Cast Iron Basics
Why should I choose cast iron?
Cast iron cookware is best known for its heat retention and even cooking properties. It is a home staple and with proper care can become a family heirloom, lasting generations.
When purchasing your Dutch oven, make sure the lid has a raised ridge. This is to hold your heat source, which will be briquettes. This will help you to reach the proper temperature needed for the cooking desired, with the exception of boiling or frying. In which case you would want all the heat on the bottom.
Some Things to Keep in Mind
How is the diameter measurement of Cookware determined?
Generally, measure from outside rim to outside rim across the top of the cookware, not the bottom. Company standards vary, however, so consult with the manufacture for specifics.
What is seasoning?
Seasoning (or curing as some people call it) is a necessary step in using cast iron cookware. Oil is baked into the pores of the iron to prevent rusting and to eventually provide a natural, non-stick cooking surface. Unlike synthetically coated cookware, it is possible to restore the cooking surface of cast iron.
REMEMBER: It is very important to replenish the seasoning of your cast iron cookware by applying a thin layer of oil after each cleaning. Seasoning is an on-going process. The more you use cast iron, the seasoning is improved.
What type oil is used to season Cast Iron?
Any cooking oil will work. The seasoning is functional application and slight inconsistencies may appear in the seasoning finish. The inconsistencies will not affect cooking performance.
There is an area of the cookware that does not seem to be seasoned and is beginning to flake. What is this and is it normal? The area of concern is most likely caused by a seasoning bubble. A seasoning bubble may appear during the seasoning process and is not a cause for concern. Additionally, flaking and slight discoloration or a rusty color may appear. The flaking is carbonized oil and the rusty color is the first layer of seasoning. Rubbing oil into this area will improve appearance and seasoning.
If you are planning on baking, you need more heat on the top than on the bottom. Put one briquette on the bottom for every 3 on the top of the lid. For preparing stews, use one on the top for every 4 on the bottom. When roasting, put briquettes on the top and bottom evenly.
Wind, humidity, and ambient air temperature can all effect temperature, but the general rule of thumb is that each briquette adds about 25 degrees of heat. A good starting temperature is 350°F. To figure out how many briquettes to use to get your oven to 350°F, take the size of the oven in inches, and subract three to get the number of briquettes for under it, and add three to get the number of briquettes for the top.
Can cast iorn be used with a variety of heat sources?
Cast iron products may be used on various heat sources including gas, electric, induction and ceramic/glass top stoves and ovens. Seasoned cast iron can also be used on the grill or for camp cooking. Do not to drop cookware on the stovetop or slide across the surface. Begin heating cookware on low and slowly bring heat up to medium or medium/high. Always remove cookware from the stovetop after cooking.
Are there any types of food that are not recommended to be cooked in cast iron cookware?
Foods which are very acidic (i.e., beans, tomatoes, citrus juices, etc.) should not be cooked in cast iron until the cookware is highly seasoned. The high acidity of these foods will strip the seasoning and result in discoloration and metallic tasting food. Wait until cast iron is better seasoned to cook these types of foods.
How do I remove rust from my cookware?
Rust on cast iron cookware indicates the seasoning needs to be replenished, or in some instances completely replaced. Three types of rusting can occur:
- Flash Rusting: Usually, rust on a new piece of cookware is flash rusting. Rubbing vegetable oil briskly with a cloth on the affected area can remedy this type rust.
- Profile Rusting: This is rust is seen and felt on the cookware. To remove this type rust use a very fine grade of steel wool or an abrasive soap pad, such as SOS, Brill, etc., to scrub the affected area. When the piece is scrubbed down to raw cast iron it should be re-seasoned immediately.
- Severe Rust: If rust is covering the majority of the cast iron is considered severe. Perhaps the item has been in a state of neglect. No amount of hand scrubbing will remove this rust. To salvage the cookware take it to a local machine shop or auto/body shop and have it sandblasted, returning to its raw form. The cookware should then be seasoned IMMEDIATELY.
My new cast iron pan feels rough in some areas, is this normal?
Yes. With use and replenishment of the seasoning, the pan will become smoother. Unlike other types of cookware, cast iron only gets better with use. For concerns about roughness, it is OK to use a fine grade of sandpaper to smooth out the rough areas. Make sure to re-season the item before using.
Using Cast Iron
The following is use and care for seasoned cast iron cookware. By following these instructions, your cast iron can last you more than a lifetime.
- Rinse with hot water (do not use soap), and dry thoroughly.
- Before cooking, apply vegetable oil to the cooking surface of your pan and pre-heat the pan slowly (always start on low heat, increasing the temperature slowly).
- Once the oven is properly pre-heated, you are ready to cook.
- Avoid cooking very cold food in the pan, as this can promote sticking. Allow food to sit out of the refrigerator for a few minutes so the "chill" before cooking.
- Use only wood or silicone cooking utensils to avoid scratching and marring the seasoning.
- REMEMBER: Handles will become very hot in the oven, and on the stovetop. Always use an oven mitt to prevent burns when removing pans from oven or stovetop.
Cleaning Cast Iron
- After cooking, clean utensil with a stiff nylon brush and hot water. Using soap is not recommended, and harsh detergents should never be used (avoid putting a hot utensil into cold water. Thermal shock can occur causing the metal to warp or crack).
- Boil some water in your pan for a few minutes to loosen residue, and make it easier to remove stuck-on food. Towel dry immediately and place on hot coals to dry thoroughly. Apply a light coating of oil to the utensil while it is still warm. Do not let your cast iron air dry, as this can promote rust.
- Store in a cool, dry place. If you have a cover, or lid, for your utensil, place a folded paper towel in between lid and utensil allowing air to circulate. This prevents moisture from collecting inside the utensil, which can cause rust.
- NEVER wash in dishwasher.
- If for some reason your utensil develops a metallic smell or taste, or perhaps rust spots (maybe a well-meaning relative washed your utensil in the dishwasher or with soap thinking they were being helpful), never fear. Simply scour off the rust using a very fine grade of sandpaper or steel wool and refer to our section on re-seasoning your cookware.
- DO NOT USE ON GLASS STOVE TOPS.
- IMPORTANT PRODUCT NOTE: If you have an iron griddle, make sure to place it over two burners, allowing the griddle to heat evenly and avoid a stress break or warping. It is also a good to pre-heat the griddle in the oven before placing over burners on top of stove.
Seasoning / Re-Seasoning Cast Iron
- While maintaining the seasoning should keep your Cast Iron in good condition, at some point you may need to repeat the seasoning process. If food sticks to the surface, or you notice a dull, gray color, repeat the seasoning process.
- Wash the cookware with hot, soapy water and a stiff brush. (It is okay to use soap the first time to remove any machining oils and this time because you are preparing to re-season the cookware). Rinse and dry completely. Apply a thin, even coating of melted solid vegetable shortening (or cooking oil of your choice) to the cookware (inside and out).
- Place aluminum foil on the bottom rack of the oven to catch any dripping.
- Set oven temperature to 350-400°F.
- Place cookware upside down on the top rack of the oven.
- Bake the cookware for at least one hour. After the hour, turn the oven off and let the cookware cool in the oven.
- Store the cookware uncovered, in a dry place when cooled.