TLC for your Iron Skillet

Iron skillets. They’re up there in eternal coolness with that tough leather bag your grandfather left you that’s still so tough you’d swear it was mooing, and the wooden rocking chair that’s been in your family for eons. It’s one of those things that survives every moving culling and every failed cooking experiment. It’s one of those things when, contemplating delving like a hyperactive otter into the urban homesteading lifestyle, is the first thing to appear in your fantasy U.H. kitchen. (That and hanging vegetables. There’s something about vegetables that hang. But maybe that’s just me.) They distribute heat evenly, can go from stove top to oven, don’t stick (if cared for properly), are relatively inexpensive, and will last for a long, long time.

Now the important question…how to properly care for your iron skillet so that you don’t get a mouth full of oxidized iron in your eggs. Cast iron skillets can, in a way, be as finicky as they can be easy. But if dealt with properly, you really don’t need much more for your kitchen. Curious? Onward!

Firstly: Readying your skillet. Now, if you inherited it from your grandmammy, you probably don’t need to go through this unless someone uninitiated cleaned it like any old pan. If you do, don’t worry. When new, cast iron skillets are not nonstick. They get that way through a process called seasoning. Now, these days you can get iron skillets preseasoned, but it’s cheaper to season it yourself, and you’ll need to reseason it occasionally anyways, so it’s good to know how. (You’ll know when to reseason it when the bottom starts looking crusty, rusty or uneven, losing it’s shiny black patina.) Here’s the universal steps on how to season your skillet:

  1. Heat the oven to 350ºF, and position the oven rack in the top third of the oven.
  2. Open your windows—there’s going to be some smoke.
  3. Rub a thin layer of shortening (like Crisco) or oil—bacon grease works great, too—all over the inner bottom and sides of the pan with a paper towel.
  4. Place your pan upside down on the top oven rack with a rimmed baking sheet or a roasting pan underneath to catch the drippings.
  5. Bake the pan this way for 1 hour. Then turn off the oven and allow it to cool with the pan inside.

With this, and with cooking, the skillet will get that smooth, naturally non stick surface we all associate with cast iron skillets. Don’t worry if it’s a little sticky at first, that’ll work itself out with some cooking.

Secondly: Do NOT wash your skillet like you would any old pan, unless you really really burnt the ever loving smack out of some poor food item and really need to scour it. (then you’d reseason it, see?) No soap, no hard scrubbing. Otherwise you’d have to cure it every time you cook, and you’d essentially be removing all of the taste history from your skillet every time and really, what’s the point of having one at that point. Besides, it’s unnecessary.

Immediately after cooking, run it under some hot water, grab a dish rag I would recommend dedicating to your skillet, and basically wipe, gently I might add, the food particles off. Then fill it with water about 3/4ths full and put it on the stove on high and let it boil. This will boil out all the extras and clean it. Then dump out the water, turn off the stove, and put it back on the now cooling top. This will dry out the skillet. You can wipe it off after if there’s anything left. Booyah. Still cured and now cleaned iron skillet. Oh, and a word of caution, if your pan is smoking hot, let it cool down a bit before cleaning with the running water since it might crack.

I’m sure the lovely Ms. Lancia, our resident kitchen wizard, will have something to say about all this in a later post, but this should get you started.

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