How To Cook With Cast Iron And Why You Should Use Cast Iron Skillets Instead of Nonstick Ones

  • By: Michael Barnes
  • Time to read: 7 min.

I use cast iron skillets all the time for a million different reasons. They’re virtually indestructible. They last forever. And unlike a lot of things you’re going to have in your kitchen, they actually tend to get better with age. People are often a little bit intimidated by cast-iron thinking. It’s very hard to deal with or hard to clean. It’s actually really easy. You just have to know what you’re looking for.

Cast Iron Skillets Seasoning

Seasoning is a process you wanna go through, even if it’s new or you have an old cast iron that was passed down to you. Often when you have new cast iron and there’s been any water that’s left on, they’re really susceptible to rust. I’m gonna help you figure out how to prevent that from happening and how to clean that off. We start by getting some steel wool.

Whether it’s new or has a bunch of rust on it, we’re just gonna scrub it down with steel wool with mild dish soap and just get it down to its kind of base layer. The way that cast irons are made, it’s all kind of one piece and you can’t just season the part that you cook with. You wanna season the entire thing.

How to remove rust from cast iron

Just keep scrubbing along all of the sides on the back of it, turn it over, and get the handle. Once you’re happy, you got the rust and/or gunk off there. If your oven is dirty, you can clean it by using hot water and a scouring pad or sponge. A good rule to remember whenever you’re dealing with cast iron is water will make it rust.

Get it as dry as possible before storing it or moving on to the next step. Dry it off with a towel and then you’re gonna put it onto your stove and turn it on and let all of that excess water, any extra moisture boil off.

How to season a cast iron skillet

Once you’re happy, your skillet is bone dry. We’re gonna take it off the heat and start our seasoning process with a thin layer of oil. The new standard is that flaxseed oil is the best oil for the job. It actually dries the hardest and creates the best non-stick, longest-lasting seasoning.

The only downfall is it is pretty expensive, and if you don’t wanna spend that much money, or frankly you just don’t have it in your pantry, canola oil will work just fine. A little background on your skillet, the surface is actually porous, which just means there are kind of small holes or pores even that we kind of wanna fill up to make a nice smooth cooking surface.

A layer of oil

A layer of oil

Once we have this thin layer of oil all over the skillet, we’re actually doing our best. Wipe it all off. There’s enough oil that is soaked into those open pores. Take the clean side of your paper towel and rub off as much of the oil as you can.

One of the biggest problems people have is that they don’t wipe off enough oil. If there’s too much oil on the pan, it will come out of the oven sticky and not give them the result they want.

What temperature to season cast iron

You are going to place your cast iron in the oven at the highest temperature. It can go between 450 and 500 degrees. This process is gonna take about an hour. The reason why we need our oven so high is we actually want to take the oil past its smoking point so that the oil actually starts to break down and bond with the cast iron.

Have you ever taken out your skillet and it’s still kind of brown and sticky?

It’s probably because your oven wasn’t hot enough. After an hour you can turn off your oven and let it cool in there. The result is a hard glassy layer that we’re looking for that helps make our cast iron knobs stick.

Cooking with Cast Iron Skillets: how to cook steak in cast iron

So, you actually really do have to preheat it. It doesn’t necessarily heat evenly, but it keeps the heat really well. And so take your time, heat it on a load and medium heat. This may take 5 to 10 minutes because cast iron is such a great conductor of heat. If you actually just carefully hover your hand over the bottom of the skillet, you can feel when the pan’s ready to go. A lot of people are confused. They did all the seasoning and their food is sticking to the pan.

Cook steak in cast iron

Usually, that’s because they’re putting cold food in a cold cast iron pan. One of the great benefits of using a cast iron skillet is that it can help you cook your food more evenly, especially meat.

A usual mistake people make when cooking with cast iron is that they think they need to constantly move the food around. The goal is to achieve a nicely caramelized crust. So, when you place the meat in the skillet, don’t touch it or move it around; let it cook.

When you see the kind of brown crust forming on the outside, that’s when you know it’s ready to flip. If you’re trying to lift up your steak and it just will not give, it’s probably it’s not ready yet. The meat will self-release when that crust has formed. We love using cast iron skillets because they can be used on the stove and in the oven, and I know you love them too!

What you can cook

You often hear that you can’t cook acidic foods in cast iron skillets. However, if you have a good layer of seasoning on there, that’s totally fine. You don’t wanna do a ton of big tomato sauce or a bunch of wine or vinegar, but a little bit’s not really gonna kill your seasoning.

Cooking with Cast Iron Skillets

Don’t be afraid to roast things like tomatoes in your cast iron skillet. The great thing about being able to cook with something on the stovetop and finish it in the oven is you just have a lot more control. You can get a nice layer of caramelization from a high heat on the stove and then finish something cooking in the oven on a much gentler radiant heat.

How to clean a cast iron skillet

When you’re cleaning your cast iron, you want to find the sweet spot. If it’s cooled down too much, the food will adhere and stick to the pan more. If it’s too hot and you put it under cold water, you can risk it cracking. So you want to wash the pan pretty soon after you use it.

The most gentle way to clean your skillet is with hot water and salt, and a nonmetal scouring pad or the rough side of your sponge. The salt works as an abrasive and helps to scrub off any food that’s on there without damaging the seasoning at all.

Cast Iron Skillet

Once you’re happy that your pan is clean, give it another towel dry and then let it completely dry off either on the stove or in a warm oven just to make sure there’s no lingering moisture and that’s gonna protect it from rusting in the future. So lastly, we’re gonna put a protective layer of oil on the skillet before we store it carefully with the paper towel. Rub that all along the inside, turn up the heat until the oil is smoking, then turn it off and let it cool on the stove. The reason why we wanna take it out to the smoking point is so that the oil doesn’t turn.

If you season and clean your cast iron skillet properly, it will last you for many years to come. Just like a good relationship – the more you put in, the more you get back.

In Conclusion

• Cast iron skillets (you can buy a new one – here) are virtually indestructible, last forever, and get better with age.

• Seasoning is a process you want to go through with a new or old cast iron skillet. This will help prevent rust and create a smooth cooking surface.

• To season, scrub the entire skillet with steel wool (with a mild dish soap if necessary), rinse, dry, and coat in oil. Heat in the oven at 450-500 degrees for an hour then let cool in the oven.

• When cooking with cast iron, preheat on medium heat for 5-10 minutes until hot throughout (you can test by hovering your hand over the bottom of the pan). Do not move food around too much – allow it to sit and form a caramelized crust before flipping.

• To clean: wash soon after use while still warm/hot; salt works as an abrasive to scrub off food without damaging seasoning; towel dry; store carefully with paper towel rubbed in oil (to smoking point) inside the pan before storing.

• With proper seasoning and cleaning, your cast iron skillet will last for many years to come.

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