Cast iron is somewhat annoying to care for, but you’ll eventually become a sycophant and find it’s worth it. It takes some getting used to, and it will be frustrating at times, but you can always strip the pan, season it, and start over. I’ve ruined pans, restored pans, and burned myself repeatedly, so here are my evolving notes on cooking with cast iron! The gist: do things slowly!
- Temperature changes should be gradual to avoid cracking. Avoid pouring cold water into a hot pan, for instance.
- Always add your ingredients after the pan is hot. Heating the pan with your ingredients in it is a recipe for a messy pan.
- Minimize contact with water outside of cooking. Avoid rust – do not soak a pan in/with water.
- Never run a pan through a dishwasher.
- Starches are annoying to clean up and best fought with more oil.
Unlike Teflon, you can use any kind of spatula you want, even metal. Foods cooked in cast iron will have greater iron content than other pans, so scraping the pan isn’t a bad thing.
For fried eggs on a stovetop, use the following instructions as a guide. Remember, the best way to make your pan hard to clean is to add the egg before the pan is hot enough.
- Set your stove to low heat (e.g., 2/10) and allow the pan to heat up evenly (a minute or two)
- Increase the heat to a little above medium (e.g,. 6/10) and allow the pan to heat
- If you splash a drop of water on the pan, and it sizzles off immediately, you are ready to cook!
- Add your oil or butter, stir around, and allow to heat. Cooking with butter/lard/bacon grease will make your pan slicker than Teflon non-stick pans, and if it’s your first time cooking on a pan, I recommend using butter for your eggs to fill in any remaining pores.
- Add your eggs. DO NOT MESS WITH THEM! Wait until your edges are crispy and coming off the pan.
- Flip your egg (if desired).
- Remove egg from pan.
- Remove pan from heat.
- Enjoy your meal!
With our egg example above, if you manage the heat and oil correctly, you should be able to wipe the pan off with a paper towel or rag. For a more general set of cleaning steps:
- Clean the pan as soon as possible - it’s easier to remove foodstuffs while the pan is warm. Use your spatula to remove the majority of fried globs.
- If your pan is still gross at this point, pour a bit of hot water into the pan. Optionally, add salt and rub it in to remove gunk.
- Use a plastic scraper, a Nylon/bristle brush, or a non-abrasive sponge to remove anything else. You can use soap in cast iron as well, but take care not to scrub your pan raw.
- Rinse your pan.
- Dry your pan and place back on the stove on low heat for a few minutes (you can also use the oven).
- Spray some Pam/cooking oil into the pan and spread evenly for storage. This will help preserve your pan’s finish, but it is not strictly necessary, especially if you cook primarily with butter, lard, or bacon grease.
“Seasoning” is the process of baking an oil into the pores of the pan. This is what makes your pan (minimal|non)-stick. The more you cook with the pan, the more you will season it naturally over time. That said, if you acquire a new pan or screw up your pan with potatoes, you can apply a new coat in just a few steps:
- Scrub the pan with soap. Last chance to go crazy!
- Dry the pan and put it on low heat on the stovetop for a few minutes.
- Use your oil of choice and apply a thin coat. Wipe away excess, then wipe again. The oil doesn’t matter, but I find Pam convenient for first seasonings and touch-ups.
- Insert the pan into a 500℉ oven for one hour. Really, cook your pan in the hottest possible temperature. If your pan is “gummy” after seasoning, your oven was not hot enough.
- Let the pan cool down in the oven.
- Strip the pan with steel wool and the oven’s self-cleaning cycle (usually 3.5 h). The pan will be in its natural light finish after this.
- Remove any remaining rust with steel wool and elbow grease.
- Follow the seasoning instructions. After the first coat, your pan will be darker, and after the second seasoning, it should be black. I use olive oil spray for the first coat, then canola oil for the remaining coats.
- Season again if your first dish is a sauce or if you cook primarily with a terrible oil (e.g., coconut oil).