Hi folks, since we found some absolutely fabulous cast iron cookware that someone gave away, (someone had actually thrown them away just because they had a little rust on them), we thought we might talk about why we like cast iron so much and how to take care of it. The pieces we found were a dutch oven with a lid that also works as a round skillet, and a deep square skillet. They were in great shape, just a little rusty. So, these pieces just need a little attention, and then they're as good as new.
Cast iron is great to cook with, it's durable and heats evenly, which means a more even cooking surface. This means whatever you're cooking with it will cook more evenly, great for stir frying, frying or sauteing. It can also be put in the oven, perfect for corn bread. They are heavy and difficult to destroy. However, don't use metal utensils in your cast iron ware, wood is our preference.
So, now you've gotten your cast iron skillet or dutch oven and you are ready to use it. If you bought it new, you will have to clean it before using. With a new piece of cast iron cookware, this is the ONE AND ONLY TIME you use soapy water to clean the machine oil off, the manufacturer puts it on for shipping and storage. After the first cleaning with warm soapy water, you never use soap again on your cast iron ware. Rinse and dry the piece. It must then be "seasoned" before you cook with it. "Seasoning" just means coating it lightly with vegetable oil and heating it empty, in the oven. For pieces with rust, merely scrub off the rust with a non-scratch pad or brush, rinse and dry, and lightly coat it with vegetable oil with your fingers (my favorite method), or you can use a cooking oil spray. Any high temperature oil will do, like canola, safflower, peanut, etc. After coating the pieces, just put them in the oven, turn the oven on to preheat to 350 degrees F. By the time the oven is done preheating and reaches 350, you can just turn the oven back off and let the pieces cool in the oven. It does make the house smell a bit like frying oil.
When the pieces come out of the oven, they will have sort of a bronze color to them. The oil coating will be slightly sticky and any runny excess oil can just be wiped out with a rag. They are now ready to use. Anytime you cook with cast iron you should use a bit of oil or a cooking spray first. Over time with repeated uses, they will take on the flat black color most often associated with cast iron ware. That black coating is mostly carbon, which is sort of a natural non-stick surface. When you clean the pieces after use, just use hot water and a non-scratch pad or brush. (NO SOAP) Dry it well and give it a light oil and it's ready to go for next time. As long as you don't thermal shock cast iron (e.g. hot pan in cold water) it will last a lifetime. It's a healthy cooking surface that heats very evenly. So when you find a couple of pieces that someone threw away because they thought they were ruined, it's really treasure that you found.