After asking for a cast iron skillet repeatedly over the last five or six years, I finally received one from my parents for Christmas–okay, I got it last week, but close enough. It’s a 10″ Lodge skillet, and it (allegedly) came seasoned from the factory. However, new cast iron comes with a waxy coating in order to prevent rust, and of course that doesn’t taste very good.
Many people say that they don’t like cooking with cast iron. Some cooks say that food sticks to their pan, and other people (like my mother) think that they aren’t cleaned properly. They’re correct–food will stick to a cast iron pan if it is not properly seasoned. As for my mother, nothing is clean unless it has been drowned in hot soapy water and has had the daylights scrubbed out of it. That’s good for normal dishes, but not for cast iron! Food won’t stick to a cast iron pan that has been seasoned correctly, and if it is cleaned properly, it will be totally safe to use while also allowing you to maintain a strong seasoning.
First things first: When you’re cleaning a cast iron skillet, do not use soap! Dish soap will take any layer of seasoning off of the pan, and that’s bad. However, because this is the first time that the pan had been used and I wanted to remove the waxy coating, I did use dish soap. This is the only time in which you should use dish soap on a cast iron pan. Wash the pan under hot running water and wipe with a clean washcloth or sponge–never use steel wool, as it will scrape off the seasoning. And finally, don’t soak the pan in water or leave it to soak overnight. The seasoning will wear away and the pan may start to rust.
After the pan has been washed, dry it off very well with a clean towel. You can also place it on the stove and heat it on low for a few minutes to get rid of any extra moisture, but that’s not necessary. Crank your oven to 450 degrees and lightly coat the pan with an oil that has a high smoke point or plain shortening. Wipe out any extra oil or shortening with paper towels so that the pan doesn’t drip. Place the pan upside down in the oven with a sheet of aluminum foil on the rack below (I used an old crappy baking sheet) to catch any possible drips. Let the pan ‘cook’ in the oven for 30 minutes, then turn off the oven and let the pan cool inside of the oven–be patient, this will take awhile. Repeat this process two or three times in order to get a good base seasoning on the pan.
After you’ve run the pan through the oven a few times (it’s okay to spread the steps out over a few days, by the way), take it out of the oven and wipe it very lightly with oil one more time. Place the pan on top of the stove on low or medium low and allow the pan to heat slightly. After 30 minutes on the stove, turn off the heat and allow the pan to cool. Store the pan in a place where it won’t get scratched, or in my case, where an old retired woman won’t find it and powerwash it.
And there you have it–a properly seasoned cast iron skillet. Some things will stick to the pan just because this is a new seasoning, but over time, the seasoning will continue to strengthen and it will be more slippery than a sun tanner in July. I’ve already made pizza in this pan a few times, and it fries potatoes like nobody’s business.
As for maintenance: After each use, run the pan under hot water and gently clean with a dish cloth or a sponge, but never use soap. It’s best to do this while the pan is still warm in order to prevent anything from cooling and sticking to the pan, but it’s not the end of the world (or your seasoning) if you wait a little while. Also: NEVER, EVER put a cast iron pan in the dishwasher. I’ll know it if you do it. I’m that good. I’ll sic Fuhrer Krokker (from the Cinnabon post) on you.