The Art of Cast Iron Cooking

Elvis Elvis

Cast iron cooking has been around for hundreds, if not thousands of years. I’ve been told that the Chinese used cast iron pots and pans back as early as 500 B.C. (Who knows?)Back in the days of the early American pioneers the only material they had available to make cookware and cooking utensils from was cast iron.

Iron was fairly plentiful, and it was easy for the local blacksmith to make this cookware, and so our great-great-great grandmothers used the heavy pots for their cast-iron cooking because it was the only thing available to them. Over the years, the pots-and-pans manufacturers developed new materials to make cookware from that was lighter, easier to use, easier to clean, and more eye-appealing, and so the art of cast iron cooking quickly became a thing of the past.

Now, I don’t profess to be a cast-iron afficianado, and I guess I could never see myself lugging around an entire collection of cast iron pots and pans around my kitchen, but one thing I do know is that there’s nothing BETTER to use than a good, well-seasoned CAST IRON SKILLET to cook up a PERFECT COUNTRY-FRIED STEAK!

Cast iron has a unique ability to be able to withstand very high temperatures, which is important when you’re cooking steaks. The heat also distributes very evenly, so you don’t have to worry about one half of the steak not being cooked enough, and the other half of the steak becoming over-cooked. And the heat retention quality of cast iron can’t be beat for braising or cooking stews or other dishes that are cooked for longer times.

The Art of Cast Iron Cooking

Here’s where the “art form” comes in . . .

In order to get good results with your cast iron skillet, it must be PROPERLY SEASONED! This takes a little bit of skill and work. You can’t scrub your cast iron with dish soap and a Brillo pad and expect it to perform correctly. You can’t put your cast iron skillet in the dishwasher. And you must be sure that the surface of the skillet is coated in shortening so that it doesn’t begin to rust and transfer the rust taste and minerals to your food when you’re doing your cast iron cooking.

The Price of Cast Iron Cookware

As compared to other good cookware on the market today, cast iron is really cheap. You can get a huge brand-new 12-inch cast iron skillet in any good cooking store for under $20.00! And since seasoning of a cast iron skillet is half the battle, you can even hunt around in garage sales or on Ebay for one that’s already been used and is already well-seasoned! I actually got two cast iron skillets for free from my mom, who stopped using them several years ago and was getting ready to throw them out. The problem (or should I say “challenge”) with using NEW cast iron cookware is that the seasoning process can take a little bit of time to get the skillet properly seasoned so your food doesn’t stick.

Seasoning your Cast Iron

Seasoning your cast iron skillet is what is going to protect it from rusting, and provide a good non-stick surface that will prevent your food from sticking to the pan.

If you purchase NEW cast iron, the process is pretty simple. First you’re going to scrub the pan with a Brillo pad or other type of scouring pad with VERY HOT soapy water. (In fact the HOTTER the water, the BETTER. New cast iron is coated in a waxy substance, and you want to try and get as much of this off as possible.) Rinse the pan well to remove any residue of the detergent and dry it off with a clean towel. Then take some regular, everyday shortening (like Crisco) and a paper towel, and totally coat the pan, inside and out, with the shortening. You can also use lard or bacon grease, but DON’T USE LIQUID COOKING OIL.

Using liquid cooking oil will turn the pan into a sticky, gooey mess. The next step is to heat your oven to about 250° to 300°. Turn the cast iron skillet upside down on the top rack of your oven and let it bake in there for about two hours (make sure you put a cookie sheet on the BOTTOM rack of your oven to catch any dripping oil, or you’ll be spending the next day or so cleaning your oven). After the skillet cooks for about two hours or so, remove the pan from the oven. You’ll see that the color of the pan has begun to change from a dark silver color when it was new to a dark brown color. You can repeat this process as often as you like until your cast iron skillet has turned a dark glossy black color. That is what is going to turn your cast iron into PERFECT NON-STICK COOKWARE, which will be PERFECT for your CAST IRON COOKING!

If the skillet that you’ll be using for your cast iron cooking is an OLD piece of cast iron, it’s probably already dark black and well-seasoned. However, you can scrub off anything that might be stuck to the piece and then use the same seasoning process that I’ve explained above to re-season the pan. In other words, treat it like a NEW piece.

If you’ve been using your seasoned cast iron skillet for a while and notice that food is beginning to stick, or you see spots of rust on the pan, it probably means that it needs to be cleaned and re-seasoned again. Just follow the steps above and clean and re-season your pan.

Cleaning a Seasoned Cast Iron Skillet

You don’t want to use a lot of detergent to clean a seasoned cast iron pan, and you don’t want to put it in your dishwasher. And using scouring pads of any type on the pan will ruin the seasoning.

Too properly clean it, right after you cook with it (while it’s still warm, not hot), scrape off anything that has stuck to the inside of the pan, and rinse it under hot water with a SMALL AMOUNT of liquid dish soap. (I know . . . some people will probably disagree with me about using dish soap to clean a cast iron skillet, but what I have found is that if you don’t do that, the grease on the pan builds up and the grease will turn rancid over time. Just remember that since you are using dish soap to clean the pan, you might have to re-season it more often.).

Once you start using your skillet for all of your cast iron cooking, you’ll be amazed at how the natural non-stick surface makes cooking your Country-Fried Steak so much easier! Just remember to keep the skillet seasoned.

That’s all there is to Cast Iron Cooking! It’s really pretty easy, but it does take a bit of persistence and patience.

Once you start using your skillet for all of your cast iron cooking, you’ll
be amazed at how the natural non-stick surface makes cooking your Country-Fried Steak so much easier, AND your steaks will taste SO MUCH BETTER!

Just remember to keep the skillet seasoned.