purchase new 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.
And if you are really, really lucky, you will snag a used Griswold or Wagner cast iron skillet at a thrift shop, garage sale or on eBay.
7. Need to re-season? Here’s how.
· Wash your skillet 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 but not olive oil) 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.
· Repeat this process (oil and bake) at least one more time and preferable two for a total of three oil and bake sessions.
· Store the cookware uncovered, in a dry place when cooled.
Now there are some that will say you need to take your skillet down to bare metal every year or two and start the seasoning all over again. As a matter of fact, I called Lodge about a month ago because I thought I had scraped the seasoning off my skillet. They told me that I should start over from bare metal and that further, they suggested that I do that every couple of years.,
Hog wash. Unless your skillet is rusted out, chances are that cooking with some greasy food will build the season up again, all by its own self. Just sayin’.
THE FINAL WORD
For some, the cast iron skillet may be an ugly duckling. But I think the humble cast iron skillet is gorgeous!
Sure you may have some fancy, department store cookware in your cupboard as do I. And I must admit, it does a great job. But there is something very comforting and rewarding about 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 as well as pan frying. Whatever you do, use you cast iron skillet often. I guarantee that you will be hooked and will want to start adding to your cast iron cookware collection, one skillet and one Dutch oven at a time.
Enjoy your next adventure through common sense and thoughtful preparation!
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Bargain Bin: Below are some of my favorite cast iron items including some useful accessories.
Lodge Logic 12-Inch Pre-Seasoned Skillet: 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 Logic Pre-Seasoned 15 Inch Cast-Iron Skillet: Similar to the 12” skillet only bigger. Actually, quite huge (and yes, I finally have one!).
US Forge 400 Welding Gloves Lined Leather: These well-priced gloves provide complete heat and burn protection. They are made of soft and supple top grain leather for comfort and pliability, plus they have an internal liner gives more comfort and durability.
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 Brushes: 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 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.
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