Cooking and cleaning cast iron

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Cooking and cleaning cast iron

Postby Jac » Mon May 09, 2011 9:42 pm

Elaura and I have four cast iron pieces of cookware: a deep dish chicken fryer (it's about 10 inches in diameter and has about a 5 inch lip), two 11 1/2" skillets, one with an inch lip and the other about a 2 inch lip (the later is newer), and an eight inch sauté pan/skillet. These are great when cooking on gas, but can also work with electric. The main difference between using cast iron as opposed to a non-stick skillet is that the cast iron takes longer to get hot and cool down. Also, they heat more evenly and when seasoned properly, and can help flavor anything you're cooking.

To season:
Wash thoroughly with soap and warm water and dry on a burner. Wipe out with a clean towel and preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Apply a small amount of lard* or vegetable shorting (Crisco) and thoroughly coat the inside of the skillet using a paper towel. You want a very thin layer of lard/shortening because the excess will liquefy and have to be drained off. Bake in the oven for 45 minutes and let cool in the oven. Drain off any excess oil before storing.

*I prefer lard, but Crisco can be substituted instead.

To clean:
Do not use soap and water. Instead, use a soft bristle cleaning brush and warm water or use oil, salt, and a paper towel. If going with the oil and salt, use more salt than oil because the salt is the abrasive part, but only needs a little lubrication to do its job. For baked on food, use a metal spatula, but be careful not to scratch the surface. If you do, just reseason it. Dry on a burner and oil before storing. We put a dab of oil in the bottom of the skillet and use a paper towel to spread inside.

Cooking tips:

When cooking meat, use a liberal amount of oil. You need more oil than you would with a non-stick pan. Use at least enough to cover the bottom.
When cooking vegetables or eggs, use butter or a combination of oil and butter. Butter can smoke, but canola or peanut oil will help prevent it from doing that.
Eggs should not be cooked until they're done unless you're going to remove them from the skillet promptly. They should be cooked until almost done and taken off of the heat to finish firming up. The reason for this is because eggs (and anything else), will continue to cook in the skillet after the heat has been removed because the skillet will retain residual heat for a few minutes before cooling down.
DO NOT TOUCH A HOT SKILLET'S HANDLE WITHOUT PROTECTION! The whole skillet gets hot, not just the cooking surface and if you touch it, you'll regret it.
Unlike most skillets, you can bake with cast iron. In fact, Elaura makes a lot of our cake and cornbread mixes using the chicken friar and they come out much better than they do in a casserole dish because they have a better crust than what they can get in a glass container.

Tips from Elaura:

Don't use butter or olive oil to season. They have relatively low smoke points and although you won't damage your cast iron, you will smoke up your kitchen and your neighbors may call the fire department.

Be very careful not to spill any excess oil when seasoning or baking with cast iron. Oil is flammable, ovens are hot; it's easy to start a fire by accidentally spilling oil on your oven or stove-top, whether it's gas or electric.
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Re: Cooking and cleaning cast iron

Postby Jac » Wed Aug 24, 2011 3:06 pm

I started using the lard I use for frying and seasoning after I clean and dry the skillets. I've found that it helps them stay seasoned and mostly non-stick; I can cook eggs without having to spend 15 minutes scrubbing them out - some hot water and a good, stiff brush (plastic, not metal) does the trick. Anything left over I can take out with oil and salt. For lard, put some in the skillet while it's still hot and use a paper towel to coat the entire bottom. After the skillet has cooled by the lard hasn't coagulated, wipe out the excess with a clean paper towel and then store. You'll be rewarded with a nice, mate finish. If it's shiny, wipe it out again.
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Re: Cooking and cleaning cast iron

Postby neildarkstar » Wed Aug 24, 2011 4:11 pm

I never wash my cast iron skillets with water. After using them, I scrape them clean with a flap-jack turner or a putty knife, let them cool a bit and then put some cooking oil in them. I then put them on medium heat for 2 or 3 minutes and wipe them out with a paper towel, being careful not to remove the "shiny" entirely.

When I go to use the skillet again, I heat it on medium heat for at least 2 minutes before I add oil or whatever I'm using for cooking. the cast iron never gets either soap or water.

Eggs never stick in the skillet, and almost nothing else does either except general Tso's chicken sauce.
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Re: Cooking and cleaning cast iron

Postby Elaura » Wed Aug 24, 2011 11:41 pm

Tap water doesn't hurt any more than any other water-based sauce or liquid. The damage is only done if the pan isn't dried completely immediately. The only soaps that are actually any sort of problem are either abrasives or those which dissolve carbon. A lot of people are afraid of cast iron because they think it needs extra-special care and handling, which it doesn't, well, not any more than a good wooden cutting board anyway. Keep it dry and oiled and you'll be fine. If you don't, with either the iron or the board, all you have to do is scrub it with some steel wool and start over with the seasoning. There's even a shortcut, but real pure carbon is hard to come by these days.
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Re: Cooking and cleaning cast iron

Postby neildarkstar » Thu Aug 25, 2011 1:07 am

Drying the pan completely is the reason for heating with oil in it after cleaning. I once thought the pan wasn't clean if I didn't hit it with soap and water, but that just isn't true. A couple of minutes at 350 degrees and then a good wipe down removes everything, and there are fewer bugs living in there than there would be if you hand washed it.

Anyway, it works for me... and no worries about the season on it. :D
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Re: Cooking and cleaning cast iron

Postby Syrcanus » Thu Aug 25, 2011 2:41 am

My father's acquired quite a lot of cast iron cookware over the last few years. A pancake griddle, chicken fryer's, pots of various sizes, and a bunch of other stuff that I wouldn't even know what to use for. I can tell you one thing though...removing a 40 lb set of cast iron pans out of the oven so I can cook a pizza is really annoying.

And you do have to be careful when cooking in them. Cast iron cooks a lot faster than most other pans I've ever used. But I don't have to worry about scratching any teflon coating, which is a another huge plus.
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Re: Cooking and cleaning cast iron

Postby Elaura » Thu Aug 25, 2011 2:45 am

You're right about that, Syrcanus. It also continues to cook after taking it off the heat and don't even think about grabbing the handle without an over mitt.
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Re: Cooking and cleaning cast iron

Postby neildarkstar » Thu Aug 25, 2011 3:27 am

Cast iron does indeed cook faster than other cookware, but watch closely how it cooks and you'll see it also cooks a lot more evenly There are far less "hot spots" or cooler areas than your average stainless steel, aluminum or teflon pans. That also means you can cook on a lower temp and have everything cooked evenly. that's great when you have a mix of people who like rare and well done.

I rarely cook on any higher temp than medium, unless I need really hot grease like for french fries.
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Re: Cooking and cleaning cast iron

Postby Jac » Thu Aug 25, 2011 11:05 am

That's why I use it, Neil. I used to deep fry in my chicken fryer, but after a close call regarding Elaura and hot grease, we got a deep fryer that I use instead. I still use the chicken fryer for browning meat and making burrito mix with chorizo and Ro-tel. Just combine everything and cook until most of the water is gone.
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Re: Cooking and cleaning cast iron

Postby neildarkstar » Thu Aug 25, 2011 3:02 pm

Jac wrote:"making burrito mix with chorizo and Ro-tel"


Damn, that sounds good!
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