Farming Advice: How to Season and Clean Cast Iron Pans

article image
ILLUSTRATION: KENNETH LIN
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.

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.)