Sunday, January 18, 2009

Maintain, maintain, maintain: Seasoning your cast iron pans

I had the incredible good fortune yesterday to score a 10" cast iron skillet for $5. No lie. I was on the prowl for one because I've got it into my head to make a Tortilla Espanola for dinner Monday night, and virtually every recipe I've come across has been adamant in specifying that if you hope to get out of the tortilla alive, you need to cook it in a cast iron skillet. Not being one to flout authority, I figured I'd bite the bullet and heed their advice.

The pan I got advertised itself as pre-seasoned; I didn't believe it for one second, and wasn't going to be satisfied until I'd seasoned it myself. The seasoning of pans is one of those topics where there are as many opinions are there are chefs. Some advocate oiling the pan and then heating it on the stovetop; others filling it with a few tablespoons of lard and baking it at 500 degrees until it's run dry. I prefer a simpler, less scary method:
  1. Preheat your oven to 350
  2. Oil the pan using vegetable shortening (you could use lard, too, I suppose. Just use something that's unlikely to go rancid). Lube it up generously, but wipe away any obvious excess.
  3. Put a rimmed cookie sheet or some cleverly folded foil at the bottom of your oven to catch any drippings
  4. Place your pan in the oven, upside down, over the cookie sheet/foil and bake it for about an hour. Remove from the oven and let cool thoroughly. Repeat as necessary.
That's it! Some purists would argue that you need to repeat this process after every use of the pan; I'm not sure I've ever met anyone who has that kind of time. In my opinion, you can get away with reseasoning every couple of months, particularly if you use your pan to cook things with a decent amount of fat on them (every bit of grease helps in keeping your pan happy!).

Take care of your pan, and it will take care of you!


Annelies said...

There are a few schools of thought on washing your cast iron as well, though as I understand it detergent is pretty universally out. For my part I use coarse salt or cornmeal and a rag to scrub it out and get any suck-on things after use. I wonder if you and/or the community has had success with other methods as well?

maggie said...

After the first seasoning, as long as you don't scrape/soak, you should be good just doing the following after you use and clean your skillet: dry with paper towel, wipe with neutral oil and let sit on low burner a few minutes.
Seasoning takes awhile—my three year old skillet is PERFECT, the one year old is less so. (Though better since I fried up a huge batch of kielbasa in it.)

Laura said...

I have a 6-month old skillet that was also allegedly pre-seasoned. I did the vegetable shortening, heating in the oven method anyway before I used it. I stick with no detergent, just a sponge and water whenever possible. I also wipe with vegetable oil and heat after every use. It is pretty much as good as a non-stick pan already, which leads me to believe that the "pre-seasoning" may just speed up the process.

Katie said...

Lucky! I need a cast iron skillet and I can't believe you found one for 5 dollars.