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.
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.