I Love My Cast Iron Skillets

September 17, 2010

Many families have cast iron skillets that have been passed down for generations.  There’s a reason for this: cast iron will last for-e-ver.  I’m lucky enough to have two such skillets (one with a lid).  I love them for their versatility.  I love them for their look.  I love them for their cooking abilities.  And now that I’ve learned some lessons, I love them for their low maintenance.
 
Cast iron is the original non-stick.  Before there were non-stick skillets, our parents and grandparents were cooking food without worrying about it sticking.  I worry about the chemicals involved in the non-stick coatings on new pans–I do think there are coatings that are safe–but by using cast iron, I don’t have to worry about what is on my skillet.  I’ll tell you right now what’s on my skillet: a few layers of olive oil, a few layers of coconut oil, some bacon grease, and a ton of butter.
 
As I said, I had some lessons to learn.  There aren’t alot of “don’ts” when dealing with cast iron, but here are two:
 
Don’t scrub with soap – cast iron is non-stick because of layers of fats cooked into the pores of the iron.  When the surface is scraped with grease-cutting soap, the coating begins to thin.  The coating on my first skillet began to crack, and before I knew it, I had rust.
 
Don’t leave acidic foods in the skillet – I made some dishes with lots of tomatoes, and since my skillet has a heavy lid, making it ideal for storage, I left the food in there and refrigerated it.  The acids began to break down the coating.  Again, rust.
 
If you have done one of the “don’ts,” worry not.  Your skillet, and mine, can be returned to it’s former glory–you just need to re-season it.  Once you see rust, just grab some steel wool or some sandpaper, and scrub down to the iron.  After doing that, you need some good fat or oil to coat the skillet.  I’ve used coconut oil, which looks like Crisco, and is a solid at room temperature (but isn’t hydrogenated).  I’ve read that animal fats work even better.  I covered the skillet with oil and baked it in the oven at 350 for about an hour (turn on the hood, and ventilate your kitchen, because it may smoke a bit).  I did that a few times.  Once you’ve done that, the skillet is seasoned and ready for action again, but I’d make sure to cook fatty foods the first few times.  Go ahead and enjoy some organic, locally-produced bacon, and leave some of the fat once you’re done (save the rest for later–I love eggs cooked in bacon grease).
 
Now that I know how to treat my beloved skillet, maintenance is simple.  If necessary, I scrub it with water only (and dry it well), and when I cook non-greasy foods, I toss in a tablespoon of butter once I’m finished.  The butter smells good, and it means that next time I turn on the heat, the skillet is ready to go.  My skillets are staples in the kitchen.  I use them in nearly every meal.
 
If you’re not lucky enough to have family heirloom skillets, check out a thrift store (Blackwell’s, near 63rd and Troost, has a ton) or garage sale.  Now that you know how to season one, you don’t have to be scared off by a little rust.  In another 80 years, we can pass our cast iron skillets on to the next generation.
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One Response to “I Love My Cast Iron Skillets”

  1. rachelkempf said

    I hope you know, I’m going to be putting you to work when you come visit! I just picked up a couple of cast iron skillets at a garage sale Saturday. Hoping you can help me “prep” them. I already used one to bake cornbread in, but that’s as far as I’ve gotten.

    Oh, and thanks for the milk info way back when. I keep forgetting to say that. I passed the info along to my friend. I’ve also found a local source for goat milk, which I will be purchasing regularly (Luckily, she’s a neighbor!).

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