Cast iron pans are a wonderful thing. They cook food great and last forever. But I think people tend to stay away from them because they are scared about the maintenance. Taking care of cast iron is not too bad, and the plus side is good maintenance will keep your pan looking like new for years.
Below are a few general tips on keeping your cast iron looking like new.
1. Clean your cast iron immediately after use.
2. Do not use soap to clean your pan. A sturdy brush will do the trick.
3. Dry immediately after cleaning (putting it on a burner on low works very well).
3. Apply a little layer of oil/grease on the pan after it is washed. Wipe it dry after it is applied.
4. When cooking, use a spatula with a flat edge and rounded corners.
An interesting note is that seasoning on pre-seasoned pan is only meant to last roughly 2 years. You will notice large dimples in the seasoning that make it easier for food to get stuck in the pan. A proper seasoning should be smooth with no dimples. If your cast iron is starting to not have a not so fresh look, perhaps a little rust, film, large dimples or you would simply like to change the taste of the seasoning, cast iron can be re-seasoned at home. The process itself is not difficult, but it is time consuming and will take about a week to complete. If you buy a pre-seasoned pan, I would recommend re-seasoning within the first year.
Below describes the process of re-seasoning your pan using a self cleaning oven. My pan had a light rust line I could not get rid of no matter how hard I scrubbed. My friend and I both removed the seasoning on our pans one day while watching football. Note both of our pans are clean and you can see how bad they needed this (and the fact my oven needed to be cleaned too :D)
Removal of seasoning
1. Place cast iron upside down on oven racks.
2. Turn on oven clean cycle. This could take some time (2-4 hours) depending on your oven and will heat to roughly 900 degrees. There will be a little smoke and a lot of heat. You can open windows, if your oven vent runs outside, turn it on, make sure nothing else is in/around the oven.
3. When the cleaning cycle is complete there will be ash in the base of the oven and possibly in the cast iron pan. It will have a dull grey appearance. (Look how clean my oven is!)
4. Clean cast iron pan with abrasive cloth/pad to remove all particulates and rinse. It is okay to use soap at this point to get it extra clean but make sure to rinse extremely well.
5. Dry extremely well. Bake the pan on low heat (~200 F) for an hour or more to make sure it is completely dry. It is essential that the pan is dry at this point so you do not cover any moisture with oil, this will cause spotting in the seasoning later.
For seasoning the pan you will need at lease 8 oz. of Flaxseed oil. Always shake before use.
Seasoning the pan
1. Using your hands, cover all the surfaces of the pan with the oil.
2. Using a paper towel or cotton cloth, remove ALL the oil. At this stage the pan should appear to be completely dry. No drips! If there are, keep drying! Excess oil will lead to unwanted bumps and possible chipping of the seasoning in the future.
3. Place pan upside down in a cold oven. Allow it to pre-heat with the oven. Set temperature for highest baking temperature available (450-550 F usually). When the oven has reach temperature set timer for 1 hour.
4. After 1 hour, turn the oven off but do not open the door to remove the pan. Let the oven and pan cool in the oven. (I found the best time to do this is about an hour before you want to go to bed. That way the pan can cool in the oven over night). After one bake, the pan should look significantly cleaner with a thin, smooth layer of seasoning.
5. Repeat steps 1-4 a minimum of SIX times. I did my pan six time (shown below) and it works great! It is now virtually nonstick (just need a little butter) and makes great eggs in a basket.
If you are interested in even more details about cast iron, check out this great article by Paul Weaton.
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