Yesterday I wrote a post about cast iron pots, discussing the health repercussions of using Teflon cookware, and why cast iron cookware is a good investment. I included in it some of the benefits of cast iron, such as its versatility, durability, health benefits, and also the fact that you can make cast iron pots non stick, so they work just as well as Teflon, only without the health issues.
Making your cast iron become non stick is called "seasoning". Cast iron pans are porous; seasoning fills in the little holes with oil, so that the metal becomes non stick and food doesn't stick to it. Some cast iron cookware come pre-seasoned, but most don't, and even if it comes pre-seasoned, you have to care for cast iron cookware properly so the seasoning "sticks". Improper care of cast iron pots and pans will cause them to lose their seasoning, become non non-stick, and potentially rust and fall apart. Properly cared for, though, they get better and better and more non stick with each use, and will last well enough that you can pass them on to your grandchildren.
One of the biggest reasons why people don't use cast iron cookware is because the perceived cost deters them. I, too, thought that cast iron pots were simply unaffordable- the first time I saw a cast iron dutch oven in the store, it was 50 dollars!
Cast iron, though, is cheaper than that in the US, especially if you buy it from places like Amazon.com- you can find cast iron cookware for under twenty dollars. If you buy your cast iron from Amazon, you can use your free Amazon gift cards that you get via searching the web using Swagbucks and get your cast iron cookware completely free!
The cheapest way to get cast iron (other than as a hand me down) is used. Cast iron lasts a long time; many people inherit sets that they either don't know how to or don't want to use, and hence, try to pass on to someone else. If you want cast iron, scour Craigslist, Freecycle, second hand stores, and garage/yard sales- you might get lucky and find cast iron cookware for only a few bucks. (I just searched Craisglist in New York and found lots of cheap cast iron, including a skillet listed for 5 dollars.)
When you find cast iron cookware, often it'll look gross and rusted, and might even have some food burnt on to it. Fortunately, removing rust from cast iron is not too difficult, nor is removing dried bits of food that seem to have become part of the cast iron pot/pan, and once you take care of that, your cast iron pot will be good to go.
How to Remove Rust and Caked Food From Cast Iron
If your cast iron pot has food caked on it, stick the cast iron cookware either into the oven on a high heat, on the stovetop on a high heat, or into a bonfire. The food that is stuck on to the pot will burn up and turn into ash, which is much easier to remove.
To remove rust from your cast iron pot/pan, either use steel wool or sandpaper and scrub until all the dust comes off. Wash it with soap and water to remove all residue.
Once your rust and caked food has been removed from the cast iron, you're now ready to season. If your pot/pan isn't rusted and doesn't have caked food, you can just skip this step and go straight to seasoning.
How to Season Cast Iron Cookware
Seasoning your cast iron is pretty easy. The way it is done is by baking oil into your cast iron pan/pot. This fills the pores of the cast iron with oil, which then turns the surface non stick.
1. Rub the entire inside (and outside if it isn't enamel covered) of your cast iron pan/pot with a thick layer of oil. This is easiest with a more solid oil, like coconut oil, vegetable shortening, lard, beef tallow, or shmaltz. (You probably also can do this with ghee, but don't use butter.) In the absence of solid fat, you can use a liquidy oil like sunflower or canola oil, just make sure to spread the oil to cover the entire pan/pot, including the sides.
2. Place your cast iron pot/pan in the oven on approximate 325 (slightly lower or higher is also ok) for an hour. You're officially supposed to turn it upside down to allow excess oil to drip off, but I never bothered to do so.
3. Remove from the oven and let cool.
4. When cool, rub with oil again, put in the oven for another hour, and then cool once more.
5. You can do this yet one more time if you want to. At this point, your pot will now be non stick, and it will no longer rust, provided you care for it properly. (See below.)
Some people say you just need to rub with oil and bake once, but when I tried that, my pot didn't become non stick. In my opinion, it needs to be seasoned (rubbed with oil, baked, etc...) at least 3 times to really be non stick. Otherwise your food will stick to the pot, and you may find that it rusts.
This is what a seasoned cast iron pot/pan will look like. (Usually.)
If you either don't have an oven or your cast iron cookware doesn't fit into your oven, you can do this process in a grill or on your stovetop. That's what I needed to do with my cast iron grill/griddle to season it.
Caring For Cast Iron Cookware
One of the primary rules with cast iron pots and pans is to keep them away from soap. You want the pot to stay seasoned, and in order to do this, small amounts of oil need to stay absorbed in the metal's pores. Soap removes oil; when you clean a cast iron pot with soap, you remove the seasoning, taking away the oil, making it not non stick anymore, and making it susceptible to rust.
If you can't soap a cast iron pot, how do you get it clean, you may wonder. First, note that when you first get and use a cast iron pot or pan, it is best to cook things in oil, not with a water base, as each time you fry in it, you are improving the seasoning more and more. When you use oil to cook in a cast iron pot, it tends to clean very easily- just take a rag and wipe it clean.
If it doesn't come out so well with just a rag, you can clean it with salt, water, and a soap free sponge.
1. Take your pot.
2. Pour in between a teaspoon and a tablespoon of coarse/kosher salt.
3. Using a sponge, scrub the pan clean with the aid of the salt. The salt works as an abrasive to clean off stuff stuck on to the pot.
4. Wipe or wash the salt and the old food out of the pan.
If your pot is well seasoned, you can soak the pot in water to loosen the stuff stuck on to it. This won't cause it to rust so long as it is well seasoned. This means that you should not soak a cast iron pot unless you've had it and used it already for a little bit. Yes, I know what other cast iron care web pages say. I think they're wrong. Mine has never rusted from doing this, so long as it was well seasoned.
I also sometimes use a metal scraper or a wire brush to clean off stuff that are stuck on to my cast iron pot.
After washing the pot, heat it on the stove to evaporate the water, or dry it with a rag.
Basically, the trick of keeping cast iron in good condition is to keep it well seasoned and keep it away from soap. Other than that, its easy as pie.
And if, perchance, you accidentally mistreat your cast iron pot and it no longer is seasoned and begins to rust, just refer back to this page, remove the rust, and reseason.
Do you have cast iron pots and pans? How much did you pay for them? Did you get yours new or used? Have you had to remove rust from your cast iron pots and pans? How did you remove the rust? Did your cast iron come preseasoned or did you season it yourself? How did you season it?
How do you clean your cast iron pot/pan? Does soaking yours in water make it rust, or have you not tried it?
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