10 Tips for Cast Iron Cooking
Congratulations! You’ve joined the elite ranks of cast iron cooks. You might find that using the newest addition to your culinary arsenal can be a bit tricky; a cast iron has some unique characteristics that are worth some attention. It’s those unique characteristics that make cooking with one such a joy, however, so if you’re not scared of a little education, read on to find out how to make the most of your new skillet!
1. The reason for the season
“Seasoning” a cast iron skillet is a long-held tradition. A seasoned skillet has a layer of oil that sits inside the pan during cooking, imparting flavor to the food and keeping it from sticking during the cooking process. Properly seasoning a skillet is something you should always do if you want your skillet to last a long time.
To season your cast iron, rub the entire thing (handle and exterior included!) down with an oil of your choice using a soft rag until it has an obvious sheen, and there isn’t a noticeable puddle of oil somewhere. After this, turn your skillet upside down and place it inside of an oven heated to 350 degrees. Leave it there for an hour, and then switch your oven off and allow the skillet to cool inside.
2. Give it a soda scrub
Cleaning a cast iron is an undertaking that allows you to channel your inner Atomic Era spirit. Baking soda, the cultural icon, should be sprinkled into a cast iron immediately after you’re done cooking with it. A little warm water and a nylon brush are the tools you’ll need to then give the skillet a scrub until the flavors of the last dish are neutralized, and any bacteria hitching a ride are gone.
Water can cause rust, however, so once the skillet is clean, thoroughly dry it down with a rag. Afterward, rub a bit of oil back into the skillet with a rag while it’s still warm before putting it back away.3. There’s nothing wrong with a little soap
Although a baking soda scrub usually does the job, there might be a few times where you need some more firepower to get a particularly painful stain, stuck food, or smell off the skillet. Some mild dish soap definitely won’t hurt your cast iron if it’s necessary; wash it with a little warm water, dry it, and re-apply some oil after you’re done, just like you would with baking soda.4. Seasonal seasoning
A seasoned skillet will cook well for a long time, but much like anything gold, the season won’t eternally stay. If you’re noticing more stuck food, changing flavors, or other trouble cooking, it might be time to re-season your skillet. It’s the same process as the first time; a little oil everywhere, and a lot of heat for an hour.
Regularly seasoning your cast iron also ends up making your skillet healthier as you continue to do it; the layer of oil at the bottom will continue to impart more and more flavor and heat to the food if you make sure to replenish it.
5. Preheat like a pro
A cast iron skillet will do its best work when it’s already heated. The oil layer at the bottom will be ready to cook, and heating will be applied evenly to the food in the skillet. Give your cast iron a few minutes of heat before adding any food, and you’ll continue to see great results. We love heating our cast iron skillets (or melting butter) in the hot pizza oven before using.
6. Rust is easily fixed
A single spot of rust spotted inside your skillet is not a deathknell sign that you need to prepare for a trip to the junkyard. Even expertly maintained cast irons will rust over time. It’s made of metal, after all.
To care for spots of rust that might pop up in your skillet over time, start with a simple cleaning and then slowly escalate to more abrasive methods if it’s not doing the job. You could even use a bit of steel wool if it’s necessary; the most important thing to remember, however, is that you’ll need to re-season your skillet after an intensive cleanup job.
7. Keep the heat a bit lower
Cast irons are superconductive. They’ll pick up every last of bit of heat they can, and so they’ll end up getting toasty relatively quickly. You’ll know if your cast iron is a touch overheated (you usually end up seeing smoke) as well. The solution is simply to cook at lower temperatures than you might be used to with some foods. If you’ve overheated your skillet, you can also turn the heat off and allow it to cool back down. With that said, cast iron skillets are perfect for the wood-fired oven because they can handle higher temperatures better than most cookware!
8. Use a metal spatula
Spatula companies are under the impression they’re excellent marketers, for some reason. Regardless of what a plastic, rubber, wood, or another spatula might say on the package, none of them will do as well when cooking in a skillet than a metal one. The edges of a metal spatula allow you to get under frying foods, and they won’t be damaged by the high heat of a cast iron.
9. Try all kinds of foods
The more often you cook in a cast iron, the more oil polymers you’re adding to the bottom of the pan. Not only will this make your skillet cook better, you’ll also be adding to the flavor profile it can provide to your foods.
There’s also no reason to believe that your cast iron isn’t suitable for a given kind of food. One common misconception is that acidic food shouldn’t be cooked in a cast iron skillet. Not only is this an unwarranted concern, it’s also a bit limiting in terms of what you can do with your skillet, which is a perfect lead to the final point...
10. Your cast iron can handle a lot
Cast iron skillets are probably the most resilient pieces of cookware known to man. Don’t be afraid of making a mistake or trying something new! Even if you’ve turned what was a delicious meal into a molten mess of charred carbon, you can always brush the error off and try again; and your skillet won’t be worse for wear at all.
Ready to get started? Read this blog post on Seasoning and Cleaning Your Cast Iron Skillet to prepare for cooking!