Cast irons are a great addition in the kitchen, helping serve dishes after dishes of delicacies. However, this trusted companion will one day lose its shine, and possibly earlier if it wasn’t properly maintained. Here’s how to take care of it.
What’s Good About Cast Iron?
Cast iron has similar density compared to stainless steel. Cast iron with a density of ~7300kg/m3 compared to stainless steel of ~7740kg/m3. And if you have noticed, cast-iron cookware is generally made thicker compared to their stainless-steel counterpart.
What you get is an extremely sturdy piece of kitchenware. Lasting for generations is not really an issue here.
You can read more about density here.
2. Can Endure High Temperature And Maintain It
When cooking on a stove, temperatures can go as high as 500F. If you are using it on a gas grill, it can go above 1000F! But this is not an issue for your cast iron or mine as it can endure up to 2200F, but not recommended of course.
A nifty graph here that shows you the melting point of various metals.
With that said, there is one under-rated advantage of cast iron wares that some don’t realize – the ability to prevent a large drop in temperature when cold food is added to it. This makes it perfect for searing steak.
3. Premium Feel
Granted, modern cast iron pans are not smooth looking at vintage pans, mainly due to the exclusion of the finishing part in the production process. However, the heavier feel exudes quality and gave it a premium feel. It is not weird to take out your cast iron pan and twirl it around your hand, right?
How To Care For Your Cast Iron?
While cast iron ware is relatively economical, small replacement costs over time do add up. We are very serious in making sure that our cookware lasts for ages. This is what we found are the best practices when it comes taking care of your cast iron cookware.
Pre and Post Use – Seasoning
What Is Seasoning?
For those that are unaware, seasoning is simply oil baked onto the cookware to provide a finish to prevent rust and allows some sort of non-stick properties. Seasoning, in this case, has nothing to do with spices. Think of it like conditioning a new pair of leather boots. The more you use, the better it gets.
Seasoning uses a process called polymerization to attach the fat, from the oil, onto the metal. After repeated baking, the fats form a blackened skin that protects the metal.
What Oil To Use For Seasoning?
To determine what is the preferred oil. You must appreciate that there are 2 stages to effective seasoning. The first is Polymerization. The second is Carbonization. The first stage develops a thin layer of unsaturated oil to the metal surface and baking it in an oven (about 400°F to 500°F) until it dries.
The second stage involves laying a carbon matrix on the surface. To be able to do this, the applied heat must be above the smoke point of the oil used. This is where you will get the blackish coat on your pan.
As you are aware of now, any good oil must at the minimum meet these 2 conditions.
- The oil should be unsaturated oil.
- The oil should have a smoke point below 500°F, oven temperature.
Here, we look at 5 kinds of oil commonly used by others for seasoning.
- Flaxseed Oil – Unrefined flaxseed oil is an unsaturated oil that has a smoke point of 225°F (107°C).
- Canola Oil – Refined canola oil is an unsaturated oil that has a smoke point of 400°F (200°C).
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil – Unsaturated oil that has a smoke point of 320°F (160°C).
- Grapeseed Oil – Unsaturated oil that has a smoke point of 420°F (216°C).
- Refined Corn Oil – Unsaturated oil that has a smoke point of 450°F (232°C).
What’s encouraging is they all work – as in they fulfilled the 2 essential criteria. So, the better ones should have that something extra. What is it then?
Here, we believe and use canola oil for seasoning as the smoke point fits the lower range of the necessary heat temperature at 400°F. This ensures Polymerization will happen even if our oven does not hit the upper limit of 500°F.
Also, the higher smoke point compared to, say, flaxseed oil will ensure that the kitchen doesn’t become a smokehouse, literally.
In short, if you have no idea what to use – use canola oil.
What Are The Steps To A Good Seasoning?
1. Wash The Pan
Clean out the dirt and small food bits left on the pan before you season. It is perfectly fine if you wish to use soap to clean the pan, contrary to much belief. Clean, clear running water works well. If you need to – clean the exterior too.
2. Dry The Pan
Wipe dry the pan with a kitchen towel. It would be a nice-to-have if you place it over low heat to evaporate any residual water on it to stubborn to leave.
3. Season The Pan
Spread a thin layer of canola oil, or any oil that works, on the surface. Smear it with a kitchen towel and be sure to coat the entire surface as uniformly as you can.
4. Bake The Pan In The Oven
Now, you will need to expose the pan to a heat of 400°F to 500°F. Place the pan upside down in the oven and bake it for 30 minutes. Once done, get your mitts on, take it out and repeat the process for 2 to 3 times more to build a good coat.
One tip here. If you can, season it outside or ensure good ventilation. It is going to get smoky!
How Do You Know That Your Cookware Is Well Seasoned?
I will use what I called the “Fried Egg” test. If your pan is well-seasoned, not only should it have that glossy, plasticky feel. It should be relatively non-stick. Try frying an egg with that pan you seasoned, and you should not experience any sticking.
How Regularly Do You Have To Re-season?
This depends on how regular you use the pan. As time passes, it is inevitable that the coat will wear off. Use the “Fried Egg” test to determine if the coating is not as effective. If so, then a re-coat is needed.
Storing Cast Iron Wares Tips
You spent a great deal of time and effort to season them. The last thing on planet earth is to have them destroyed by bad storage practices.
These are a few tips when it comes to storing your cast iron kitchen wares.
1. Never never let it stay wet.
After every use, dry it with a kitchen towel. If you have the time, slightly heat it up to remove excess water droplets. The cabinet area should be dry. Underneath the sink is definitely a bad idea.
2. Place a piece of kitchen towel between stacked pans
By placing a piece of kitchen towel, it can prevent and avoid scratches to the surface of the pans.
3. Store the lids separately
Again, proper ventilation is important for any residual water to evaporate. If the lid is on, the remnant liquid wouldn’t be able to escape.
4. Coat it with a thin layer of oil before storing
The layer of oil will protect the pan from water in the air. This will keep it “dry” and increase the longevity of your wares.
How To Determine If Your Cast Iron Is Damaged?
All good things come to an end – even long-lasting cast iron. These are the signs that once observed, would your beloved cookware to the bin. It would be better to get a new one instead.
1. There Are Cracks Or Chippings
If you see small cracks on the surface, it is a flaw that renders the pan useless. However, note there are some cracks that are not observable to the naked eye. There is an unorthodox way to determine if there are internal cracks – when it rang like a bell when tapped with a spoon, there are no cracks. Not a guarantee though.
Cracks on the pan will lead to uneven distribution of heat – spoiling the taste of that steak of yours. Moreover, cracks reduce the durability of the pan. Imagine the mess of a pan splitting during cooking. Unlikely but, well.
Caused usually by rapid heating or cooling. It is very obvious when you notice a curl-up or a cave-in area when it is supposed to be flat. It is not a deal-breaker but if you insist on using it, be aware that this affects the distribution of heat and by consequence, taste.
Pitting is a result of chemical erosion of metal. Unchecked rust will cause pitting – small numerous holes on the surface. It is unsightly and quite obvious. Chances are, you would not want to use the pan at this point.
Cast Iron Myths And Whether It Is True
Now, a little myth-busting and confirming. Around the net, there are questions that are still circulating around cast-iron that have an answer.
#1. You Can’t Cook Wine, Tomatoes, Or Other Acidic Ingredients In A Cast-Iron Pan.
The Saying: Tomatoes are acidic, and it will corrode the seasoning after simmering the tomato sauce. You will need to re-do the seasoning every time you do this.
Fresh meat and fish contain acid as well. If we were to avoid any kind of acidic food-cooking for our cast iron pan. It will be a meaningless trophy sitting pretty atop my cabinet. A well-seasoned ware will be able to face any tomato cooking with ease.
Furthermore, seasoning does wear off over time. Necessary re-seasoning is evitable.
#2 The Greatest Advantage Of Cast Iron Is That it Heats Evenly
The saying: Cast iron is the best among metals to sear a steak. Searing steak takes uniform heat to make it delicious. So, cast iron must heat evenly.
Actually, no. There are many more metals that distribute heat more evenly than cast iron. One of which is aluminum. The theory behind this is thermal conductivity – represented by the k value, the better the conductivity. This is a good table if you are interested.
#3. Cooking Food In A Cast Iron Ware, The Food Will Absorb Iron From The Pan
This is an interesting question. This would happen if you used an un-seasoned pan. For a seasoned pan, this is absurd. Be informed that a well-seasoned ware will not leech any significant amount of iron from the pan.
#4. Cast Iron Maintenance Is Troublesome
The Saying: You will have to re-do seasoning, again and again, each time you cook. The seasoning will chip off. Moreover, the material is less durable than that of stainless steel.
In terms of pure strength, cast iron does concede to stainless steel. Hence, cast iron wares are usually made thicker compared to stainless steel counterpart. With it, comes the advantage of better heat-retention. If you ask me, I think it is a good advantage.
Furthermore, a seasoned pan will not chip as easily. To add to that, new pans come pre-seasoned. You don’t even have to do that yourself.
#5. Never Wash Cast-Iron With Soap
The Saying: Soap will cling onto oil and will washes off the season on the pan or erodes it. You will need to re-season it.
For a relatively short period of time, a few drops of liquid soap are nary enough to damage the season. What you probably shouldn’t do is to scrub the pan with tough steel brushes. You shouldn’t leave the pan to soak in the sink. This will affect the seasoning.
#6. Cast Iron Don’t Work Well With Electric Stoves.
If it meant cast iron pans are prohibited from use with an electric stove, then no. Cast iron is slower in conducting heat on an electric stove, but it will still work well.
#7. Rusted Cast-Iron Head Straight To The Bin.
The Saying: Rusted cast-iron cannot be restored in any way.
Not true. Cast iron is surprisingly tough. There are many ways to restore a rusted pan to its former glory. You should only throw it out when the structure of the pan is compromised, such as when the rust permeates through cracks on the pan.
Cast Or Not To Cast
I hope you have had fun reading this as much as I get from writing it. Overall, cast iron is really a tough piece of metal. With proper care, it can be a life-long companion.