Farming Advice: How to Season and Clean Cast Iron Pans

Farming advice from MOTHER and her readers, including how to season and clean cast iron pans and a recipe for cast iron cornbread.
By Angela Jenkins
June/July 1997
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Cast iron pieces rust if not not taken care of properly. But with just a few short steps, we can cover that same rusty skillet with a satiny finish, ready for the next delicious pan of cornbread.
ILLUSTRATION: KENNETH LIN


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MOTHER EARTH NEWS readers share their farming advice, fun tips and country folklore, including information on how to season and clean cast iron pans. 

In our grandmother's day, cast iron was the cookware to own. It was durable, it heated evenly, it never warped, and it kept its slick, no-stick finish forever with just a small amount of maintenance. Using the grand old cast iron cookware can turn out meals that will not only be a source of pleasure, but will also please the most particular palate. For all the good things we can say about cast iron, one problem exists. Cast iron pieces rust if not not taken care of properly. But with just a few short steps, we can cover that same rusty skillet with a satiny finish, ready for the next delicious pan of cornbread. If you purchase a new cast iron piece, you will need to clean and season it before you can use it, this article shares how to season and clean cast iron pans. If you don't season it, the food will stick. It is that simple. Favorite pieces that have been in the family for years can benefit from a new seasoning, too.

To season any cast iron item, follow these directions:

1. Wash the cast iron piece in hot soapy water to remove all machine oil and gum from labels. At this stage of cleaning, soap is safe to use. However, after a piece is seasoned, don't use soap because it will remove the seasoning and you will have to start all over again.

2. Dry the piece thoroughly.

3. Preheat the oven (gas or electric) to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

4. Cover all the surfaces of the piece inside and out (including the handle) with a film of solid shortening or salt-free cooking oil. The entire piece should be shiny. Be generous with this coating, because it will become the finish on your seasoned cast iron utensils.

5. Place the cast iron piece (you can work with more than one piece at a time) in the hot oven for one hour. After baking an hour, turn the oven off and let the pieces set for a minimum of two hours; let them set overnight if possible.

6. The next day, when the pan is completely cooled, remove it from the oven and place it on a medium-high burner to heat. The bottom surface of the pan will darken in about ten minutes. Remember, even the handle heats up on cast iron cookware. To avoid painful burns, always use hot mitts or pot holders to move the pan from one surface to another.

7. If you are seasoning a brand new piece of cast iron, repeat steps three through six.

8. You can keep your newly seasoned cookware in a condition even your grandmother would be proud of Continued use of your iron cookware aids the seasoned finish. When it is completely seasoned, it will be very dark all over. Simple daily measures can ensure your cookware remains shiny and stick-free. Spray the inside surface with no-stick cooking spray or add a tablespoon or two of vegetable oil before each use.

Care of cast iron cookware is no more difficult than the care of other cooking utensils. To remove stubborn spots, pour salt on the spot and scrub with a dish cloth. Discard the salt and wipe with a dry cloth. You can scrape away cooked-on crusts with a plastic spatula. Most often pans can be cleaned simply by wiping with a paper towel, but when it becomes necessary to scrub a pan, such as after cooking a soup or stew, be quick. Use boiling hot water and a good sturdy brush. No soap. Remember that rust is the enemy. Wash quickly and dry completely. Set your cast iron piece in a warm oven or on a warm burner for speed drying.

After months of use, food may begin to stick. If this happens, it's time to repeat the seasoning process to keep that satiny, no-stick finish. As insurance, each time you use a cast iron piece, clean it, and drop about a tablespoon of unsalted vegetable oil in the pan and spread over the entire surface with a paper towel. Store it with the shine from the oil still visible. In times past, when grandma's skillet had a sheen that you could see yourself in, she cooked lots of fat-laden foods, such as bacon. These foods left a little of the fat on the skillet surface. The heat made that fat part of the seasoned finish. Since most of us are steering away from fat-laden foods, we must compensate by adding a little oil or shortening to the skillet each time we use it.

Cornbread is one of the most memorable recipes ever cooked in an iron skillet.

Delicious Home-Style Cornbread Recipe

1 cup self-rising flour
1 cup self-rising yellow cornmeal
1/8 cup sugar
1/4 cup cooking oil
1 cup milk
1 large egg
 

Preheat oven and skillet to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease skillet measuring 8 inch square or 9 inch round by adding one tablespoon of cooking oil. Mix all ingredients together and pour into hot skillet. Bake at 425 degrees Fahrenheit for twenty to twenty-five minutes or until golden brown. A rich golden crust will form on the edges of the cornbread. Serve hot.

For health conscious cooks, the following variation may be used.

1 cup self-rising flour
1 cup self-rising yellow cornmeal
1/8 cup molasses or honey
1/8 cup canola or olive oil
1 cup skimmed milk
1 egg
 

Follow above baking directions.

Send your tips to "Country Lore," MOTHER EARTH NEWS, Arden, NC, or to MEarthNews (at) aol.com. We'll send you a T-shirt in return, but please remember to include your address, a photo, and a phone number. (Don't worry, we won't give out your number.) 


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