The original post
Chris McAvoy from the foodie blog Tastebud sent me an email letting me know that he’s posted up a follow-up entry to his entry on how to cook steak. This one covers the care and feeding of a cast-iron skillet. You should get your paws on one of these old-school cooking implements if you haven’t got one.
Years have passed since this article was posted, and my friend Justin said this in the comments:
Dammit! Came back here to find this article, and it’s gone due to linkrot. I thought the Internet was forever – or maybe that’s just the bad stuff.
I’m not going to let someone else’s linkrot get in the way. I made a trip down Memory Lane courtesy of the Wayback Machine and found the article. I’ve posted the text here because I think Chris, the original author, won’t mind. Here you go, Justin, and all you other cast-iron cookery enthusiasts — this one’s for you!
So here it is, now that you’ve got a big hunk of iron in your kitchen, how do you take care of it?
The first thing you’ll need to do is season the skillet. Lots of cast iron skillets come “pre-seasoned”. Don’t believe them. Sure, they’re sort of seasoned, but there’s still work to be done. Take a big hunk of shortening and smear it over every inch of the cooking area of the pan. Put it in a very hot oven for a while. The fat will melt (and smoke a little bit). As the pan heats up, teeny tiny pores in the metal will open up and suck up the melted fat. When the pan cools, the pores close up, retaining the fat. The next time you heat the skillet up (like when you’re cooking) the fat is released a little bit at a time, creating a non-stick surface.
After about twenty minutes or so at 400 degrees, take the skillet out and let it cool. When it’s cool enough, clean it out with paper towels. Don’t use any water. No water? Yeah, kind of freaky, stand by.
Modern America is so wrapped up in aluminum and stainless steel that we forget that iron rusts. It totally rusts. Your skillet may very well rust. Mine is a little rusty on the bottom. It’s going to happen, so just get it in your head now. The only area of the skillet that you absolutely can’t have rust on is the cooking area. We all know that water makes rust, and that water cleans skillets, so how do you clean the skillet without water? Here comes the exciting part…SALT. You pour some kosher salt in it and scrub with paper towels.
Whoah. No soap? Somewhere, your Mom is clucking her tongue. She wants you to use soap. So does your Grandma. You know who doesn’t? Your GREAT Grandma. She’s not so wrapped up in purell and anti-bacteria hoo hah that she understands that you don’t need to use soap and water to get an iron skillet clean. We like our pan to be greasy. It’s a good thing. You’re going to get that thing so hot when you cook that it’ll kill all bacteria. Go to Billy Goat’s or one of the dozens of Chicago taco joints and ask them how they clean their giant griddles. I guarantee you they don’t use soap and water. I’d be willing to bet they don’t even use water. They just scrape off the crusty’s and keep it really hot. Your cast iron skillet is the next door neighbor to one of those big iron griddles. Trust Billy Goat’s.
When possible, just wipe it clean with paper towels. If you get some stuck on crap, scrub it off with some dry kosher salt. I’ve been doing this for over a year now. I cook eggs, bacon, sausage, corn bread, pancakes, steak, all kinds of stuff in this skillet and I’ve never gotten sick. Water has never been used to clean it, ever. It works, and it keeps a nice seasoned cooking surface.
What not to Cook
Technically, you can cook just about anything in your skillet. It’s a straight up fry pan. However, for the first couple of weeks avoid acidic stuff, like tomatoes. They’ll eat through your weak seasoning and get at the iron. Hold off on that kind of stuff until you have a really solid seasoning.
Get to it
Cast iron is more of a committment than a regular frying pan. Once you learn to season and clean it, you’re done. Don’t worry too much about it. Seasoning is a lifelong journey of fidgeting with your iron. You’ll start to covet your skillet. You’ll show it off to friends. You’ll brag about never using soap and water to clean it. Cast iron, in my humble opinion, is the winter equivalent of a Weber grill. Both need some TLC from time to time, both have little cooking cults that adore them, and both are totally misunderstood by an average consumer. Quit being an average consumer, start taking care of a piece of cooking history. Your Great Grandmother would be proud.