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Tool Tips Guide: Cast Iron Cookware

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Cast iron cookware has been around for centuries and will most likely be around for more. Its versatility and even heat-distribution has made cast iron cookware a favorite of many cooks. Pots, pans and various other pieces can be purchased new from the store or found for a bargain at yard sales or flea markets and some is even passed down through generations as a family tradition.

And, with proper care and maintenance, an owner of a piece of cast iron can assure that it will last for a lifetime (or several).

In this instructable, I will show the steps and guidelines I follow to keep my cast iron collection in good condition and ready for anything.
 
 
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Step 1: Your new piece of cast iron

Picture of Your new piece of cast iron
Cast iron cookware can be purchased from many different places. A person buying a piece of cast iron new from a store can be fairly certain that it is clean and nearly ready to use. However, buying a piece from a flea market may be somewhat different, since it is most likely used. Although it may be dirty-looking, chances are it can be rescued. Try to select a piece that looks to be in good condition, free of cracks and large patches of rust. Smell it and make sure that it hasn't come into contact with harmful chemicals or other liquids. As long as there isn't anything wrong with it that can't be fixed with a little elbow-grease, it is a good piece. Any piece of cast iron, new from the store or used, must be cleaned well before it is used for cooking.

There are several pieces of cookware that are made from cast iron, the most popular being pans, pots, dutch ovens, muffin pans, bread pans and griddles that are made to fit over the burner on a stove.
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catfancy8 days ago

I've heard and read this about cast iron cleaning in many, many places, including the instruction leaflets or tags that come with new cast iron cookware. However, I don't feel comfortable using only hot water to get the film of grease off a pot or skillet. Hot water often doesn't do the trick, and the cookware feels slick and not very sanitary. and the admonitions about using detergent can, I think, make someone panic unnecessarily, thinking they've ruined their cast iron if they use a bit of detergent.

For the past 40+ years, I've washed my cast iron cookware in hot water with detergent. My Dutch oven and my most often-used skillet are now 37 years old, and my other skillets and saucepans close to 20 years old. They are not rusty, food doesn't stick, and I feel a lot better when I hang them up than I would if they still felt greasy from the last meal cooked in them.

I recognize that most people prefer to follow the rules for cleaning cast iron, but, for me, I intend to keep going by what I've seen with my own eyes for decades.

bodie12 years ago
Do you have info on the best way to fully season cast iron that has wooden handles? I'd love to use them.
bennelson2 years ago
Hmmm. This gives me an idea for a cooking reality TV show about competing cooks who only use this type of cookware. We'll call it "Cast Iron Chef"!
jitsu_wan6 years ago
You know, although I think this is the weirdest instructable I have ever read, I must commend you on your very well proportioned expose on the use and care of cast iron crockery.

I do believe that us mortals here on the a** end of Africa (read South Africa - which is a country if you didnt know) also use cast iron pots, yet with a devious twist that might just save you from whipping on a glove like a paediatric nurse every time you want to cook some pasta.

The trick is (i believe) to get/make a wooden handle. Usually I would not suggest this to just anybody, but as you seem so passionate about your cast iron cookware, I would suggest: "A wooden handle, in two halves, that fit over the handle created by the cast iron. When riveted together, the half moon cylinders of wood provide a sturdy and comfortable handle, easily replaced when burnt or otherwise damaged."

Have a good day...
JW.
The only problem with adding a wooden handle is that it prevents you from using the pan in the oven or on a campfire. I have bare handles on my pans and use a leather welding glove as a pot holder. Works great, prevents burns or singeing hair of my knuckles.
CaptSteve2 years ago
All of the comments for tempering cast iron pans are great. I have 24 pans of varying sizes and prefer them over EVERY other pan I have - aluminum commercial pans, stainless steel, Teflon.

Although I love Lodge and Griswald pans, any cast iron pan is good as long as it does not have any cracks in the steel. Even VERY rusty ones.

Since I shop for pans at yard sales, my average price is $3-5 for quality pans. Often, I find soiled or rusty pans that the owner feels are no salvageable. But I buy the rusty pans for cheap and put them aside until my next camping trip. Putting the pan into the campfire which is burning at 1000 to 1400 degrees will remove ALL ferrous oxide (rust). Since the pans are made at 2500+ degrees, no damage whatsoever occurs to the pan. Next morning, pull it out of the fire, clean/scrub it with kosher salt, temper with oil and you have a nice, new pan that will outlive you and your family.
SinApodo2 years ago
I preheat my cast iron in the oven before I apply the layer of oil. I've heard that by preheating the metal it causes the pores in the metal to open and allows for a better seasoning. I just heat it until the metal is almost too hot to touch btw
sunshiine2 years ago
Very informative! The next time I cook with my skillet I will remember this page. It is packed up right now. I have missed it. I wondered how this was done. Thanks for sharing.
dkop13 years ago
The little pan inside of the square skillet in the pic, I believe I have one just like it! If it has a heat ring on the bottom and doesn't have a brand on it, It's just like mine. I have a 10" griswold, and a 6.5" krischer as well.
so... what happens when you're bad and your skillet gets rusted?
iPodGuy (author)  plasticpopcorn43 years ago
Sandpaper the rust off and season immediately.
As a chef, I agree, cast iron is great. Let me add a tip I give to all my students - especially good for grill pans. After you remove the food and the pan is still hot, add a good layer of kosher salt to the pan. The salt will absorb any excess grease etc in the pan. As soon as the pan has cooled a bit - still warm but not screaming hot - use a nylon dish brush to move the salt all around the pan. The salt is a minor abrasive and will help to remove any stuck on food. The salt along with the "drippings" can be disposed of in the trash helping out your plumbing a bit! Then using JUST very hot water, rinse the pan well. In a well seasoned pan the water will bead up a bit. You can use the nylon brush to be sure there is no food stuck to the pan. I place my pan back on the stove and turn on the gas to high. The water evaporates quickly so rust is never an issue - just be sure to let the pan cool well before storing it.
I know this is a really old ible but I have two things to share anyway.. 1. my process- cook, rinse, heat to dry, oil lightly, repeat 2. the best thing about a well seasoned (old) CI is the rue
ElChick5 years ago
Love the 'Ible!!! Very detailed! I learned a lot!

I have been an amatuer cast-iron user for some time now, but I do seem to remember hearing one "trick" when I was in the Boy Scouts that I haven't seen mentioned here. When cooking directly on coals with your cast-iron skillet, it is helpful to rub a small amount of liquid dish soap onto the bottom {the outside, people - no one wants to eat soap!!! :)} of the skillet to aid in cleaning off the char from the coals. Apparently it is easier to wash off the mess the coals leave behind when doing this. I have tried it in the past, and the "cooked-on" soap did seem to aid in cleaning off the bottom of the pan somewhat. I was wondering what everyone else thought about that. Would it really matter using soap on the outside of the pan? I wouldn't think so, since you aren't eating/cooking from it, but I wondered how it would affect the health of the pan.
What do you all think? Good idea? Bad? Why?
Please discuss.
:)
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This trick works well on any type of cookware used over a fire.
Very well done.  I'm glad to see there are other dutch oven cooks on Instructables. :) I'm going to forward this to any family and friends that ask for help in using, cleaning, and storing cast iron.
Calorie5 years ago
I know that this is an old thread, but I want to say thank you. I have my Nana's two cast iron skillets, and they were her mother's as well. I think the age we came up with them was around 100 years old. I've found a couple of good ways to clean mine over the years. The best thing you can get is a wok cleaner. It's this cylindrical brush made out of stiff bamboo. Imagine if you took a stalk of bamboo, cut out a section of it and split it all up lengthwise. Find in your local Asian grocery store. If something is really stuck, I let the pan heat up for a while. Then I throw in some water, actually a good amount of water. Enough to cover the bottom even after it stops boiling. Let it soak for 30 minutes, tops. Then go to town with the bamboo scrubber. Bamboo is not hard enough to remove the coating so you can really dig in. Have fun.
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Thanks for the compliment. I don't have any realistic advice on the wrinkly stuff on the sides. Maybe you could heat the whole pan to 400F and drop it in a very large metal tub full of water. It's probably not worth the effort, nor the hospital bill. Let imperfection be. Mine has a gunky residue on the bottom but I've never really bothered it. The important thing is that the whole pan is hot and that the heat is then evenly distributed.
iPodGuy (author)  Calorie4 years ago
I'd be cautious to submerge a 400 degree cast iron skillet in a tub of water. That's how you crack them!
rocklocker5 years ago
I have auestion for you. Where did you get your kettle? Thanks for a great instructable.
iPodGuy (author)  rocklocker5 years ago
Probably a flea market or thrift store.
firedrum5 years ago
Excellent instructable! I agree with your love of "Cast Iron Cooking" as there is nothing you can cook on a stove that you can't cook over a fire in a dutch oven or a skillet!!!
ybh20016 years ago
Nice tips.Now I am hesitant,what's better of cast iron or stainless,I have read from best cookware selection,do you have any good advise?thank you very much!
Honestly, there is no "better". There's just "better for your purpose".

For example, if you are cooking a steak with the intent of making a pan sauce from the fond left in the pan, Stainless Steel is *far* superior (well seasoned cast iron is too non-stick to generate a good fond).

At the same time, if I was making a grilled cheese sandwich, well, there's no pan on earth that can match my cast iron.

There's an important place in your kitchen for both stainless steel cookware, and for cast iron cookware (and non-stick aluminum, too!). Considering how inexpensive it is to get a decent cast iron skillet, I think everyone should have one in addition to anything else they have.
Mock26 ybh20016 years ago
My experience (been cooking with cast iron on and off since I was a Boy Scout back in the 1980's) is that when cast iron is properly maintained (and it is real easy to take care of it) it is far superior to stainless steel cookware.
patmac5 years ago
My Aunt purchased a cast iron pan from a yard sale that was old and rusted. She was told to make a very hot fire in a charcoal grill and put the skillet on the grate to burn the rust off. It worked and now it belongs to me and I use quite often.
MacGyverJr6 years ago
I've restored some CI pans and pots from flea markets that were not cared for well for Scout Troops and have found that Alton Brown's thorough method of restoring/cleaning CI works very well. He recommends melting enough Crisco type shortening in the bottom to have a layer about 1/8th to 1/4 inch deep and then place a healthy amount of Kosher Salt in the bottom. The salt has large enough granules to be a good abrasive, and since it isn't fat soluble, it won't dissolve. I rub it around with a firm bristled brush (like Lodge sells, but I use a knock-off). Then after it cools off a bit, I rinse it out with warm, almost hot water, hot enough to dissolve the salt. After all the salt is gone I place it back on the stove for just long enough to rub some more Crisco on it. I've done this quite a few times and it really seems to scrub well without removing much, if any of the seasoning, just the food, char, and light rust.
I have never needed to use water with this method. LOTS of kosher salt dumped into a still warm pan then I use a paper towel to push the salt around and scrap it clean. Then just wipe out the pan. The advantage is then this helps the pan's seasoning form. Every time you expose your pan to water the seasoning is washed away a little and you run the risk of microscopic spots of rust finding there way in especially when combined with leftover salt! Because you reapply a lipid coating (Crisco) you MAY have been able to dodge this but be aware microscopic rust could still be forming. That rust could lead to Tetanus!!! Your best off using no water or just water. Combining the scouring power of the salt (scrapping of protective seasoning) with the corrosive power of salt water is not a safe to do after EVERY use. In general my cast iron never touches water for cleaning. The salt cleaning inhibits most nasty microbes and letting the pan heat up fully kills what ever I might have missed. Plus I find it gives my pan a superior seasoning.
Tetanus caused by bacteria and not rust.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tetanus
Yep, you raise a very good point, and evidentially I wasn't as clear as I thought I was. I ONLY do this in 3 potential circumstances: When restoring a pan that wasn't taken care of (often young scouts :) ), it has some NASTY char built up from when someone (including myself) who may not have been the most attentive when using it, or I buy one used that I don't know the history of. It only ends up being once in a blue moon.
Rainh2o5 years ago
Been using cast iron for a long long time now. Steel wool is the hard way of cleaning one you know nothing about. The best way to clean an old pan you know nothing about is to use elctrolysis. I got one that was so crusted with gunk (for free) that the person was going to throw it away. I stuck it in an electrolysis bath for 3 days and with about 2 mins of scrubbing it looked brand new. Look it up on google for electrolysis. I also recommend seasoning them in the BBQ grill using bacon grease. If it smokes outside who cares? Also you can build up higher temps in the grill then you can in the oven. The real purpose of not using soap came from the old days when soap was made of lye, lye was corrosive and ate off the seasoning. Todays mild dish soaps are OK to use if you feel the need. I very rarely have to use any cleaning agents on mine (even salt)once I have seasoned it on the grill.
Meri-Meri6 years ago
I had to put my cast iron cookware in storage for over 2 years. To prevent rust, I got some Mineral Oil from the pharmacy and poured about an inch or less in the bottom of the Dutch Oven and other pieces. Generously wiped down the lids, with the Mineral Oil. When I was able to take my C/I out of storage (along with my furniture, etc.) there was not one speck of rust on any of the cookware. It looked just as shiny and good as tho I had used it only a week or so ago. BTW, this is not the Mineral Oil that you buy at the Hardware Store. You can only get the kind I used at the Pharmacy. So, don't forget or you may have a problem.
Meri-Meri6 years ago
I had to put my cast iron in storage for a little over 2 yrs. To keep it from rusting, I poured about 1/2 " of Mineral Oil (that you get from the pharmacy) inside the Dutch Oven. Wiped it all around inside and all over the Dutch Oven lid. Did the same with other C/I. None of it rusted at all! To clean my C/I skillets, I wipe it out good, scraping up any burned on bits from the bottom. Put it on the heating element and turn it to medium heat, and put a coupla tablespoons of Kosher Salt in the skillet and distribute it evenly around. When the skillet gets hot enough, then I come back with the spatula and scrape around on the bottom, pushing the salt around as I scrape the skillet. This will thoroughly clean the skillet. Then I take the skillet off the heat, allow to cool. When cool, I dump out the salt and debree, wipe the skillet clean and oil slightly with Crisco or cooking oil. This is the very best way to clean the inside of the skillet. For the outside, where so much gunk collects, have your hubby take the skillet outside and take a blowtorch to the outside of the skillet and burn off the gunk. Reseason if necessary.
tommann6 years ago
What is the best way to get rust off cast iron so the process can be started?
"What is the best way to get rust off cast iron so the process can be started?" - Put on some gloves and get to work with some steel wool. Rinse often to make sure you get it all off. You may need to paper towel it dry to make sure it looks clean. Once it is all gone, immediately get to work with the seasoning process to help seal the surface. Cast iron is almost indestructable, but as with cars, rust is like cancer.
aynotkilam6 years ago
Ok... so I'm an amature cast iron owner! I've purchased new pans because clearly they are healthier to use than the typical non-stick pan out on the market. I tend to not use oil or fat when I cook - but is it ok for me to cook with a little water heated in the cast iron pan instead of fat or oil? I realize that I won't season the pan by any means doing it this way - but i'm more using it for the health benefits. So would this be ok - or will it ruin my pan and risk rusting or something like that?? Also, what's the difference between enamel cast iron, porcelain & straight up cast iron?? merci! merci!
iPodGuy (author)  aynotkilam6 years ago
You're probably going to run into problems with cast iron that is not seasoned I think. Basically, since the surface is so porous, you're going to have to deal with food sticking like crazy if you're trying to replace oil with water. Enamel & porcelain cast iron both have finishes which is what makes them different from regular cast iron. You still get the even heat distribution, but you can use them like other pots and pans since they don't build up a seasoning.
aeray iPodGuy6 years ago
Build up the seasoning with about 10 heat/oil/cool cycles, and then you could probably cook for a while with only water. Once a month or so, though, put the pan through another single seasoning cycle. Little, if any, of the seasoning oil is actually transferred to the food, so I wouldn't worry about it.
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