Cooking With Cast-Iron
Cast-iron can be an excellent choice for “preparedness” cookware. It can go from range to oven to fire to bean hole (see last month’s newsletter), it conducts and holds heat well and, with proper care, you will be able to pass it on to your grandchildren.
When selecting your cast-iron, consider how you will need to use it. Commonly purchased pans include dutch ovens, skillets and griddles. All are available in a variety of sizes to accommodate your household’s requirements.
Raw cast-iron is vulnerable to rust and requires oiling or enameling in order to protect it. Enameled pans are beautiful and durable, but also quite expensive and you would likely not wish to risk the finish by cooking over fire or coals. Oiling, or “seasoning” as the cooked-on oil coating is referred to, is likely preferable for our purposes.
Many pans are now available pre-seasoned. This can save a little time up front if you wish your pan to be seasoned prior to use, but make sure that the seasoning is in good shape and that you are comfortable eating whatever oil or wax was used.
To season your own cast-iron cookware you can:
- Simply use it with plenty of high heat oil—see this chart and select oils for 350F and above. If you are consistent and careful in your cleaning methods, over time the oil will cook into a tough, non-stick coating.
- Make popcorn in your pan! The combination of the oil, high heat and flying kernels of corn nicely spreads and cooks a thin coating of oil onto your pan. See here for details.
- Use your oven (directions from this fabulous cast-iron article:
o Put on a thin coat of oil/grease all over the cast iron skillet. Inside and outside.
o Put foil under the skillet to catch any dripping oil.
o Turn your fan on, because this is gonna smoke!
o Bake at 400 degrees for 15 minutes.
o Wipe out as much grease as you can with a paper towel.
o Bake for another 45 minutes, then turn the oven off, leaving the door closed.
o After an hour or more, remove from oven.
To clean cast-iron, use as little abrasion as necessary to remove leftover bits of food. You can use a paper towel, a nylon pan scraper or a dishcloth or, if something is badly stuck, you can add water to your pan and boil it loose. In the olden days, cast-iron would be scrubbed as necessary with dry salt. Typically, soap and harsh abrasives are not used as these can damage the seasoning. After water washing, dry thoroughly (a minute on a hot burner will do the trick), rub lightly with a little oil and store in a dry location.
Cast-iron has few downsides. You may not want to use it to cook acidic foods (although it will just strip off your seasoning and is unlikely to cause much damage to the pan itself) and also try to avoid dropping it. In addition to being extremely heavy and likely to cause damage to toes and flooring, cast iron is rather brittle and could actually shatter with a hard enough shock.