Using and Seasoning Cast Iron Cookware

As you’ve probably already heard, there’s lots of reasons to avoid non stick cookware.  The chemicals used to make the coating (PFOA is one, a perfluorochemical), have been linked with possible increases in cancer risk, chronic inflammation leading to arthritis, and possible reproductive and endocrine disruption.  The EPA won’t go on record yet and definitively state that it causes these different health concerns, but for me, I’d rather just switch to something now rather than wait to get the final analysis after years of exposure.

I’ll admit though, as health minded as I am, giving up the non stick has been hard.  I love my stainless steel stock pots for making chilis and soups, but I’ve had difficulties in the past using stainless steel pans for sauteeing, as the food usually sticks pretty severely to the pan if you aren’t using a lot of liquid.  (Anybody have any tips for that??)  Anyway, enter in cast iron.  This has been a lifesaver for me.  I’ve had a cast iron dutch oven for some time now, and it’s perfect for things like braised meats and osso bucco.  But recently I inherited a small cast iron skillet that I’ve been using to cook my eggs in the morning, and I absolutely love it.

This little pan wasn’t in the best shape when I got it.  It’d been stuffed in a closet for sometime, and had a thin layer of rust all over the surface.  Since it wasn’t very deep, I grabbed my steel wool and scrubbed the whole pan without any water.  The next step was to season it.  Seasoning cast iron involves heating it with some oil and allowing the oil to soak into the cast iron, creating a natural non stick.

Grab your cast iron pan and heat it on the stove top with some oil, preferably something that can withstand high heat, like butter, bacon grease, or coconut oil.  I used coconut oil.  Heat it on medium heat until the oil melts, then, using a towel, rub the entire surface of the pan with the hot oil.  Be careful not to burn yourself while doing this!

While your oil is heating on the stove, preheat your oven to about 300 degrees.  (Some people say to heat it to 500, I’ve found 300 works just fine.)  Position your racks in the middle of the oven, with one just below the other.  Place a baking sheet covered in foil on the bottom rack to catch any oil that may drip from the pan.

Once you’ve wiped down the surface of your pan with the hot oil, place it upside down on the top rack, directly above the baking sheet.  Leave it in the oven for about an hour, then, using hot pads of course, remove from the oven and set upright on the counter or stove top.  Wipe out any excess oil once its cooled enough to handle.

Now that your cast iron is seasoned, you can use it to cook anything you’d normally cook in a nonstick pan.  Even eggs don’t stick to a well seasoned pan!  If your pan is in especially bad shape, you may need to season it a couple times in order to restore it.  Make sure you use a generous amount of oil when cooking with your cast iron.  (Don’t worry, some fats are actually good for you!)  Here’s a picture of my pan after making eggs this morning:

As you can see, no residual eggs stuck to the pan.  Success!  When you’re ready to clean your pan, just sprinkle in some regular old table salt.  Use a towel or paper napkin to wipe the surface of the pan with the salt, which will help absorb moisture and scrape off any bits that did stick.  Once its cooled, dump the salt out, give it one last wipe, and voila!, you’re done.  No soap or water necessary.

If you don’t own any cast iron, keep your eyes peeled at thrift stores and garage sales.  You can find some nice pieces fairly cheaply if you know how to restore them, and you’ll feel better knowing the food you work so hard to prepare for your family isn’t contaminated with any unnatural chemicals.

You can find lots of other great tips at recipes over at Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways at Frugally Sustainable.

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