How to Season and Maintain Cast Iron Cookware

Cast iron pans: sign of a true DIY-er, in this day and age of convenience food and non-stick cookware.  Or a sign of someone who grew up in the Southern or Western United States.  Or the sign of a “foodie” poseur.

Originally, I bought myself a cast iron skillet for my 21st birthday, after cooking with one at a friend’s house.  That was the year also my dad, brother, and I gave Ownie Mom a Staub 4-piece cast iron set for Christmas. (Nota bene: you don’t have to maintain the enameled cast iron pans like regular cast iron pans.  Good gift!)

Why should you use cast iron?  Listen up, vegans: plants contain less bioavailable iron (and other important minerals) than animal foods due to phytic acid in the plants inhibiting their absorption.  Studies show that people who had iron deficiency and cooked with cast iron had better concentrations of iron in their blood than the control groups.  Ergo, if you’re vegetarian and vegan, you should cook with cast iron (and eat your spinach with some kind of Vitamin C source).

Also, the only way to make cornbread is in cast iron.  Unless you like cakey cornbread, then don’t.

My beloved Old Mountain pan, which started out vegan-seasoned, was defiled by my husband and father-in-law.  We left the cast iron pans at the Finder Man’s place when we moved last year (long story), and he cooked some kind of animal flesh in it…then didn’t clean it.  When I reclaimed it, I had to scrub it with steel wool for the first time and re-season it.

Now, there are people who insist on animal fat for seasoning cast-iron.  Seasoning entails filling the porous metal with something to seal it and develop a natural non-stickiness over time, with frequent use.  Canola and coconut oils have always worked for my three pans and a griddle, keeping them black, rust-free, and unsticky. 

Generally, new pans don’t need to be seasoned, unless the manufacturer says otherwise.  Always read the instructions that came with your pan!  Now, if your pan isn’t a slightly tacky black colour, or you’re perhaps thrifting a new-to-you castie, here’s what you do to restore it to glory:

  • The one and ONLY time you are ever allowed to use soap on cast iron: scrub off the old seasoning and any…bits that may be on it.
  • If there are rusty bits: use a piece of steel wool (steel wool only, not copper) and “erase” the rust.  This requires elbow grease.
  • Dry that sucker until it is bone-dry.  You may want to use a less-than-nice rag or washcloth; the pan may stain the fabric.
  • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Line a cookie sheet with foil.
  • Wear gloves, or moisturize your bare hands in the process: rub your oil of choice (a high-heat oil, such as canola or coconut) into every nook and cranny of your pan.  Get to know your cast iron!  There should be a thin layer of oil; it shouldn’t be dripping.
  • Bake your pan for an hour in the oven, turned upside-down over the foil-covered cookie sheet.  You kitchen/apartment/house will smell like baking metal and your family will ask what’s cooking. m/
  • After an hour has elapsed, turn off the oven and let the pan cool in the oven for another hour, before removing to a rack to cool completely. (I seem to treat my pans at night, so after it’s been actively baking for an hour, I just turn off the oven and leave it in there until the next morning.)

That’s just great, but how do I store and clean my resuscitated pan?

  • To clean a pan after using it for cooking: two methods
  • The active method: Add about a tablespoon of salt and a two tablespoons of oil (eyeball it) to your pan.  With a stiff brush that you use for nothing other than cast iron cleaning, scrub the bits off the pan.  Rinse with hot water and repeat.
  • The passive method: Fill the pan with water about 2/3 full.  Bring to a boil and boil for five minutes, or however long it takes until it looks like any crusty bits have dislodged.
  • Whichever method you choose, after you’ve cleaned the pan to the surface, dry it thoroughly.
  • Wipe a small amount of oil into the pan, to oil it for the next use.
  • Store on a towel or hang it up, until next time…

This is my griddle.  Kindly note I have not posted a recipe here for sourdough pancakes.

Note all the bits in the trench of the pan.  These turned out OK-ish, and the recipe has not been retained for future use.  All successful vegan gluten-free pancakes I have made without a mix are clearly flukes and dependent upon atmospheric conditions and mood.  Sourdough now repulses me, not that there’s a whole lot of sourdough VGF bread on the market (I’d make my own anyway).  My starter went mouldy last year, and I can’t get that wretched taste out of my memory.  Most likely, the container was too large and the volume of starter too small, so there was lots of space for cultures other than sourdough cultures to grow.

Gas stove recommended!  Electric coils are just not the same.


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