Cast Iron Cookware & Care

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The best way to get started in cast iron cookware is to inherit pots and skillets with a smooth layer of carbon baked on by previous generations. Second choice is to snap up some at an auction, farm sale, or even an antique store. If you are lucky, the cast iron will come well seasoned with a glossy, obsidian like patina and ready to cook on.

Often, though, second hand cast iron has been abused. The carbon layer is chipped and the surface is intolerably rough, or the cookware has rusted. The old wisdom of rehabilitating such cookware was to toss it in a bed of hot coals or bake it in an oven at high temperature until all the old carbon is burned off. That might work, or it might crack or warp the cookware.

Some suggest putting a hot skillet or pot in a self cleaning oven for an hour to burn away all the old carbon. The disadvantages of this method is that afterwards you will be seasoning the cookware from scratch. Others recommend using oven cleaner to remove some of the carbonized layer to smooth the surface.

A safe method is to scrape the inner surface with a stiff scraper or an old chisel. Then smooth the surface with wet emery paper, the type used by autobody repairmen. Start with a medium or coarse emery paper and work down to a fine grit until the surface is smooth. The cookware then can be seasoned just like new.

If your buying new iron cookware, get the best and check the inner surface for smoothness. Check the seal between the base and the lid of covered skillets and Dutch ovens. If there are burrs or raised areas, file them down so that no steam, essential to cast iron cooking, does not slip away.

There is a wealth of conflicting advice about the proper way to season cast iron. The object is to allow oil to be absorbed into the surface of the iron, creating a non stick, rustproof finish. Most cast iron is shipped with a waxy coating to prevent rust. Remove it with a mild detergent in warm water. Rinse and towel dry. Never wash in a dishwasher or allow to air dry.

The cast iron seasoning debate centers on what kind of oil to use. The old ways of using animal fat, usually from pork, has survived the test of time. Solid vegetable shortening is best for those who do not wish to use animal fat. Liquid vegetable oils should be avoided because they leave a sticky residue and can turn rancid on the cookware. Do not season with butter or margarine.

Seasoning cast iron in the oven will produce some unpleasant smells and a bit of smoke. It would help to turn your exhaust fan on and open some windows and doors.

Preheat the cookware in an oven for about 15 minutes at 300&def;F. Remove it, and rub down all parts of the cookware with melted animal fat or shortening and place face down on a top rack of an oven preheated to 350°F. Place a cookie sheet with aluminum paper on the bottom shelf of the oven to catch any drips. Bake the cookware for an hour, removing it once or twice to wipe off old oil and apply a new layer. If your seasoning a new piece of cookware do not be alarmed if there is a rusty, metallic smear on the paper towel.

Let the cookware cool in the oven, wipe it down and store. Well seasoned and properly used cast iron cookware will develop a patina that is the ultimate non stick surface.

Cast iron does not fare well with low fat cooking. Soups and stews, particularly those with a high acid content, such as tomato based dishes, should be avoided until a good layer of carbon is built up on the cookware. Once your cookware has acquired a silky smooth, coal black layer of carbonized oils, fats and other materials best not contemplated, it will tolerate occasional uses other than frying.

High temperature cooking is unnecessary with cast iron, and can warp the pans. Because cast iron holds and distributes heat so evenly, a burner setting hotter than medium high should never be used. Except when searing a roast, low temperatures should be used.

Well seasoned ironware can be used freely for baking. If food sticks to your cast iron it means it is not properly seasoned or you are cooking at too high of a temperature. Cast iron should not be used for storing leftovers in the refrigerator.

Cast iron cooks usually do no more to clean their well seasoned cookware than rinsing in hot water and wiping out with a dry towel. Until your cookware has that smooth, wipe out surface, use a plastic scrub pad, a brush or a plastic or wooden implement to scrape away clinging food. Detergent should be avoided because it cuts away the developing seasoning. Wipe the cookware with a light coat of animal fat or shortening after each use, warm it in the oven, and wipe. Store cast iron in a dry place with lid off. Do not stack your cast iron cookware. Hang your cast iron if you can. Treat your cast iron with respect and care, and it will yield fine meals for generations.

The above information was found from Nebraskland Magazine Wild Game Cookbook, 1999

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