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Saturday, October 2, 2010

Seasoning Cast Iron

Cast iron cookware is pretty easy to find. Most stores that have an outdoors department sell it. Some stores also sell it in their cookware department. It's usually preseasoned. Factory finishes aren't bad but they wear off. Also, if you're buying it used or you don't use it that often and it's sat for any length of time it could rust. In that case you'll have to strip it down and reseason it. Learn to properly season cast iron and it will last several lifetimes. Harbor Freight sells some really cheap unseasoned cast iron cookware so I figured I'd pick up a set and make a post about seasoning it. The set that I bought cost me $15 for 3 pans. That's about as cheap as you're going to find it outside of a thrift store or a garage sale. This pic is on top of a Lodge Logic griddle with a factory finish.

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A properly seasoned cast iron pan will be fairly non stick, easy to clean and can be stored for a long time without rusting. The process of seasoning is pretty simple. You just coat your cast iron with a thin coat of oil or fat. Then you cook the coating onto the pan. When you do it right you end up with a nice, black, smooth finish. Some people recommend using vegetable oil. I've found animal fat to be the most effective. I use lard. When I want to finish a cast iron pan I usually just cook up some bacon in it. When the bacon is done and the pan starts to cool off I wipe the fat all over the pan and then put it in the oven for a couple of hours at around 450 degrees. You can also do it on your stovetop. Either way you're going to get a kitchen full of smoke. Another option is to do it outside on a grill or a turkey fryer. However you decide to go about it just coat the pan, get it really hot and then allow the coating to bake on. You might have to do this a few times to get a nice, even, flat black finish.

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These probably need one more good coat before they're done. In between coats I usually go over them with some water and fine steel wool. You don't want to strip them down to the bare metal again. You just want to get it nice and smooth. Here's an example of a pan with an excellent finish. This is the one that I use the most often. The seasoning on this pan beats any factory finish that I've ever seen. After cooking with it I just wipe it down with a sponge. If it's got some really thick crud on it I take a green pad to it. Don't scrub to hard and you won't ruin the finish. You also don't want to use soap or detergent on cast iron. Keep in mind that the seasoning is just baked on fat. It's exactly what detergent is designed to remove.

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That's all there is to maintaining your cast iron. It's more involved than using normal pots and pans but the end result is worth it. Once you learn how to cook with it you'll find that it cooks more evenly, cleans up easier and lasts much longer than most conventional pots and pans. I still use normal pots and pans for certain things but as my cast iron collection keeps growing I find myself using it more and more.