Either have one for each child, or specify to whom you are bequeathing the perfectly seasoned cast iron skillet. If you have a couple of children, it will be easy to switch the usage to ensure that each one gets a proper buildup of “seasoning.” If you have more than a few children, this will be more difficult. Seasoning a cast iron skillet occurs with the coating of oil and cooking that the pan takes on over time. Some people leave the skillet on the stove all the time and it gets used frequently, while others keep it in the pantry to be pulled out only for certain dishes. We say keep it where you see it and will think to use it.
A cast iron skillet is perfect for stovetop use. When heated properly it browns meat, allows onions to caramelize, and holds the heat. Like any pan on the stove, hotspots can occur. Claims that there are certain pans that conduct heat better than others across the bottom of the pan is partially true, but the reality is that any pot will get a hotspot when left in the same place over a flame or electric coil. What is different with cast iron is that it retains the heat better than most other metals, thus giving a steadily heated surface. Is the heating even? Yes and no. By retaining the heat, the pan keeps the heat dispersed, but stirring and moving the food around in the pan is what prevents the item from burning or sticking to the spot right above the heat source. Cooking on a heating element or burner that is line with the size of the pan’s bottom will help with keeping an even heat. Use a large pan on the smallest heating element and it opens the door for hotspots and burning-this is true of any pan, not just cast iron.
CAST IRON FACTS:
- Cast iron can be used on a gas stove or an electric stove. Heat is heat is heat.
- Cast iron is sturdy and cannot warp. The iron is formed at such a high temperature, that it is virtually impossible to create a situation where the pot could warp.
Seasoning helps to make a natural stick-free surface with proper heating and fat coating. This means that for any cooking surface to not have the food stick to it, the fat must be hot enough to form a barrier between the pan and the food being cooked. Pre-heating the fat source (grease, butter, oil) will allow the food to form a tight barrier when it gets put into the pan, and thus help to prevent it from sticking to the pan. Think about what an egg does when cracked into hot butter-it sizzles and seizes. This is the surface area cooking quickly, or basically the proteins forming a tight bond (egg science explained). When eggs stick it is usually because the fat has not been heated sufficiently.
Baking a frittata or a pineapple upside down cake will form a beautiful golden crust when baked in a cast iron skillet. In either case the pan is heated with the fat before placing the potatoes and eggs or the batter into it. Hot pan+hot fat=non-stick (unless it is Teflon which is non-stick no matter what). Baking, roasting or broiling-cast iron is the way to go. Some claim that roasting or even grilling will remove the seasoned coating. The only time we have found this to be true was when it was put into a hot oven to dry and forgotten about. We have never seen the coating loosen when there has been food in the skillet. We’ll talk about the re-seasoning the resulted from an overnight stay in the oven in a moment.
There are a few things one should earn and adapt to when using a cast iron skillet. The biggest hurdle is the cleaning, oiling and seasoning. Googling will offer a variety of methods, techniques and videos on how to care for the skillet. Some say soap, others say not. To soak or not to soak. Stovetop, oven or dishrag drying? We do a combination of everything. Depending on what was cooked and what residue may be left behind, the type of cleaning required can vary. If we use soap and a steel wool pad or soak it to remove food residue, we always wipe the pan dry with a paper towel, recoat with a small amount of oil and dry thoroughly on the stove or in a warm oven. However, you can roast the coating off. Roasting means a high heat. From experience, we recommend a lower heat than the roasting oven to properly dry.
This is what you do not want to do, and this is the remedy if it is what you do accidentally do. We cook on an AGA cooker in our home kitchen (which shows from time-to-time in our blog post photos). An AGA is a cast iron, enameled cooker from England. It is always on and in Maine, this is fine. If you live in Florida, you might not want one of these. We do turn off the gas in July/August, but most of the year it runs full time. It has flat plates on the top to cook on and it has three ovens that are always on-warming, baking, and roasting. Depending on the temperature that a recipe calls for determines which oven the item goes into. Long-cooking baked beans into the simmering oven do go, muffins and cookies into the baking oven, and roasted chicken the roasting oven. So anyway, what this all leads to is that in a hasty moment of wanting a fresh oil coating to cook onto the cast iron skillet, it was forgotten in the roasting oven. The oven doors are sealed and it vents outside, so things are frequently forgotten because we cannot smell them.
A few days later a recipe called for a roasting temperature. Needless to say, there was the cast iron skillet, well-warmed awaiting when the oven door was opened. With the overnight, or several overnight stays in the hot oven, the years of built up coating crisped off. Not the end of the pan, rather a new beginning of the seasoning process – if yours is in need of an overhaul or if you have lucked out and found one at a tag sale, this is the method we recommend.
Several steel wool pads and a good bit of elbow grease later, the pan was a dull, blackish-gray with a slight rust spot forming in the middle. A thick oil coating was applied, a trip to the baking oven this time, and an hour later removed. The pan was wiped out thoroughly with a dry paper towel, and another coating, this time a bit lighter was applied. The baking process was repeated. The result was a nicely coated skillet, free of rust and ready to be used just as before, and ready for more years of coating.
Whether simmering beans, baking golden, flaky bisquits, or roasting a pheasant, this is a kitchen item that will last beyond your lifetime. Put it in the Will.
Our favorite the Lodge 10.5” Skillet, is available from Amazon. We selected the one from Prime, which if you do not have, we highly recommend getting-$99/year and there are no additional shipping charges for many of the products.