Monday, November 21, 2011

Cast Iron Crazy

When I was five years old, the greatest movie in the world would hit the big screen starring John Wayne. The Cowboys would make it's debut in 1972 engraving one of two frightening childhood memories that have remained in my mind for years. The first would be the Child Catcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang while the other is of Bruce Dern as Asa Watts who almost made me wet the bed. But aside from all the crying when John Wayne loses his life, I was always amazed that they had apple pie on the trail ride. How was this possible? Where was the oven in the wagon?

It wouldn't be until later in my years that I would begin the long hard road of cast iron cooking. And yes, it is possible to cook an apple pie on a trail ride granted you have the right cast iron pot.

Dutch Oven cooking is no small task as I mentioned to someone the other day the older I've gotten the more my toys weigh. Seems like everything I own now that's worth playing around with has to be pulled on a trailer or hauled in a truck and a Dutch Oven that's going to cook in great capacity is not exactly easy to maneuver around. But once you've got it seasoned and ready, the flavor that follows remains unmatched by any cookware in the kitchen.

The preparation of cast iron is one that I have practiced for over twenty years now. I've been frying eggs in a black skillet since I was old enough to stand but cooking with Dutch Ovens came about in my twenties as I began to learn the art of cowboy cooking.

There's plenty of misinformation about cast iron when it comes to seasoning and cleaning and I don't claim to know everything but twenty years of messing with it has helped me learn what to do and more importantly, what not to do.

Before I go into the seasoning process, it's important to point out the difference between a new cast iron piece and an old one. Old cast iron before WW2 was made completely different than what we have now as the old skillets are smoother and lighter. This was due to the excellent machine work done on the skillets at that time as soon after the depression, they began to cut back on expenses leaving them heavier with a rougher surface. Both of them work well for different things such as eggs are cooked better in an older skillet and meats are cooked better in a heavier skillet. They both retain oil for seasoning but the older ones are a little trickier.

Granted you buy an old skillet in a flea market that has the smooth bottom, you'll want to strip it just to be safe as quite frankly you don't know what's been cooking in that thing and these days you can't be too sure. Place the skillet in the oven open side face down and start the oven cleaning process. This will burn off all the old oil and take it down to the metal.

After the oven shuts down, pull the skillet out and take it outside to dust off.

Wash the skillet with water and dry it off with a towel. Now coat the entire skillet with Crisco and place open face down in the oven to bake at 250 degrees. (It is so much better to do this on a gas grill as it really makes for a big mess in the oven.) Leave it in for fifteen minutes or so pulling it out to wipe it down with a paper towel. You want to leave some oil on the skillet but too much will make it tacky. Especially on the old skillets that have a smooth surface as oil gums up if you don't wipe it down. Place it back in the oven.

Pull it out after a couple of hours and you should be good go. From now on, you can season the skillet on the stove top using Crisco. Simply coat it and get it hot. When the oil starts to swim around on the slick surface and you see a little smoke, cut the heat off and wipe it down using a paper towel. Note I said a little smoke.

Cleaning your cast iron is extremely simple once you've got it seasoned. Pour hot water in it and let it sit for a few minutes. I recommend wiping it clean using one of these sponges that has an abrasive side. Be gentle though as the new ones are a bit harsh and can take off the seasoning. I prefer using an older one.

Preparing to cook with cast iron is really a pain in the back side but once you've got it seasoned there is no better way to go. And anything worth having at all is worth the time you put into it.

Now go season your cast iron. You're burning daylight.


  1. Love this post! Thank you! Unfortunately, it's still not that simple :( I tried the crisco for the first attempt and ended up with sticky, gummy pans. No doubt I did something wrong, its just figuring out what. However, i look forward to the challenge of trying until I get a "black glass" finish!

  2. You can do it as it is that simple. Gummy pans means you had too much on there when you seasoned them. I hate to tell you to strip them but you may have to. Before you do, put one of your skillets on a burner and heat it. This should break up the gum on the surface as you're only worried about the inside. The outside is just there to seal it from moisture. When it starts to smoke, pull it and let it cool a little. Pour extremely hot water in the skillet and scrub it with one of those sponges with the rough side. Place it back on the heat and put another coat of Crisco on there. When it starts to smoke, wipe it as dry as you can with a paper towel and remove it. Pay attention to what you're doing as you'll see it gumming up on you if you leave it on the heat too long.

  3. Thanks! I actually stripped them back after that disaster and am slowly building up a new seasoning. Coconut oil is working really well. But, my main issue is cleaning after use. A lot of methods seem to strip back the seasoning.

  4. Granted you have a light seasoning on your pots, you'll want to use water and a good scrub brush. Like I mentioned above, I use those sponges but they can be too harsh on new season. Pioneers used to use sand and water and that did the job. Do not use soap. I don't care what some idiot on youtube says as I've seen them talk about using mild soapy water. Hot hot hot water is what you want to use. And just wash the inside unless you've made a mess on the outside. Unlike other pans, you should only be concerned with the inside of your pots or skillets when it comes to cast iron. When you're done cleaning it with hot water, re-season it then put it up. Repeat repeat repeat.