This was originally published in March of 2011 and went on to become one of AOC’s first mini-viral posts. For me, it was simply a matter of sharing my excitement over finally figuring out how to use my cast iron pans and throw out the non-stick pans for good. Oh, and overlooking the fact that thousands of people were seeing my dirty egg pan, ha! It’s a keeper that bears repeating for anyone else out there like me who didn’t grow up with family who used cast iron.
I cannot tell you how excited I am to be able to write about my success with a cast iron pan. Because for many years I was not successful. How many? Twenty years – and I wish I were joking.
I acquired a cast iron pan shortly after Brian and I were married- I think it came from his grandma, or maybe a thrift store, but it had definitely been used. I didn’t grow up using cast iron, but I had heard people tell me all the reasons they loved their pans (naturally non-stick, lasts more than a lifetime, heats evenly and so on), so I was was looking forward to trying it in my new household.
And try I did. But everything stuck- eggs, meat, you name it (I know now that when we scrubbed the dickens out of it to get all the stuck things off we were just perpetrating the cycle). Then I’d shove it to the back of the cupboard, eventually bring it out to try again with the same results, until it got permanently relegated to our little vintage trailer. Perfect for vintage cast iron, right? Plus, there were only a few days each summer that I had to use it- and invariably curse it.
However, about a year ago when my third set of non-stick skillets started peeling, I realized I didn’t want to keep buying new pans every few years, so I needed to figure this cast iron pan thing out. By this time it was rusty, but thanks to the Internet (not around during my first attempts), I found out how to re-season the pan fairly easily. I can’t find the exact steps I followed, but it was similar to this technique at wikiHow.
And what I read over and over again was to use this to season the pan:
Not canola or a vegetable oil as I had always tried, but bacon grease (lard or coconut oil can also be used). This was important in order not to get that sticky coating that comes from using the industrial vegetable oils that have only been consumed regularly since the 1950’s (and we know cast iron’s been around a lot longer than that). Or that awful “old oil” smell – and I have found that I don’t get that smell when I use a bit of bacon grease.
I admit I was wary- would all the food cooked in it have a bacon flavor? Would it smell like bacon when I heated it up? It did a bit when I was re-seasoning it, but I’ve found that it doesn’t have an overt bacon smell and certainly doesn’t impart it noticeably to the food. And this probably is attributed to the fact that I use very little grease on the pan to maintain the seasoning- less than 1/8 of a teaspoon?- and use only the clear part of the grease (which is, in fact, like rendered lard). Oh, and the fact that I am using something we regularly used to throw away? You know I love that!
I ended up doing two rounds in the oven to re-season my pan and started to cook with it, but only things that were greasy like bacon, or I didn’t need to worry about sticking, like sauteed mushrooms. I’ve been using it more and more over the last three months, but had put off the ultimate test:
Until last weekend when I took the plunge and decided my pan was ready for the challenge.
And all I can say is I’m glad there wasn’t a video camera around as I was jumping up and down in front of the stove saying “they’re not sticking!” over and over again. As if I was the only one to discover this.
While there are bits of egg and cheese stuck to the pan in places, it’s not much and I had no problems cooking and serving the eggs. What didn’t happen was that layer of egg you can get in regular pans. (2015 Update: after years of proper use and seasoning, I don’t even have this much egg/cheese stick to the pan anymore – it really is non-stick!)
So I’d like to share with you that if you’re like me and have had trouble with cast iron or think it’s too much work, they really can become your favorite pan with just a bit of your time and attention.
These are the easy steps I take to clean and care for the pan after every use:
1. Use a plastic scrubber to remove any stuck bits. Some use coarse salt, but that would be wasting something in my frugal world. 🙂
2. Wash the pan with hot water only (no soap). Yes, it’s OK- it is getting clean, I promise. I use the scrubber side of my sponge and haven’t found that it takes the seasoning off, like some sites warn against. Your call.
3. Dry the pan thoroughly on the stove. Heat it for just a minute or so on medium heat (not high and don’t walk away).
4. Remove the pan from the burner and turn it off. Using a rag (or paper towel) grab a smear of bacon grease and rub it all over the inside of the warm pan. I only occasionally add it to the outside of the pan (after the initial re-seasoning), whenever it seems to be looking ‘dry’ and like it needs it.
5. Set back on the burner- turned off, but still warm- and let the pan cool there before putting away.
I do these steps every time I use it to keep a nice gleam on the pan that tells me it’s seasoned enough to meet all my non-stick needs. And I’m (finally!) never buying non-stick pans again.
Have you ever had issues with cast iron (tell me I’m not alone!)? Do you use it or want to use it? What are your cast iron stories!