February 17, 2015 8:35 PM   Subscribe

The Science of Cast Iron Cooking. The Truth About Cast Iron. How To Season A Cast Iron Skillet:
The skillet you want is at least fifty years old, and right now it is probably sitting on a thrift store shelf or a yard sale table. Your first task is to locate it. Until the 1960s, the final stage in manufacturing cast iron was to machine-polish each pan until the cooking surface was as smooth as glass. New cast iron is sold unpolished, that is, fresh out of the mold, with a texture like pitted Formica. The cast iron companies claim that the new, unpolished skillets are as easy to season and as non-stick as the old, polished ones—but then they would say that. You can polish new cast iron yourself with an orbital sander and some 80 grit, followed by hand sanding with 220 grit wet-dry, then 320, then 400, then 600 for good measure, but let’s face it, you’d rather have those five hours of your life and the ridges on your fingernails intact. The skillet you want is polished already.
How To Season A Cast Iron Pan. 5 Myths Of Cast Iron Cookware.

Cast Iron: A Love Story leads to
The Cast Iron Chronicles {1} - "As you can guess from pretty much every post on this blog, I am deeply devoted to cast iron. "
The Cast Iron Chronicles {2} - " My plan is to continue with the steel wool and then transition to the coarse sand paper as needed."
The Cast Iron Chronicles {3} - "I trust that it’s an important step but the science is a mystery to me!"
The Cast Iron Chronicles {4} - " I promise that when we did this portion of the restoration we had a fire extinguisher on hand and that the pan was not close to anything that could catch on fire."
The Cast Iron Chronicles {5} - "It took me a few minutes to accept it, seeing as how I’ve been cracking at this beast for weeks I didn’t think I’d ever get to the point where I’d be ready to fry an egg in it."
The Cast Iron Chronicles {6} - "I’ve always been taught that to season a pan you coat it in animal or vegetable fat (or a combination), and put it in a warm oven for an hour. Then you let it cool, rinse, and repeat."

The Best Cast Iron Recipies
Iron-clad goodness
What We Can Learn From A Cast Iron Pan.
How to season, use and love cast iron skillets (with recipes)
The Cast-Iron Secret to Serious Pizza: Recipe: Vaughn's Perfect Skillet Pizza

The Pizza Lab: Foolproof Pan Pizza
The way I see it, there are three basic difficulties most folks have with pizza:

Problem 1: Kneading. How long is enough? What motion do I use? And is it really worth the doggone effort?
Problem 2: Stretching. Once I've got that disk of dough, how do I get it into the shape of an actual pizza, ready to be topped?
Problem 3: Transferring. Ok, let's say I've got my dough made and perfectly stretched onto my pizza peel. How do I get it onto that stone in the oven without disturbing the toppings or having it turn into a misshapen blob?
This recipe avoids all three of those common pitfalls, making it pretty much foolproof. To be perfectly honest, every single one of these steps has been done before, and none of it is rocket science. All I'm doing is combining them all into a single recipe.

You can jump straight into a full step-by-step slideshow of the process or find the exact measurements and instructions in the recipe here, or read on for a few more details on what to expect and how we got there.
posted by the man of twists and turns (177 comments total) 235 users marked this as a favorite
Nothing improves the seasoning of a cast iron pan like cooking scrapple in it.
posted by 445supermag at 8:41 PM on February 17, 2015 [14 favorites]

The cast iron cookware I want will cool in greensand after I pour molten iron into a custom form. It will be polished by my family as part of a celebration and ritual. We shall season it with the fat from a bull raised and fattened for the purpose.
posted by humanfont at 8:45 PM on February 17, 2015 [53 favorites]

The skillet you want is polished already.

And most people know this, and will charge you an arm and a leg for their precious pre-polished object.
posted by Greg_Ace at 8:47 PM on February 17, 2015 [2 favorites]

This is awesome - I got a new BBQ last spring with a cast iron grill and (after serious warnings from the saleslady) have been meticulous about the seasoning and oiling of the grill. I've been meaning to look up cast iron cookware and pick up other tips, so thanks.
posted by nubs at 8:51 PM on February 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

Heh. I just spent part of today scrubbing and seasoning a cast iron pan I had feared lost in our move.
posted by MissySedai at 8:52 PM on February 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

When my Aunt went back to California for her last two years, she left me her Wagner Ware six inch deep cast iron skillet with the auto basting lid. I cook everything in this pan, well not the noodles, but everything else. The one thing I regret giving away to family was my cast iron omlette and egg pan. Perfectly butter and salt seasoned in the early seventies, you can flip fried eggs and omlettes, dang, I have to find another.
posted by Oyéah at 8:53 PM on February 17, 2015 [2 favorites]

My $15 Lodge cast iron pan (bought at Walmart or Kmart or something-mart) worked fine once a few batches of bacon had been cooked in it. The old stuff is indisputably better, and I've seen links here to hipster artisanal cast iron pans, but it's hard to justify when the cheap stuff works perfectly well. I fry in it all the time, have baked in it, and don't need to worry about it at all because it is cheap enough.

That said, I have cooked on old family cast iron (that has been claimed by other people, of course) and it is definitely better, either because of better quality or just the patina of long use. But life is short and what I have works fine, so I am at peace with my kitchen limitations.
posted by Dip Flash at 8:56 PM on February 17, 2015 [14 favorites]

Let's not make this more dramatic than it needs to be. Season by frying bacon in it. Clean with a metallic scouring pad. No soap ever. That's it.
posted by Enemy of Joy at 8:58 PM on February 17, 2015 [11 favorites]

This is relevant to my interests.
posted by chainlinkspiral at 8:58 PM on February 17, 2015 [5 favorites]

I'm sure its better, just like a cutthroat razor gives you a better shave than an electric or disposable and the jeans you don't wash for six months are better than the ones I wash every week or less. But my skillet works just fine and I don't have to season, polish, or anything else to it. I don't have to worry about any of this and that's something you can't put a price on. I also don't use a real badger brush shaving brush.
posted by Justinian at 9:03 PM on February 17, 2015 [22 favorites]

It's a very old joke, but "Hipster Artisanal Cast Iron Pans" would actually make a great band name.
posted by yhbc at 9:12 PM on February 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

Now that I have access to a metal shop, I've considered trying to polish down the surface of my cast iron pan. Probably not insanely smooth, but maybe just "much smoother".
posted by rmd1023 at 9:15 PM on February 17, 2015

I have an old cast iron frying pan, about 8" diameter across the top, and it's really too small for my stir-fry meals. OTOH, it's very heavy to lift with one hand while dishing out with the other so getting a larger one is problematic. I suppose I could just get a massive dutch oven and eat right out of the pot.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 9:16 PM on February 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

My oven/stove manual says not to use cast iron on the glass cook top. I've been wondering how serious a warning that is. What happens, just a scratched-up top?
posted by ctmf at 9:20 PM on February 17, 2015

I use soap on mine and it stays fine. Needs more frequent applications of bacon/sausage/things fried in coconut oil OH WELL.
posted by rtha at 9:24 PM on February 17, 2015 [19 favorites]

I tried seasoning a modern cast iron pan. Did exactly what they said, seasoned it, cooked in it repeatedly, never let water touch it. It rusted badly whatever I did. Maybe you do need a polished one like it says. I suspect that it just might not work in a damp climate or damp house though.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 9:24 PM on February 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

My oven/stove manual says not to use cast iron on the glass cook top. I've been wondering how serious a warning that is. What happens, just a scratched-up top?

I think that's a problem caused by their low thermal conductivity. The glass surface “expects” it will be sandwiched between two high-conductivity substances to keep it from overheating (a bit like the old demonstration where you boil water in a paper cup over a candle flame) and cast iron doesn't pull the heat enough.
posted by traveler_ at 9:25 PM on February 17, 2015

From the GE website:

Cast Iron cookware is not recommended. If the cookware has a burr or rough spot, it will scratch the glass surface. Additionally, it is slow to absorb heat. Once this type of cookware heats up, especially on high heat, it holds an intense amount of heat which is transferred to the cooktop. This can cause the element to shut down as a response to the temperature limiters which indicate surface temperature is too high for cooktop components to handle.
posted by 1367 at 9:26 PM on February 17, 2015 [4 favorites]

I don't think the base metal has to be insanely smooth or anything. The surface roughness just needs to be an order of magnitude less (say) than the radius of curvature of the oil/air interface. As that tends to be somewhere between 100 microm and a millimetre, a roughness of 10 to 50 micrometers is about what you want to aim for. In practical terms, a brass wire brush on the end of a power drill, followed by a buff with a 320 grit emery cloth seems to have been more than enough for disco in the two pans I've restored.

To make a good, durable varnish (that's what an oil polymer coat is, a varnish), I've had the best luck with flax seed oil. Canola and oilve oil are only mostly single unsaturates,so they only have a single potential crosslink site per oil strand. Flax oils, on the other hand, have up to three. This makes for a much stronger varnish, in my experience.

I've a pan I did five years ago or so which is almost the same as when I seasoned it. We cook in it (with metal implements) and wash it (hand soap, rinse, drip dry) almost every day. It's miles more durable than previous canola and vegetable shortening recipes I had tried.

I'll never use anything by flax seed again for prepping a cast iron surface.
posted by bonehead at 9:27 PM on February 17, 2015 [42 favorites]

Related: Anthony Bourdain visits Borough Furnace, a small metal casting workshop that transforms recycled brake rotors into handcrafted cast iron skillets. You see a bit of the process of how they turn the scrap iron into cookware using a “skilletron,” a barrel-sized metal melting furnace that burns waste vegetable oil at 2700°F.
posted by prinado at 9:28 PM on February 17, 2015 [4 favorites]

And most people know this, and will charge you an arm and a leg for their precious pre-polished object.

Whut? Come to a country yard/estate sale in my neck of the woods (US South) and you're likely to see more than enough of these older (read: better) pans for personal kitchen stocking needs. Some will have purely surface rust, a few will be perfect, and some will be rotted out beyond any hope of non-workshop usage but if you don't find what you're looking for within a few stops at the side of the road then you're doing something wrong.

To be clear, if what you want is a spotless Griswold or Wagner in a certain size... well yea, you're going to pay etsy prices for that sort of thing, but short of that...

seriously, I wrangled up 3 great daily drivers for pancake griddle, cornbread, and frying and stripped them of all seasoning via a black plastic garbage bag + oven cleaner put to soak into the sun for a day or two followed by a nice reseason and test drive and had a great xmas gift of 3 pieces of vintage cast iron for maybe 20 bucks, counting the oven cleaner cost.
posted by RolandOfEld at 9:30 PM on February 17, 2015 [6 favorites]

It rusted badly whatever I did. Maybe you do need a polished one like it says. I suspect that it just might not work in a damp climate or damp house though.

I don't proclaim to be an expert but, assuming your house has climate controls and isn't in the Everglades, this sounds off. If you're leaving a pan wet or even damp, sure it'll rust but even living in balmy, non-beach Florida and being much slower to kick on the air conditioner than the average bear we never had this problem. Our routine was use pan, clean pan (usually a water rinse, very rarely a soapy sink, sometime a coarse salt + olive oil scrub if really grungy meal was cooked), wipe pan dry, place pan in 100+ degree oven for few minutes to get water off, optional light/fast wipe down with whatever oil was handy, then into a storage location that (and this is important) was dry and unlikely to draw condensation somehow.

I mean, unless your pans are being put away wet or are getting wet after you put them away they shouldn't rust. They just shouldn't.
posted by RolandOfEld at 9:38 PM on February 17, 2015 [2 favorites]

That Sheryl Canter article is my bible on the topic of seasoning. I just use soybean oil (crisco liquid), which is in the same class as flax, and both cheap and common.

As for rust - I wouldn't say you can't see rust if your pan is dry. I've got some small, superficial spots on some of my least loved pans, and even one on the base of my best loved where the burner has worn through the seasoning (we'll fix that soon now it's warm enough to open the windows).

Polishing makes a huge difference. My modern cast iron is OKish, but it was never really good for eggs. But the generic 60s ish Lodge I use every day is a revelation.

As for care - sure - I spend a bit of time occasionally, but mostly I just wipe out the food and extra oil every day and put it in the oven to cool - which isn't exactly an onerous routine. Especially since I can scrape out the stuck on bits with a metal spatula to my hearts content - try that on your Teflon abominations.
posted by wotsac at 9:50 PM on February 17, 2015 [2 favorites]

I bought a cast iron skillet, then seasoned it according to the directions. Never wash with soap, it said. So later I got it out to cook with, and the entire pan was plastered with dead bugs, lint, and cat hair stuck to the "seasoning". The first thing I did was scrub it with soap, and I've washed it with soap and hand dried it after cooking ever since. Seems to work okay for my purposes.
posted by jabah at 9:51 PM on February 17, 2015 [4 favorites]

My oven/stove manual says not to use cast iron on the glass cook top. I've been wondering how serious a warning that is. What happens, just a scratched-up top?

After about four years, I'd say our stovetop's surface has held up very well. There is maybe one or two very fine scratches I can only see with glare coming in at an angle. We cook a lot, and I think we would have had minor wear and tear, even without using cast-iron pans.

I keep the outside of my cast-iron surface clean of oil, and I use Cerama Bryte to keep the glass stovetop clean of burned oil and residue. I'm pretty intolerant of dirty stovetops and pans, and I think keeping things clean is the trick.

The pan does indeed heat up quickly and stays hot, so a setting of 3 or 4 or so is usually enough to brown. I think this is a good thing in terms of heat control, for which glass stovetops are usually known to have a poor reputation.

Clean with a metallic scouring pad.

In my experience, that is not very good advice for those who want to keep a non-stick layer on the pan. If one doesn't care if the food sticks, then scouring pads are fine.

A thin layer of high-heat safflower oil is enough for cooking, and I never make any acidic foods in it, like tomato sauce. It's a great pan for browning fish and meats, or sautéing vegetables.

I take care of my equipment, and it takes care of me and helps make great food.
posted by a lungful of dragon at 9:59 PM on February 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

Come to a country yard/estate sale in my neck of the woods (US South)

I may actually do that if/when I do that big southern road trip that I've been mulling over for a while now, sometime this spring. Until then, I'm going to keep using the Lodge skillet that, as it would happen, I just started stripping preparatory to re-seasoning, using the oven cleaner/trashbag method. I may even use a power drill with a sanding disc or wire brush attachment to take the surface down a bit before seasoning. But I'm not going to get obsessed with a glass-smooth cooking surface, because come on. The idea that only a half-century old pan will do strikes me as bullshit foodie hipsterism of the basest degree.
posted by Halloween Jack at 10:01 PM on February 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

I've been a fan of cast iron for a long time, and I noticed a significant improvement in seasoning performance following Sheryl Canter's advice. The flaxseed oil seems to cure harder, and many thin layers gives more reliable results (I was already doing that part).
posted by madmethods at 10:02 PM on February 17, 2015

Where can I get a cast iron stove/fire-top waffle maker, is what I want to know.
posted by anthill at 10:11 PM on February 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

The idea that only a half-century old pan will do strikes me as bullshit foodie hipsterism of the basest degree.

Sorry to interfere with you getting your grump on, but the point of using an old pan is that that's when they made them smooth instead of cheaping out and leaving them with the sand casting finish. Nothing more. If I could buy a smooth one now, I would. I'd also note that when I found mine at a garage sale they were cheaper (10 bucks for three) than new rough ones. Practical, not precious.
posted by madmethods at 10:17 PM on February 17, 2015 [8 favorites]

I messed around with a new Lodge cast iron for a while. Maybe I wasn't cooking enough bacon, but I found it difficult to build the seasoning layer on the rough surface. I gave that one to a friend; I think my next skillet will be a carbon steel.
posted by Standard Orange at 10:37 PM on February 17, 2015

The cast iron seasoning affliction is fun to be a part of or to watch.

Around the time I bought mine I happened across some Japanese lacquer work in the local art museum, and the comparison of the two arts is hilarious. Someday I'll carve illustrations of American pioneers into the seasoning of a cast iron skillet, and sell it to an asshole libertarian tech billionaire for a million buckaroos.

Alas, I don't have good ventilation in my current home, so I no longer have a proper excuse to regularly oil my baby. :(
posted by tychotesla at 10:42 PM on February 17, 2015 [2 favorites]

But I'm not going to get obsessed with a glass-smooth cooking surface, because come on. The idea that only a half-century old pan will do strikes me as bullshit foodie hipsterism of the basest degree.

It's really not magical thinking to assert that a nice, smooth finish will be less sticky than a rough one. It isn't a small difference either. Given some care and plenty of oil and the rough pan can be serviceable, but it's just harder to get an egg not to stick.
posted by wotsac at 10:53 PM on February 17, 2015

My Mom's cast-iron was a gift from Dad's brother for their wedding. He went all over town looking for "black cast-iron" because all he could find was grey, i.e. unseasoned, pans and he didn't realize they only turn black after you season them. No idea if it's a desirable make or model, but it works well for what we use it for.
posted by ob1quixote at 11:23 PM on February 17, 2015

Specific heat.Heat capacity. This is why your vintage cast iron pan does special things. This article compares physical properties of various pan materials.
posted by Mei's lost sandal at 11:28 PM on February 17, 2015 [2 favorites]

When my grandmother was very young girl a tin peddler stopped at her house in Wichita Falls, Texas and tried to sell her mother a set of cast iron skillets. My great grandmother drove a hard bargain and questioned the quality of the pans. Back then, I have been told, most of the cast iron was not branded. So, you could buy what looked like a good quality pan and have it not last or work well and you couldn't know until long after the peddler had left town. The peddler proved to my great grandmother that the pans were of good quality by throwing them down the hill at the back of their house. My grandmother remembered him pinning his pants with bicycle clips and climbing down the hill to retrieve them. (He was wearing a very smart suit.) When he came back up there was not a scratch on them and they were soon purchased. They were used by my great grandmother and then my grandmother to prepare every meal for over 80 years. I have some of the newer stuff and it works pretty well, but I haven't used any of it since I inherited the set that survived the trip down the hill. I had always thought that it was the constant use that made the difference. It's interesting to learn that the manufacturing process has changed. Thanks for the post.
posted by colt45 at 11:31 PM on February 17, 2015 [35 favorites]

I have four cast-iron pans of varying sizes: two came with my marriage, one was bought at an estate sale, and the last was given to me by my grandmother for my wedding (along with a bonnet). It belonged to my great-grandmother. I think you can guess which one means the most to me.
posted by Kitteh at 11:46 PM on February 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

Does anybody know if the seasoning advice applies to carbon steel pans too? Cast iron is less common where I'm from, most of what we have is carbon steel. I followed the Sheryl Cantor advice to season one pan, and it didn't turn out very right, which I discovered was due to the "pure" flaxseed oil actually containing herbal extracts. :/
posted by destrius at 12:11 AM on February 18, 2015

To me, the most important factor is how quickly and uniformly the cookware heats up. Cast iron is really not very good on that metric. I don't understand the love so many people have for it when compared to a high quality aluminum bit of cookware. Crap aluminum is, of course, crap.
posted by Justinian at 12:31 AM on February 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

When I lived overseas I bought an inexpensive Italian cast-iron pan with a wood handle and the little direction booklet that came with it had one of the worst—comically bad—Italian-to-English translations ever. I didn't know one darn thing about seasoning but after a few weeks that pan became the most amazing piece of cheap cookware I think I have ever owned. It was thin and fairly smooth. I regret having left it there.

I searched for something similar here in the US and eventually settled for a 10" Lodge. I am pretty sure I have never gotten it seasoned correctly as I always have to scrape burned stuff out of it. I bought a stiff steel spatula with a chisel edge—like a restaurant might use on a flattop—to scrape the Lodge and, over the years, the scraping has smoothed the casting considerably. If I had a milling machine I might try to mill the cooking surface smooth.

I have discovered that carbon steel pans are especially great for fried diced potatoes. Don't know why but the pan is definitely the reason why the potatoes turn out addictively tasty. I followed a friend's seasoning procedure: Bury it in a pile of very hot coals for 20 minutes or so. Pull it out and dump in some water and a bit of dishwashing soap and scrub it with tongs and a stainless pad. Rinse it out and dry it. Bury it in the coals again until it's rocket hot and then pull it out and pour in about a cup of oil (I used sunflower). Swirl it around and pour it out leaving a couple of tablespoonfuls of oil. Put the pan right on the coals and let it get really hot and then rub the oil in with a towel making sure to rub the outside down with oil, too. Put it back on the coals and just leave it there until the coals die out. Rinse and wipe it down. It is completely non-stick and an amazing pan. Cheap, too.
posted by bz at 2:09 AM on February 18, 2015 [3 favorites]

The idea that only a half-century old pan will do strikes me as bullshit foodie hipsterism of the basest degree.

It's the "of COURSE it's out of the question that you spend a few hours doing the finishing, so here's a consumerist, retro-fetishizing solution" that sets off the alarm bells for me
posted by thelonius at 3:21 AM on February 18, 2015 [4 favorites]

We use soap on our cast-iron pan out of necessity; our cat thinks seasoned cast iron is delicious.
posted by Metroid Baby at 3:56 AM on February 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

I just came to profess my love for cast iron, it's about all I use to cook with... most of mine is third generation now, probably 100 years old... Sort of feels like my grandmother is there is the kitchen helping me cook...

Thanks for the post!
posted by HuronBob at 4:11 AM on February 18, 2015 [2 favorites]

I have an 8" Lodge that I bought a few years ago and it's kind of useless. I diligently scrubbed and seasoned it, but that didn't stop food from sticking and burning disastrously, and over time it's become a kind of scummy, pebbly mess. I've oven-cleanered the thing once to remove as much of the seasoning as possible and tried reasoning, but TBH it's now reduced to that pan I use for cornbread sometimes.

Carbon steel, tho! I have two carbon steel pieces that I cook with CONSTANTLY. One is an absolutely standard carbon steel wok that I bought from an Asian grocer, and the other is a 10" De Buyer carbon steel skillet. The big advantage of the De Buyer is that the steel is (a) perfectly, perfectly smooth and, (b) it starts life as a plain old piece of blue-grey metal. I season both the wok and the skillet on the stove stop. I first heat the metal thoroughly over the burner, then swab the surface with flax seed oil using a wadded up paper towel. I also clean both with a tiny bit of dish soap on a scrubby sponge, then dry over heat and re-season with every use. It's basically the cast iron experience I was promised with the Lodge, only better, because I don't have to put it in the oven.
posted by nerdfish at 4:12 AM on February 18, 2015

Cast iron cookware is my great failure.

I have a lovely cast iron skillet, passed to me from my mother when I moved out. And it worked great for her, or at least she says it did. And somehow I must have messed it up, because it stuck like anything for me. I babied that skillet, I never washed it with soap, I always rubbed it with a bit of oil after I'd washed it out. And any food I put in it stuck, and stuck, and stuck.

I thought maybe my stove got too hot and burned off some of the seasoning, because I couldn't figure out what else might possibly have gone wrong.

A year ago I decided that I must have somehow totally ruined the seasoning, so I tried following steps to strip the old seasoning and re-season. And it still sticks and sticks and sticks.

Every now and then I pull it out and try to figure out what I did wrong, and then I put it away and pull out my cheap Teflon coated skillet and use it.
posted by sotonohito at 4:37 AM on February 18, 2015 [3 favorites]

I have cast iron pans. Mostly passed-down through the family. I almost never use them. They're just a huge PITA to use, clean and maintain compared to any other pan I have, heavy as hell, and I've never seen any actual advantage to them in the finished dish. But, yeah, they sure look awesome. To keep it real, though, you should be using them on top of one of these.

My daughter got me a nice ceramic-coated pan for Christmas. That thing is the most non-stick thing I've ever used. Crazy slick.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:02 AM on February 18, 2015 [2 favorites]

An interesting read. But way too much work to be worth... wait, what's the benefit, really?
posted by jeff-o-matic at 5:13 AM on February 18, 2015

Having been spoiled growing up with old, machined-smooth pans my mom undoubtedly bought for a quarter at some garage sale (unless my dad picked them out of someone's trash, which is distinctly possible), I am always mystified to see complimentary things said about Lodge pans. The factories making the old pans weren't lovingly babying their products, they were simply finishing the damned job. A Lodge pan, to me, looks like a house full of unpainted drywall, smears of taping compound everywhere. It's not bad, but it's not done.

That said, the only iron pan that gets regular use in my house now is a #5 Griswold skillet in which we bake corn bread whenever we have chili. My wife has balance issues that make it difficult for her to carry a 10" iron skillet around without falling over, so a couple of modern aluminum nonstick pans do most of the work. They also get replaced every two or three years, making them much costlier than any iron pans would be.
posted by jon1270 at 5:17 AM on February 18, 2015 [3 favorites]

My neighbour has a cast iron pan that is just... I made us eggs the other night and they slid off better than Teflon. I covet that pan, and may or may not have contemplated murder just so I can steal it.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 5:23 AM on February 18, 2015 [5 favorites]

Yeah, I used to burn through a pan about once a year (cooking too hot? You bet!), so I started collecting cast iron about 16 years ago. Now I've got 6 or 7 skillets, a corn stick pan, and two dutch ovens, one with legs, one without.

The first couple of years I did that seasoning/no soap thing. Then, like in most things, I got lazy. Scrape 'em out with a spatula, soap if needed, throw 'em in the oven to dry. I'm quite happy with how they work, and I've thrown them on top of campfires, portable stoves, used 'em on top of a turkey fryer to blacken whitefish Cajun style, etc. etc. they still don't stick.

The big worry was when (as mentioned upthread) we recently got one of those fancy ceramic top ranges, with the "cast iron not recommended" warning and I was a little concerned. But I've been using it for a month, and the only change is I don't drag/shake the pans directly on the surface and I've had no trouble. And the majority of mine are the unfinished Lodge $10 versions. I love 'em.
posted by valkane at 5:34 AM on February 18, 2015

Now that I have access to a metal shop, I've considered trying to polish down the surface of my cast iron pan. Probably not insanely smooth, but maybe just "much smoother".

I did this on my basement floor, starting with a sanding disc in a drill with some 36-grit on it, then finishing it with some 50-ish grit on a random orbit sander. It came out pretty shiny, but was a slow process and required a lot of pressure. Cast iron is tough stuff. Also it has a lot of free carbon in it, so the amount of black dust generated was pretty incredible. Definitely wear a dust mask and cover up machinery you don't want to have to clean for the next 20 years to get all the dust out.
posted by FishBike at 5:35 AM on February 18, 2015

As an avid home cook, we use our cast iron pans nearly exclusively--with the exception of a beautiful giant All Clad pan I stole from a previous crappy relationship--but I am not sure why they're our immediate go-to. I have a nice nonstick pan that I rarely use, but the cast iron ones are the first we reach for. I have never bought a new one from Lodge, but after reading the comments here and the articles, I don't think I will be doing that. As it is, I'm pretty set up. The only cast iron piece I covet is this flat circular pan my mom has used my entire life to make her homemade tortillas on. It has been promised to me when she passes, but I am totally cool with waiting for a very very long time before claiming it. (She has never used it to make anything but tortillas on it, and I will likely do the same.)
posted by Kitteh at 5:36 AM on February 18, 2015 [2 favorites]

Oh, and I like that I can start on the stovetop and chuck 'em in the oven to finish certain dishes (steak, fritattas, etc.). I do have a trick, though; after I pull one out of the oven, I slip the oven mitt over the handle to remind myself that that sucker is like 400 degrees. Otherwise, I tend to burn myself. And that hurts.
posted by valkane at 5:42 AM on February 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

But way too much work to be worth... wait, what's the benefit, really?

Heat retention, nonstick without terrifying Teflon fumes, and no way did you read anything about cast iron without learning that.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 5:45 AM on February 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

I did read it, it just seems like a PITA to have to scrub, oven dry, then re-oil a pan after each use... just to have a non-stick surface.

Also, I worked for a few years in a high end restaurant in a swanky hotel, and not once was cast iron used for anything. To my knowledge, pro chefs don't use these things. I get the durability and price, but it seems a bit fetishy to me.

Oh and politely shove off for implying I didn't read anything about it.
posted by jeff-o-matic at 5:53 AM on February 18, 2015

Heat retention, nonstick without terrifying Teflon fumes,

Yes to both, and for me the ability to go between burner and oven is key.

it just seems like a PITA to have to scrub, oven dry, then re-oil a pan after each use

I don't do any of that and my pans are fine. I use soap when needed, heat the pan on a burner for a couple of minutes to dry it, and then back on the shelf it goes. There's no need for oiling as long as you cook bacon or other fatty meat with some regularity -- it was way harder to keep my cast iron in good shape back when I was vegetarian, and in that case oiling after use probably matters.

People get fussy about this, just like they do with making coffee, but as with coffee you can get 90 percent of the benefit with ten percent of the work. I think a lot of people are looking for ritual and rules, and create them (as with elaborate care regimes for cast iron, or elaborate timing and temperature methods for pour-over coffee) when they don't have enough external structure.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:59 AM on February 18, 2015 [3 favorites]

Twenty-nine years ago, I was given a nine-inch French spring steel crepe pan, and it's been touched by soap maybe a dozen times since. Seasoning is easy—cook eggs in butter in it, and cook scrapple in it, and don't do wrong evil dirty things to it, like cooking ham or bacon in it. When I became the divine servant of my forty-five year-old carbon steel wok, I learned that the way you clean a wok—with a bound bundle of bamboo—is also perfect for a nine-inch French spring steel crepe pan or a hundred year-old cast-iron dutch oven. Hell, with love and care, you can season an old-school Calphalon "Solo Stir" heavy anodized aluminum mini-wok, which is what I use to make omelettes of celestial perfection that are more like stovetop soufflés than mere omelettes.

A too-smooth surface is a problem, which is why my imitation All-Clad pans from a long-dead Georgia department store's house brand are scoured back to scritchy stainless shine after each use, and the gravelly nightmare of cheap modern cast iron requires so much accumulated burned-on grease to be useful that I completely understand why people prefer the polished vintage or polishing their own pans.

Mind you, it's easier than it sounds—I cook, I eat, I give my seasoned pan a quick scruff-out with the bamboo bundle while it's still warm, and toss in a bit of butter for the reseason, which I whoof around with a grease rag I keep in the freezer before I hand the pan on its hook. All this stuff is supposed to be so time-consuming and complicated, but it really isn't.
posted by sonascope at 5:59 AM on February 18, 2015 [4 favorites]

I'm a pro chef, and I use cast iron every chance I get--at home. Just not at work.

Oh and politely shove off for implying I didn't read anything about it.

The question you asked implied you hadn't read anything about it. And the care and feeding of cast iron really, really isn't a big deal unless--as Dip Flash pointed out--you're fetishizing it.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 6:02 AM on February 18, 2015 [2 favorites]

Cost/benefit seems way off to me.

Also, they are extremely heavy. And from the Cheryl Cantor article comments (for instance), people are pointing out that they have problems with rust, black spots, stuff sticking, etc. Again, just seems like something people did because they did it and they had to, which has now been turned into another "Shave with a home made razor honed on a leather strap with organic lavender oil or you're doing it wrong" type thing.

But it's the internet, and that's what the internet is for.
posted by jeff-o-matic at 6:08 AM on February 18, 2015

The weight is one of its features -- it makes it both a cooking tool and a viable home defense weapon. Just ask Rapunzel.
posted by delfin at 6:12 AM on February 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

Gosh, I feel like I have to stand up for modern-day Lodge. I bought the 12" pre-seasoned skillet 5 years ago (You can find it cheaper elsewhere) and I use and abuse the hell out of it. I'm not the most diligent caretaker of it either. Makes great cornbread, skillet dinners, potatoes, and more. I've never had problems with sticking or uneven heating.

In an alternate universe I probably was the guy who chose to lovingly restore Grandma's skillet from the great depression, but in this universe I'm happy with the one I ordered online for $30.
posted by jeremias at 6:20 AM on February 18, 2015 [2 favorites]

People enjoy fine-tuning it because it can be fine tuned, not because it needs it.

Like with fermenting, growing, programming, bonsai, carving, knitting, there's something wonderful about working on things that require improvable skills and respond to effort.

Forgetting all that though, you can make sure there aren't big bits stuck to a pan after a use, and make sure it has a little leftover or new oil in it after cooking, and you're good. That's it.

I got mine after a few years of badly smoking and scratching Teflon.
posted by tychotesla at 6:28 AM on February 18, 2015 [3 favorites]

The "artisanal, small batch" thing is alive here in Portland (haven't you been paying attention?). Anyway, at a Christmas craft show this year, the local cast iron maker was showing their wares. A bit pricy, seriously well built but I (a man who works with his hands for a living) could not for the life of me pick the damn thing up! I would seriously question my safety with hot foods/hot pan since I could not hold the thing up other than to move it a small bit to show my wife. The spring handle was nice as was the idea of SUPER STRONG forearms just from cooking but we passed.
posted by Asbestos McPinto at 6:45 AM on February 18, 2015

If you can't pick it up, you don't DESERVE to pick it up. Bean-plate your cookware! ;)
posted by jeff-o-matic at 6:50 AM on February 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

posted by delfin at 6:56 AM on February 18, 2015 [14 favorites]

Man, I need to find a cast iron expert to bring my skillet to, and ask what exactly I'm screwing up with it. I oven cleaned it, and used the Cantor method to try and build up a layer of non-stick, but it never really seemed to take. It always remained slightly...sticky? And it builds up black crud, so that when I try and clean it (soap or no), the clothes always get covered with this thick layer of black smear. And it's just not that good for non-stick.

I suspect I probably need to strip it back down again, but my current oven doesn't have a self-clean setting, and I really don't want to use the spray oven cleaner method, and it's just such a huge pain to go through again from scratch.
posted by themadthinker at 6:56 AM on February 18, 2015 [3 favorites]

I got a 10" Lodge skillet a few months ago to try the cast iron thing out. I gotta say, I like it. I've been working towards improving the seasoning but it cleans up so fast with no soap already. Pancakes come out so much better and less fiddly on the cast iron. It doesn't heat up fast, but once it's hot it's hot.

A few years ago my sis was walking out to her car at a Wal-Mart in a rural town. Someone, probably some hunters, had left a shopping cart full of old, rusty, food-caked cast iron pans. She took them home and started polishing them up (some parts required an angle grinder.) She's been using them every day since then. Now that I've got one I understand why she was so thrilled to find that cart.
posted by azpenguin at 7:03 AM on February 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

It always remained slightly...sticky?

I had that happen when I was using olive oil and not letting it cure long enough; when later followed Canter's method to the letter - a long soak in the oven cleaner to strip it down, taking the time you need to bake and harden - it worked great.

The oven cleaner part was the easiest, though; hose it down, put it in a heavy garbage bag, tie it off and let it soak like that for a day.

I realize that "you didn't do it right or try hard enough" is kind of crap advice, so I apologize for that, but this is kind of like firing clay - if you don't don't take your time to do it right, you don't get ceramics out of it, you just get warmish, half-assed clay.
posted by mhoye at 7:05 AM on February 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

We're about to move into a new house in a month; I will probably do what I did when we moved the last time. Spend a day cleaning and reseasoning all the cast iron pans before I pack them.
posted by Kitteh at 7:09 AM on February 18, 2015

I had that happen when I was using olive oil and not letting it cure long enough; when later followed Canter's method to the letter - a long soak in the oven cleaner to strip it down, taking the time you need to bake and harden - it worked great.

Yeah, I tried to follow the Canter method, including the very long curing in the oven, lots and lots of layers, and everything. But I'm guessing somewhere along the line something failed, and the oil didn't polymerize properly. So I just need to deal with it, and start from scratch again.

Though, fwiw, J. Kenji López-Alt is not a fan of the Canter method, and has said "Practically, the problem is that flax oil makes a thick, easily flaked coating."
posted by themadthinker at 7:15 AM on February 18, 2015

I have two cast iron frying pans at home -- a large 19th century and an even larger 70ish-year old one. They are never put away -- they live on the stove top. I use them to cook everything, even some baking. My mom only used cast iron when I was growing up, and our cottage is full of old cast iron cookware that has been used by my family for 80 years. We have never given the stuff any kind of special treatment. Scrub it with hot soapy water, use whatever utensils are at hand. The stuff doesn't rust and food doesn't stick. I'm sure someone bothered to season the pans at some point many years ago, but just constant, regular use seems to keep a nice coating on them. I never heard talk about cast iron being so precious and special and hard to take care of, requiring special oils and careful, complicated seasoning methods until recently. Cast iron is just regular old cookware. I think I can safely recommend that you can ignore all of the special-snowflake instructions about cast iron, except for the part about not soaking it overnight and drying it when you are done washing it.
posted by fimbulvetr at 7:16 AM on February 18, 2015 [2 favorites]

So later I got it out to cook with, and the entire pan was plastered with dead bugs, lint, and cat hair stuck to the "seasoning". The first thing I did was scrub it with soap,

Ah man, what did you go and do that for?Any true iron skillet afficiando will tell you that the bugs, lint and cat hair are a vital part of the seasoning process.

Myself, I confess to being a bit picky. Thin, chemical laden city cat hair just won't do, so I bring in artisinal cat hair harvested from New England barn cats. Despite what the food blogs may say, I don't see any discernable difference based on hair color-no need to shell out for calico. As for bugs, I used to use the prepackaged shredded and dried palmetto bugs, but I think live-harvested southeastern pill bugs are best.

Whatever you do though, don't listen to the people raving about alpaca lint. It just adds a faint annoying cheese taste to your cooking. In any case, good luck and good cooking!
posted by happyroach at 7:18 AM on February 18, 2015 [13 favorites]

It's the "of COURSE it's out of the question that you spend a few hours doing the finishing, so here's a consumerist, retro-fetishizing solution" that sets off the alarm bells for me

Thanks, thelonius. Odd how everyone who took offense at my calling-out of "bullshit foodie hipsterism" skated past the part where I was willing to expend the elbow grease to do the finishing myself, and/or check out the proverbial estate sales if/when it was convenient for me to do so. Anyone who's seen fads (in cooking or any number of other things) come and go is very, very familiar with the formula "if you're going to do X then you need to get Y and if you can't get Y then don't even bother"; apparently all those YouTube videos where people strip and re-season Lodge skillets are exercises in futility. It may have been true in the past, even in the relatively recent past, that there were numerous fine old bits of cast-iron cookware rusting away in every other yard sale, but now that everyone and his three-legged dog is getting in on the cast-iron game, that may no longer be a realistic option to someone who wasn't going to be going to those estate sales anyway; there have already been warnings about fake Griswold pans for years.
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:18 AM on February 18, 2015

We bought a Lodge square skillet (from Marshalls I think?) and seasoned it diligently, however, one night I cooked tumeric fish in it and it stuck like hell - after that there was a weird spot in the pan and we couldn't get it to behave normally. It still has an awful uncoated area - I really don't know how to describe it, nor how tumeric could screw up a pan so monumentally.

We keep gamely using the Lodge, but I'm ready to try a new cast-iron skillet, as I like cooking in them. Also: no more tumeric cooking in there.
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 7:25 AM on February 18, 2015

Is it a southern thing, that you can just go find used cast iron at thrift stores and yard sales without even trying? Because although I don't yard sale, I do thrift--kind of a lot--in multiple states, and the only cast iron I've ever come across was some weenie little 6" pan.

I finally gave up and put a Lodge on my Xmas list this past year, and I only wish I'd done it sooner. I'd get one again for that skillet pan pizza recipe alone. Protip: If you make a 3/4 recipe of the dough, it fits a 12" skillet and makes a perfect dinner for two.
posted by gueneverey at 7:25 AM on February 18, 2015

gueneverey, maybe. I'm in the south, and cast iron is ubiquitous in thrift shops. If you pay for Lodge around here, you're crazy.

The two cast iron pans I use the most were both discovered in the woods, dug out of the ground, cleaned, and re-seasoned. These guys live on my stove. I also have a couple of Lodge pieces (came with the spouse). They are stacked in some cabinet somewhere. I might would pack them for camping.
posted by slipthought at 7:32 AM on February 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

The beauty of cast iron is its cheapness and durability. It doesn't need a lot of fuss. It's supposed to be easy. Don't listen to anyone trying to get you to season your skillet with virgin tears and wash it in snowmelt. It's iron. You can stick it in a campfire and cook with it. Don't baby it.
posted by domo at 7:37 AM on February 18, 2015 [3 favorites]

I am totally not gonna lie, this thread has me hanging to order a Griswold from Ebay and have it shipped to the Netherlands. I know I don't need to; I know I have my De Buyer and my crappy 8" Lodge but YOLO.
posted by nerdfish at 7:38 AM on February 18, 2015

The awesome folks over at Finex are producing some really nice cast iron, with machined/polished cooking surfaces. They are expensive, but very well made, and the machined cooking surfaces really do help the non-stick properties. Probably a little bit more than I'd like to spend, but that's because the old Wagners and vintage cast iron buddies are just so much cheaper (but they are becoming harder and harder to find).

I've cooked on Finex (though I don't own one…yet.) modern day Lodge skillets, and older Wagner skillets with the machined/polished cooking surface. The Finex really is fantastic. Its a joy to cook on; mega, mega smooth. They look kind of silly, but since they're so heavy, it really is nice to have that many spouts on the edges. I really don't think its that much above the Wagner, but it works well. *shrugs* Not quite sure if its really worth the cost, but hey, made in the USA. High quality. Jobs! Yay! And if you're having trouble finding a thrifted one, and don't want to buy the non-machined Lodge options, it would make a lovely housewarming gift or something.

Out of the ones I actually own, the lodge buddies are my B-team in the kitchen; the Wagner never actually gets put away. It just lives on the stove.
posted by furnace.heart at 7:40 AM on February 18, 2015 [2 favorites]

The best part about owning a lot of cast iron is knowing if push comes to shove you've got a pretty good bludgeoning weapon on hand.
posted by The Whelk at 8:05 AM on February 18, 2015 [7 favorites]

The best part about owning a lot of cast iron is knowing if push comes to shove you've got a pretty good bludgeoning weapon on hand.

My wife has had many zombie dreams where my defense of choice is a cast iron skillet and a chef's knife.

I cook quite a lot more than she does.
posted by furnace.heart at 8:12 AM on February 18, 2015

I bought a Lodge 12" skillet probably 10 years ago, and, honestly, I almost never use it because it's just not any better than my All-Clad stuff. Once in a while, I'll trot it out to make a steak, and that's about it. I have never gotten the lavish devotion thing, and the hipster-foodie fetishization on top of that frankly turns me off.
posted by briank at 8:16 AM on February 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

I have been cooking eggs in my new-ish cast iron pan on my glass-top stove for a few years now without incident.

To clean, I use a plastic scrubby because it is less likely to remove the seasoning. Then a once-over with a soapy sponge, rinse, dry with towel, set on burner med-low until it's thoroughly warm and dry. Turn off burner, apply thin coat of flaxseed oil, let cool, put away. I think I read about this procedure here on MetaFilter.

Though if I'm in a huge hurry I just plastic-scrubby the excess bacon grease out, rinse, towel dry. I cook bacon in in twice a week and it's completely nonstick by now.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 8:25 AM on February 18, 2015

Before the fifth move since packing up my parents' house after my father died, I finally let the old cast iron go. It was painful, and I still have regrets (I never should have let those cast iron muffin pans get away!).

The last piece to go was a beautiful 12" griddle that I did save out of that move, but a friend saw it at my house once and was instantly all 'oh my God I've been looking for one of those for years!' so I gave it to him on the spot. Very satisfying, and I can only hope some of the rest of it made someone else as happy.

A mefite mentioned once that they have a cast iron electric waffle iron -- that wouldn't have been leaving the house until I was in the ground.

Interesting that turmeric deseasoned your cast iron, joseph conrad is fully awesome, but maybe not too surprising (in retrospect!), because turmeric is full of saponins, and it must have been a little like cooking dish detergent from the point of view of that poor pan.
posted by jamjam at 8:26 AM on February 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

Try baking bread in it. You'll get a spectacular crust.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 8:33 AM on February 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

Also, I worked for a few years in a high end restaurant in a swanky hotel, and not once was cast iron used for anything. To my knowledge, pro chefs don't use these things. I get the durability and price, but it seems a bit fetishy to me.

So I won't dispute that a lot of people might reasonably regard cast-iron care as too fussy, but:

"This is what pro chefs do" isn't at all the same thing as "This is how good food is made." Unless you're trying to make excellent food for hundreds of people on a daily basis using a team of cooks with varying degrees of training and skill, how pro chefs do things will often be irrelevant to you.

Me, I'm glad to have a sense of why my own-purchased Lodge pan from the late 90s isn't nearly as awesome as the pans I have that come down from my grandmother.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:41 AM on February 18, 2015 [4 favorites]

Cast iron is wonderful. I'm as anti-woo and results-demanding as anyone, and have ended up purchasing almost the entire line of lodge pans one at a time. Food. Make. Good.

Things I've learned:
1. Not all kosher salt is created equal! The Morton brand salt is very flaky and great for scrubbing. Sometimes the store brands are like little pebbles, and need to blended with some table salt to be effective. I scrub the salt in with a mesh kitchen sponge devoted to the purpose, which I toss in the dishwasher regularly. I keep the salt scrub in a glass sugar shaker by the sink.

2. Never try to clean a cold pan. I always reheat cast iron, sometimes with a little water in the bottom, before scrubbing. I also reheat it again when drying, for that extra dry dryness.

3. Cast iron works great with induction cookers.

You could get a lot of the same results in cooking from expensive enamelware, but you chip one of those and game over. I've actually dropped an iron lid on the tile floor (made a ferocious noise) but it's none the worse for wear. I've never reseasoned anything, and probably won't. All in all it's pretty much the same amount of work as caring for other types of cookware. It's actually kind of pleasant for me, like taking care of my good hand tools, and they should last just as long.

Until I try to polish the bottom, which I'll probably try now thanks to this thread....
posted by damo at 8:47 AM on February 18, 2015

I bought a Lodge 12" skillet probably 10 years ago, and, honestly, I almost never use it because it's just not any better than my All-Clad stuff.

Are you being sarcastic? That's rather an unfair comparison when All-Clad is many times the price of cast iron. If you could pick up new All-Clad for $25 a pop, or less used, or find it buried in the woods, I don't know if I would bother with cast iron either. But then I've never made the comparison because, you know, I don't want to throw down hundreds of dollars on skillets.
posted by gueneverey at 8:52 AM on February 18, 2015 [4 favorites]

I'm a big cast iron nerd (not in a collector sense, but in a usage sense) and I haunt flea markets/yard sales/estate sales in the northeast to find old Griswold/Wagner/Favorite pans to clean up and give to friends, as there's /nothing/ like cooking with the old pans. After my first couple of years of being fetishy about how to season, I've settled happily into a fairly low intensity regime (roughly an hour in the oven, 30 min at 300, 30 min at 450) that makes a fairly durable and long-lived season. My Griswolds also live on the stove, and I cook a good 90% of my meals in them -- nothing browns more beautifully -- and cleaning is simple sans soap. I'm happy to see these old relics are finally getting back into people's rotations...
posted by fet at 8:54 AM on February 18, 2015 [4 favorites]

To me, the most important factor is how quickly and uniformly the cookware heats up. Cast iron is really not very good on that metric.

That's true and if that's the kind of cooking you are doing, aluminum or aluminum clad steel is the way to go. Such a pan is the goto for sauces and gravies, for example, any application where heat-control is critical. The saucier, the most expensive pot we own, is an All-Clad. It also works great for things like eggs if you put a non-stick coating on the pan.

Aluminum, bare or clad, really shines in restaurant kitchens and on gas stoves, where heat output is high and constant. On a stove like that, even frying large chunks of protein in aluminum works well. The stove can compensate for any dip in temperature putting a pound of meat into a pan can cause.

In a home kitchen, particularly on a electric element that is slow to respond (we have a glass-covered electric), cast iron starts to make more sense. You do have to put the pan on the element for a few minutes to warm it through to the cooking temperature. It doesn't change temperature rapidly, but that's a blessing in this situation. The cast iron acts as a heat sponge to buffer temperature changes, putting food in a pan being the most common example, so you can get a good sear on meat on a less than perfect stove.

Cast iron is good for developing fonds, for browning food and developing all those great cooking flavours. With a more heat-responsive pan, that's a bit more challenging on many stoves.

That shouldn't be taken to mean it's great for all applications, even on an electric stove. We have SS pans, alu-sandwich pans, a nice new alu non-stick as well even a flat-bottom wok. They all get used. The cast iron pan however, suits our daily cooking tasks well enough that it lives on the stove top most of the time.
posted by bonehead at 9:12 AM on February 18, 2015 [3 favorites]

During the past 40 years or so watching as these innovations and affections come and go, I've found that 99 and 44/100 % of the time, soaking your made-of-whatever cookware for five minutes matches the results of any number of years of 'seasoning' its cast-arn equivalent. Soaking overnight deals with 99 and 44/100 % of the remainder.

Imbuo longa, rado brevis.
posted by Herodios at 9:12 AM on February 18, 2015

soaking your made-of-whatever cookware for five minutes matches the results of any number of years of 'seasoning' its cast-arn equivalent

. . or any possibly-toxic non-stick coated equivalent.
posted by Herodios at 9:15 AM on February 18, 2015

That's just not possible, Herodios. Stainless steel just isn't going to be as non-sticky as seasoned cast iron.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 9:16 AM on February 18, 2015

Years of soaking pans and not having to scrub them says otherwise.
posted by Herodios at 9:18 AM on February 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

I bought a Lodge 12" skillet probably 10 years ago, and, honestly, I almost never use it because it's just not any better than my All-Clad stuff.

This is such an apples and oranges comparison; All-clad are (mostly) stainless steel; they're great. We use all-clad at home for some applications. But they're not even billed as 'nonstick' cookware. Teflon and other coatings wear out over time, even when well cared for.

Cast iron, regardless of all the fussiness that can be applied to them, they just last forever. I mean, my Wagner is easily older than I am….in the past 5 years, I've gone through two different teflon pans, and have finally given up. The coatings just don't last. We keep one around for super delicate stuff (fish and the cast iron…we just don't have good luck there), or sheer laziness of not wanting a ton of cleanup time….but as far as nonstick goes? Cast iron for the win, fetishization or not.

I just don't like buying the same tools over and over again. It really bothers me. Like I mentioned upthread, I'd love one of those finex pans…because sweet jesus, I'd never have to buy another one again. Buying things, especially tools, that you could actually, really hand down to your kids is something that should be valued. If it needs to be fetishized to do that, so be it.
posted by furnace.heart at 9:19 AM on February 18, 2015 [2 favorites]

Years of soaking pans and not having to scrub them says otherwise.

Burning food to your pans isn't the same as non-stick. Try frying an egg in stainless steel versus seasoned cast iron. The difference is stark.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 9:21 AM on February 18, 2015

If we gunk up the cast iron pan (or, more likely, leave it too long after dinner), my trick to get 99 and 44/100 % of the residues off is to put a cm of water in it and bring it to a boil. A brush and dish soap takes care for the rest.

I've tried the salt scrub methods many times, but nothing beats a hot soak and a little elbow grease with a nylon brush, imo.
posted by bonehead at 9:22 AM on February 18, 2015

I will say most of the time I prefer my Cuisinart stainless steel pots and pans. They're easier to lift, they can soak overnight in the sink, they can go in the dishwasher. Really the only reason I cook my bacon and eggs in the cast iron pan is it's got a larger circumference so the bacon fits better, and I can fry six eggs at a time in it.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 9:22 AM on February 18, 2015

Try frying an egg in

I have fried eggs in every material mentioned here, and others (like glass).

The difference is stark.

I have not found it so. Your results may certainly differ. I guess I'm just a frying pantheist.
posted by Herodios at 9:51 AM on February 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

I cook almost exclusively in cast iron (a few enameled cast iron pots = my exception) and my blood iron is so freaking high we had a momentary "what is WRONG with these numbers?!" at the doctor. Cast iron is the best.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 10:11 AM on February 18, 2015 [2 favorites]

Can I ask a question? I'm still trying to find a happy place using my new cast iron frying pans. One day I made grilled cheese in one of them, and the taste of old oil was so unpleasant I couldn't eat it at all. Is there something to be done about this?
posted by kitcat at 10:15 AM on February 18, 2015

Just a heads up if you're using flaxseed oil to season, be careful with the oily rags.
posted by jason_steakums at 10:15 AM on February 18, 2015

When each of my kids was born, I bought new cast iron skillets and put them into cooking rotation. I gave them as 21st birthday presents, pre-seasoned with all their childhood meals.
posted by kinetic at 10:30 AM on February 18, 2015 [29 favorites]

This Wagner deep pan is only 4 inches deep, not 6, sorry. If you put your pan under hot running water, while it is hot, then it comes clean, and you can use detergent to take away garlic smell, or whatever, so you can alernate between cooking and baking. Cleanup is easy. If you find a rusty pan at a sale, then coat the interior with butter and bake it at 275 for an hour, then let it cool. Just start the process of using it, spare the soap until it is fully seasoned. This is not, I repeat, this is not rocket science. Baking the pan with butter and scrubbing with salt is a good way to start the seasoning process for cornstick, or seashell shape, cast iton baking pans.
posted by Oyéah at 10:40 AM on February 18, 2015

It's iron. It's pretty tough. I have some old cast iron from my Mom and a pretty new Lodge pan from Goodwill that is very wide and deep. Based on the 1st article, I may sand down the Lodge's pebbly surface. Otherwise, I just use it, wash it, and if it seems to need re-seasoning, I cook bacon. Who cares if it works, I have bacon. The whole artisan-ization of cast iron - use this oil, heat dry, oil after every use - is fine for anyone who chooses, but I can't be arsed. The old 10" cast iron pan is the most used cooking item in the kitchen It's a pleasure to use. I knew a fair number of country folks when I was a kid; cast iron was used, abused and appreciated, but not fussed over.

Caveats - don't put very cold water in a very hot cast iron pan; it could crack. If you cook something with strong flavor, usually curry in my case, it may retain the flavor, and you could get some turmeric color in your bacon. This may indicate that I do not have ideal polymerization of seasoning on my pan. I am able to live with this.

My friend who has an old 12" cast iron pan with high sides? His kids are planning to fight over who gets it. They'll probably wait till he's daid.
posted by theora55 at 10:49 AM on February 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

If you want an old skillet without having to go searching for it, Best Made gets them from time to time. We got ours from them, and it's great.
posted by jeffamaphone at 10:51 AM on February 18, 2015

Can I ask a question? I'm still trying to find a happy place using my new cast iron frying pans. One day I made grilled cheese in one of them, and the taste of old oil was so unpleasant I couldn't eat it at all. Is there something to be done about this?

Are these pre-seasoned new pans? Or new-to-you old pans? Because I've had the same experience with pre-seasoned pans. There's just something off about whatever they are seasoned with. The advice I've seen is to run them in the oven through a clean cycle to burn everything out of them and then begin the seasoning process again. Expect smoke. Here is a video about another way to de-pre-season a pan. I haven't done either. We have a set of new-to-us old stuff that we've worked back into perfection.
posted by the christopher hundreds at 11:00 AM on February 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

Hey, that looks pretty cool, maybe I'll--

Prepare to spend all day at this.

posted by gottabefunky at 11:06 AM on February 18, 2015

Jumping in to plug that Serious Eats recipe for "foolproof pan pizza." I've made it twice now. It's really great. I grew up loving Pizza Hut's pan pizza but now of course I shun mass produced food places like that. This recipe has very much the same texture and flavor to the crust. And it's really easy, though you need t plan ahead because of the long dough rise - I mix the dough the night before.
posted by dnash at 11:14 AM on February 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

ctrl-f Finex...

Pull the trigger, furnace.heart. I absolutely love mine. Yeah, it's pricey. But awesome.
posted by booooooze at 11:50 AM on February 18, 2015

In a home kitchen, particularly on a electric element that is slow to respond (we have a glass-covered electric), cast iron starts to make more sense.

Ah, there you go. I can't stand electric stoves. Gas all the way. Perhaps that helps explain my complete lack of enthusiasm for cast iron.
posted by Justinian at 11:54 AM on February 18, 2015

Just over a year ago, Mom handed down to me two cast iron skillets from her grandmother. I was both excited to finally try cooking on cast iron, and scared like hell to screw up such well-worn seasoning. It's true that reading lots of articles and threads like this can make it sound difficult and precarious. I eventually got over that. (That "Truth about Cast Iron" link up in the post is a good starting place to get over some fears.)

Not only has more time cooking with it helped me get over being scared of ruining it somehow, I'm also pretty sure that cooking with it more frequently has made it work better. The first few times I used it, I rinsed it, dried it, and wiped a couple drops of oil over the inside. Now I've learned the oiling part is not necessary, except maybe every now and then, depending on what I've cooked - like if there was any hint of sticking or if after rinsing out the surface looks at all "uneven," then maybe I'll do the oil thing. But otherwise I think just cooking with it repeatedly has kept the seasoning surface working really well.
posted by dnash at 12:00 PM on February 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

The issue of what's most non-stick for egg frying is interesting and not simple in my experience. I have very good teflon non-stick pans, a (polished!) cast iron skillet you all would envy with some 50 years worth of seasoning and some All-Clad laminated stainless.

Each in its own time has been the best and at other times not so good at egg frying. One older All-Clad non-stick cannot be used for eggs anymore they cling to it so badly. We must have consumed all the non-stick coating over time. I've fried perfect eggs in the cast iron at certain times. At other times in that pan's duty cycle they stick like crazy. The most non-sticky and best egg-frying ever has been with the laminated stainless believe it or not. If it is in the perfect state of heavy rotation frying and not too vigorous cleaning, frying eggs in the stainless pan is the ultimate. After it is set, a little tilt of the pan will slide the egg around like it is on liquid helium; I've never had the other materials achieve that. But it's really hard to judge if the stainless is in the proper state for egg frying.

If you've ever made 'American style' flipped egg omelettes you might know that flipping them in a traditional steel pan is much easier than in one with a plastic non-stick surface.
posted by Mei's lost sandal at 12:00 PM on February 18, 2015

I take the approach that "non-stick" teflon and similar pans are disposable. Buy 'em cheap, chuck 'em when they get torn up, buy more cheap. Even babying the surface, I've never seen one last more than a few years. Not worth getting fancy non-stick pans, imo.
posted by bonehead at 12:04 PM on February 18, 2015 [2 favorites]

We bought a Lodge square skillet (from Marshalls I think?) and seasoned it diligently, however, one night I cooked tumeric fish in it and it stuck like hell - after that there was a weird spot in the pan and we couldn't get it to behave normally.

Eh, I never found it to be remotely non-stick even before the fish incident. And stripping the seasoning to build it back up is a nightmare if you don't possess either an oven with a self-cleaning cycle, or a power drill to wire-brush it. (Although oven-cleaner and bung-it-in-a-garbage-bag is intriguing.)

Basically that thing's never been smooth enough to build a good surface; and trying to do so is such a time-sink that gah, why bother.

However: that skillet is absolutely the thing for warming corn tortillas on: pre-heat for 5 minutes, plap one in, 15 seconds per side, turns a tortilla from a stiff starchy thing into lovely warm pliable joy.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 12:05 PM on February 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

I have some cast iron, and a bunch of french steel. Unless, for some reason, you *really* need a large amount of heat retention (underpowered and/or unresponsive stove, etc), the french steel is really superior in all regards. It is already polished, it takes seasoning relatively easy (i.e. easier then cast), it is lighter, it heats much more evenly, the shape is typically better for most cooking, etc. I mostly use the cast iron for severe abuse (on the grill, for example), or when I really really want a super fast sear with no as little heat drop as possible.

The no soap thing is gross. Proper seasoning most certainly does not come off with a little soap..
posted by Bovine Love at 12:23 PM on February 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

this agrees about the soap, which, it says, won't take off the polymerized oil that is "seasoning"
posted by thelonius at 12:38 PM on February 18, 2015

The soap thing is about flavor. Supposedly is gets stuck in the pores of the metal and contaminates your food.
Coming from a family that uses cast iron and has differing opinions on cleaning it, I have tried food made in both cast iron that has been cleaned with soap and that which has not.
I can find no difference.

And I am from the no-soap school.
But I don't use soap because it doesn't need it. I boil off anything that happens to stick, which is rare. I scrape with a spatula and scrub with a scrubber. Then I dry over a flame. I oil when necessary but not every time.

I judge no one for their cast iron cleaning and care method, as long as it works for them. I also don't judge people who use other pans. I use other pans. And not even specific pans for specific dishes. Sometimes I use cast iron to sear and other times I use my industrial kitchen skillets. Whatever.

WAIT! I lied. I do judge some people. Once . . . at boy scout camp, the OA guys (supposedly the premier camping secret society within a camping organization. yeah. these were "kids" in the 16-20 y.o. range) were given KP duty on a night when there were leftovers in the dutch ovens. They asked what to do with the extra food. Since we were in bear country and had no refrigeration for leftovers, they were told to burn it. They came back later and said that the food wouldn't burn. We went to see and they had the dutch ovens piled in a huge fire, heated to cherry red with the lids on and the food still inside.
Now anyone who decides that this is the correct way to clean cast iron is a dumb ass.
And those guys supposedly knew what they were doing.
I am glad I was not the one who had to reseason those ~20 dutch ovens.
posted by Seamus at 1:47 PM on February 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

bonehead: “The surface roughness just needs to be an order of magnitude less (say) than the radius of curvature of the oil/air interface.”
I honestly wonder what a machine shop would charge to use the decking machine on the bottom of one of those new pans.
posted by ob1quixote at 3:06 PM on February 18, 2015 [2 favorites]

Now anyone who decides that this is the correct way to clean cast iron is a dumb ass.

My friend did the same thing with a skillet I lent him for a camping trip. At least the consolation prize was that the pan could be reborn to live another day instead of dying in some drunken fiery viking funeral, other cookware would never survive that fate. We're still friends!

Of course, it was only one of those new lodge bumpy skillets - I have not found a family member willing to part with their heirloom super-smooth skillets. I saw old pans in rural thrift stores when I lived in Kentucky but I was never bold enough to buy them. (Most nastiness could be incinerated off during seasoning, but I was worried that someone enterprising had used them to melt lead etc.)

You can get an artisinal handcrafted skillet in the shape of your favourite state.
posted by boffin police at 3:21 PM on February 18, 2015

Wow, I have thought about casting my own shot and of melting lead, especially tire weights, but I have never thought about the possibility that used cast iron could have used for that purpose. Yeah, everyone seems to use cast iron for it, but the idea of selling it where it might be used for cooking food. *shudder*

I know a few people into metal casting and forging, and a good number of them look to buying old cast iron pieces to break up and melt down. Another reason old cast iron cookware is hard to find.
posted by Seamus at 3:28 PM on February 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

I judge no one for their cast iron cleaning and care method

that's no fun
posted by thelonius at 4:12 PM on February 18, 2015 [2 favorites]

Back when I was spending a lot of time in thrift stores (a thing I have dearly loved), I used to see an occasional chrome-plated cast iron pan:
Plated Finish Ware

Manufacturers early on realized there was a segment of the market that desired the features of cast iron cookware, but perhaps did not care for its rustic appearance or the maintenance it required. One of the first ways makers addressed this issue was to offer plated versions, first in a nickel finish, and later in chromium. Nickel-plated pieces are known from as early as the 1890s, with manufacturers seen moving to chromium in the 1930s.

Plated pieces varied in finish from a dull, silvery gray to a low luster to a bright mirror polish.
The only brand I remember ever seeing was Griswold, the kind plated on the outside and the inner rim only, and the kind plated all over (see the gallery link at the bottom of the page). I ended up buying a dutch oven plated all over, but I'd forgotten about it until this post reminded me.

I didn't use it much, but it was the only piece of stovetop cookware I've owned which had a pure -- as opposed to alloyed -- chromium cooking surface, and it makes me think of the issue of seasoning stainless steel.

Which most people seem to think doesn't happen, but I think does -- or at least can. We use various pieces of old copper-laminate bottomed Cuisinart for most of our cooking, and the inner surfaces of the most heavily used pans have acquired a distinctly tan overtone that's not a food residue, but seems to be an oxide layer. Based on the color, which looks identical to the brownish layer that forms on chrome-plated oven racks inadvertently left in the oven during a cleaning cycle, I think a layer of mainly chromium oxide has formed on our stainless pans, and I have been careful not to scrape it off (which might be very difficult anyway) because I think it is protecting our food from putative catalytic effects of chromium, which seem to include the ability to deodorize garlic, among other things.

And I also think that layer has made the pans much slicker.
posted by jamjam at 4:15 PM on February 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

I got a stainless steel chainmail pot scrubbing thingy from some damn hipster kitchen place or other in LA and it is seriously the best cast iron cleaner I can think of for my cheap Lodge pans.

I do use soap occasionally and just re-oil the pan with coconut oil before storing it. I don't even bother to heat it up first, just dry it, oil it, rub it a bit with a paper towel and toss it back in the drawer.

we have a glass induction cooktop and I blacken fish on cast iron with it, never saw anything in the instructions yea or nay, hell cast iron was one of their recommendations. "it has to be magnetic" is pretty much their only caveat.

I am apparently a cast iron hooligan, but seriously I just can't be arsed.
posted by lonefrontranger at 4:34 PM on February 18, 2015

I have an old cast iron pan, inherited from my in-law's. I seasoned it with liquid soy lecithin a few years ago. Have cooked bacon in it, and eggs, steak, whatever. It's pretty rad. Sometimes I don't feel like hefting it, so I use the Vollrath stainless steel (from a restaurant supply store). We also have a non-stick Admiral Craft, used mainly for eggs and omelets; that has a special place on the shelf, as you don't want to pile anything on top of a non-stick.

I think, for me, there is just some time that I want to get the cast iron out and cook with it. It's solid, it's sentimental, and it does the job. It's something my husband's father cooked with, and he and I had a special relationship about steak. I have his meat thermometer as well, he gave it to me. He was an engineer, so I know that everything he bought, he bought and used with a purpose.

I am definitely not a chef, I am a home cook. I take way too long to prep things, and many times, I have delayed dinner by trying to get a sauce just right (I don't do that anymore, I make it ahead of time, but it took me a long time to learn).

What you cook with is up to you. Cast iron is really good for many applications, and I am glad I have this pan. I probably wouldn't buy a Lodge now. But I really enjoy this older pan, and the thought of my father-in-law directing me to take the right temperature of a steak. He was a great guy.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 6:17 PM on February 18, 2015

If we gunk up the cast iron pan (or, more likely, leave it too long after dinner), my trick to get 99 and 44/100 % of the residues off is to put a cm of water in it and bring it to a boil. A brush and dish soap takes care for the rest.

Thank you! That made a huge dent in a pan I had set aside for years because I haven't been sure how to de-gunk it, as I lack a self-cleaning oven and oven-cleaner fumes frighten me a bit.
posted by jaguar at 6:36 PM on February 18, 2015

That made a huge dent in a pan

Metaphorically, I mean. The pan itself is undented.
posted by jaguar at 6:39 PM on February 18, 2015 [3 favorites]

"stainless steel chainmail pot scrubbing thingy"

You used to be able to find these cheaply at military surplus stores but I haven't been to one in probably 20 years.
posted by Tenuki at 8:02 PM on February 18, 2015

Stripping/reseasoning update: the oven-cleaner/trashbag approach seems to be working a treat; it removed almost all of the preseasoning and gunk overnight. I put on another coat of oven cleaner to get the rest of the bits. (Some of it may be some sort of permanent discoloring, but it's on the bottom of the pan so I'm not too worried about it.) I'll be near a Lowe's tomorrow night so I'll stop in to see what they have in the way of sanding/scrubbing drill bits.
posted by Halloween Jack at 9:57 PM on February 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

At some point during the 80s, there was a mini-surge of renewed cast iron interest. I don't know where it came from or how widespread it was, but I know it must have been backed by some sort of concerted marketing effort, otherwise my parents never would have bought that cast iron pan at Sears.

Oh man, every meal cooked in that pan was disgusting, metallic. My parents went through a bunch of fad diets in the 80s (one of them, not kidding, was a dinner plan of microwaved hot dogs and steamed carrots that we had to eat for what seemed like five nights a week). But, meals cooked in that cast iron pan during that span of time were the worst of the worst.

I know now that the pan was unseasoned, and that my mother was/is most definitely not the kind of person who would spend extra time giving cast iron the tiny bit of extra attention it needs. Still, those crappy cast iron meals of my youth totally colored my opinion of cast iron cookware until my mid 30s.

That's when my grandma died.

My grandma was my favorite person. I didn't get to see her very often -- only once a year or so, because my parents moved away when they got married. But still, she was my favorite, and of my 11 cousins, I was her favorite -- probably because I'm the one she only saw once a year. (Shhh. Don't tell my cousins.)

Anyway, I flew to the midwest for her funeral, and I stayed for a couple days afterwards to help clean out her apartment. I was in charge of the kitchen, and when I came across her cast iron skillets, I asked my mom if it was okay for me to take them. She said of course, Grandma would love for me to have them, and I set them aside.

During the second day of dismantling my grandma's apartment (harder than the first day, emotionally), Cousin Joan showed up. Cousin Joan, who's, like 50, but was dressed in a mini-skirt and cowboy boots and looked absolutely ridiculous, couldn't make it to grandma's funeral because she apparently had a babysitting engagement. She had no problem showing up for the adoption of grandma's goods, though.

This is what you need to know about Cousin Joan: She's an urbanite who went 'back to the land.' She claims to run a CSA in a certain town in North Carolina that's known as a hippy sort of place. She also claims to homeschool a bunch of other people's children in that little town, and her curriculum promotes "life skills" like gardening, weeding, juicing, canning, and taking care of livestock. What she actually has going is a CSA where pretty much all of the labor is performed by homeschooled children. That is my Cousin Joan.

So Cousin Joan walks in to the half-empty apartment, after missing the funeral, and proceeds with a narrative that goes something like "Oh, I've always loved that thing. Could I have it? Oh! That thing right there is very nice. Maybe I'll take it with me. Hey, I remember that thing! It would look great in my barn!" My mother was cleaning under the bathroom sink and pulled out a bag of rags that Grandma used to clean with. Cousin Joan saw them and said "Oh, could I have those? I absolutely LOVE old fabrics."

It was obvious at this point that Cousin Joan was going to take anything and everything she could get her hands on, because that is the kind of leech she is. At one point, she saw the two cast iron skillets that I'd pushed up against the wall, out of the way. She spotted them and whinnied about how awesome they were and how much she'd love to have them.

I ran to my mom, who was still scrubbing under the bathroom sink, and panic-whispered "Mom! Joan's going to take Grandma's cast iron!"

My mom, who is the most conflict-avoidant person on earth but who was fed up with the quasi-land-grab that was going on, said "Oh no she's not." Mom grabbed the skillets and stuck them in her purse, then put her purse under that bathroom sink.

In the end, I ended up with those skillets. They went from my mom's purse to my suitcase, and on the flight home I had the heaviest suitcase I've ever traveled with.

I now love love love my cast iron skillets. Every time I use them, I think of my grandma. She bought them when she got married in the early 30s, and they were with her until she died. In those skillets she cooked meals for two husbands (first one died at 41), my mom and aunts, and lots of grandkids and great grandkids. She cooked many pigs' worth of bacon in them. They were with her even after she had to move out of her home and into assisted living. They were in her apartment when she died. I have them now, and I can say, without any hesitation or worry about sounding selfish, that they couldn't have found a more loving home. (Also, I'll be honest, I am also very smugly happy that they didn't end up with Cousin Joan.)

I don't need any more cast iron pans, because, for me, two is enough. I don't cook in them all the time, and there are times I'd rather cook in a skillet I can throw in the dishwasher. When I do use them, though, my Grandma is right there with me, and there's nothing in the world better than that.

I mentioned in the AskMe thread that this thread inspired that I buy cast iron, restore it, and resell it on eBay. Grandma's skillets are the reason. I find neglected, crud-covered cast iron cookware at flea markets -- beautiful, beautiful things that have been treated horribly! -- and refurbish them. It takes some work -- some more than others -- but they were meant to last, and they can almost always be brought back to life.

Like I said, I don't need any more cast iron pans. So I buy the ones I find, fix them up, and sell them to people who want to use them, because mine came with magic, and maybe the ones I put back into circulation will be passed down with magic as well.

TLDR: Cast iron is awesome to cook with, even only occasionally. And for me, it provides a connection to more than just my food. I think there's some kind of inherent sentimentality that comes with cast iron cookware, and that's part of its appeal. I think that's true even if the cast iron you own didn't come from your grandma. In the end, it all needs to be nurtured and cared for, and that draws it closer to us.
posted by mudpuppie at 10:15 PM on February 18, 2015 [20 favorites]

The bottom line is that when my my mother died, I didn't care that I didn't inherit the house. But the 50 year-old skillet and the 50 year-old cast-iron waffle maker that is still in perfect condition? That I still grind my teeth over losing.
posted by happyroach at 3:41 AM on February 19, 2015

I was reading Heritage by Sean Brock this morning and ran across this passage in his recipe for fried chicken and gravy:
To do the chicken right, you need an old black cast-iron skillet with a lid. Sure, you can make it in a deep fryer (like we do at the restaurant), but I prefer the old-fashioned way, which is nearly impossible to pull off in a restaurant. The skillets take up so much stove space that you can't make more than ten orders at a time. So this isn't the fried chicken you're going to eat at Husk. This is the way grandmas cook fried chicken in the South, and it's the way everyone should be making fried chicken at home.
Wanted to share here in response to the argument that chefs don't use cast-iron.
posted by slipthought at 8:15 AM on February 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

I still mourn the loss of several small le creuset pans - the ones without enamel on the inside, ones that my mom got as a wedding present nearly 40 years ago - when my awful excuse for a human being of an ex boyfriend forced me to (I can't even think about this) throw them in the dumpster because they were "dirty" and he hated my love of cooking.

But I did hide one of the pans in an old box that I knew he'd never look in and now I use it all the time in my apartment, where I live alone among my six cast iron pans in various shapes and sizes and colors. Cast iron is amazing. I love using it because I know it is going to last longer than anything else I own, including my own damn meatsack of a body.
posted by sockermom at 8:51 AM on February 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

Cast iron and all clad pans are a staple in my house.
we make a lot of curries and braises.
getting a proper sear and brown bits makes everything taste better.
posted by sukhisingh at 12:14 PM on February 19, 2015

If anyone's still reading this thread, I thought you might be interested to hear that I got inspired and decided to polish and re-season a cheap 8" pan I've had for a while and never been happy with.

I found a few YouTube videos by searching "polish cast iron" to help me get an idea what I was in for. IMPORTANT NOTE: Wear goggles and a mask! Lots of nasty powder is generated that you don't want in your eyes or lungs.

I spent a couple hours polishing the cooking surface (left the pan's outside and the inner walls as-is since they don't matter as much). I got it much smoother, though not perfectly so where there were deeper imperfections - mainly around the perimeter of the flat surface where apparently the casting mold left a very slight indentation in the pan's bottom all the way around. I used my ancient drill and a sanding wheel with sticky sandpaper discs. The 80-grit worked pretty well but I think I'd need a proper heavy-duty tool and 40-grit aluminum oxide sandpaper to get it truly smooth. I finished up with 120 grit then had to quit at close-enough because my poor ol' drill got too hot to hold! While it isn't a mirror finish, any blemishes will easily get smoothed over once it's seasoned.

To season the pan I'm using the Sheryl Canter method, but as a counterpoint there's this, for which the bottom line is that while Canter's insistence at using multiple THIN coats to season is valid, it doesn't seem to make a difference to the slickness or durability of the final finish which oil you use. In my case, I got enthusiastic and bought a small bottle of flaxseed oil, so I'll go ahead and use that.

In any case the pan's WAY better than it was, and with a couple of flaxseed oil coats on it so far it already feels amazingly smooth. I'll add at least 4 more coats over the next week or so and make another post with my results.
posted by Greg_Ace at 9:32 PM on February 20, 2015 [4 favorites]


I have committed to continuing my reseasoning process by buying expensive ethically-raised bacon to cook for breakfast tomorrow.
posted by jaguar at 9:38 PM on February 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

What time should I be there? I consider it my civic duty to help you eat/cook more bacon and season your pan that much quicker. I'm selfless like that.
posted by Greg_Ace at 9:57 PM on February 20, 2015 [3 favorites]

Oh, one more thing - you want to keep your house very well-ventilated while the oiled pan is cooking in the oven. Smoking oil smells nasty! Definitely a moderate-weather activity so you can open a couple windows, and run a few fans, to help circulate fresh air.
posted by Greg_Ace at 9:59 PM on February 20, 2015

Greg_Ace -- once criticism I've heard about flax oil is that, while it does leave very clean and smooth layers of seasoning, it results in a more brittle seasoning layer. I haven't experienced that myself (because I don't want to pay a premium for flax oil), but one of the people who I know says that is J. Kenji Lopez-Alt (or whatever order those names go in), and he definitely seems to know things.
posted by mudpuppie at 8:11 AM on February 21, 2015

Yeah, I read that upthread too. I also read quite a few comments online claiming that it didn't seem to be any more brittle. I get the impression that following the seasoning method correctly has a lot to do with it too - the consensus seems to be that you use THIN coats of oil for each pass.

So...choose your own unverified Internet source, I guess. But that's why I wanted to try it for myself. If it doesn't work, fine, I've proved it to myself for less than 12 bucks, and easy enough to start over with canola oil.

The big win for me, though, is finding out I can successfully grind down the metal itself, that it can be done with tools I can get from Home Depot without spending an arm and a leg, and without having to pay a shop a lot of money to do it. So even if the flaxseed oil doesn't work, I'm still happy!
posted by Greg_Ace at 11:02 AM on February 21, 2015

I've been a fan of J. Kenji Lopez-Alt's recipes every time I have tried them, so I tried his foolproof pan pizza yesterday.

I spent MAYBE five minutes Thursday night prepping the dough.
I spent two minutes putting the dough in pans.
I spent five minutes minutes prepping the sauce and cheese for the pizza (I have decided in my dotage that I do not like cooked sauces on pizza anymore so I stick blended one 16 oz. can of diced tomatoes and added 1.5 tsp salt, 1 tbsp garlic powder and 1 Tbsp Italian seasoning from Sprouts, the only Italian seasoning I have ever found that was worth a damn. I let it sit in the fridge for two hours while the dough was rising. Grated some mozzarella and pecorino romano.)
I spent 5 minutes of time assembling and cooking the pizzas (15 minutes total in the oven) and 30 seconds cutting them.

The entire meal took me less than 20 minutes of actual work time and the family loved it. I would definitely recommend for a low labor, planned ahead meal. I imagine the dough would make a nice focaccia too

I used two 10.5" pans with good seasoning. Both of them are family hand-me-downs.
One of them required 30 seconds on the stove top to brown the bottom. I have no idea why they differed, but it was fascinating to see them side by side.
posted by Seamus at 12:34 PM on February 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

Oh yeah, if you grew up in the '80s and '90s and ate pizza Hut pan pizza, it was just like that . . . but good.
posted by Seamus at 12:38 PM on February 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

The entire meal took me less than 20 minutes of actual work time and the family loved it. I would definitely recommend for a low labor, planned ahead meal. I imagine the dough would make a nice focaccia too

Kenji does have a focaccia recipe based on the no-knead cast iron pan pizza idea! I've been wanting to try it, just need to get some pistachios and not immediately eat all of the pistachios before they can go on the bread.
posted by jason_steakums at 10:36 PM on February 21, 2015

[flax seed oil] results in a more brittle seasoning layer.

It hasn't been my experience at all that the flax oil varnish has been less durable or easy to chip. It also wasn't hugely expensive---we bought a pint at a health food store for less than ten bucks. I don't know where people are getting the $10/oz bottles I saw in some of those links.

It is stinky when going on, and really smells when curing. It smells like a fish oil. α-Linolenic acid, which makes up around half the oils in flax, is a kissing cousin of the omega-3 fats in fish. Also, unlike canola or mono-unsaturates, the coating is a bright gold colour, which looks a little weird.

However it dries much quicker and doesn't require nearly as much time in the oven to cure hard. You can do a couple-three coats in an afternoon.

The smell goes away when it comes out of the oven. And, as I say above, we've been using it for around five years as a near-daily pan without any apparent damage or need for maintenance, which wasn't true when I seasoned with canola (and which did get flaky and gross on occasion).
posted by bonehead at 9:12 AM on February 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

Thanks, bonehead, it's great to hear personal experiences.

I was fiddling around with the pan I mentioned upthread, let it get a bit too hot for a bit too long, and apparently managed to burn off what little seasoning I had built up so far (just a couple of layers). So now I get to start all over again, yay.
posted by Greg_Ace at 9:55 AM on February 22, 2015

So the bacon actually screwed up the seasoning and made everything sticky and gummy and gross again. (The bacon itself was excellent, however.)

But I persevered! I boiled some water in the pan again, scraped at the gummy bits with a metal spatula, and then scoured the whole interior surface with an SOS pad. Which I'm sure will earn me eyerolls, but it's what I had. In that same spirit, after rinsing it and drying it over a burner, I rubbed it down with coconut oil (which is what I had) and stuck it upside down in the oven at 400F, after looking up the smoke point of coconut oil and discovering this handy chart. I left it in at 400F for 30 minutes, took it out, and discovered a few small spots of brown oil, so I dumped in a bunch of kosher salt and rubbed the salt around until the salt got brown and the pan got un-browned, then I dumped the salt. Then I put on another thin layer of coconut oil and put it back in the 400F oven for 30 minutes. I salted it a bit on taking it out, dumped the salt, then put on a layer of corn oil, because I was out of coconut oil, did the "buff buff buff" thing with a paper towel to get as much of it off as possible, then upped the oven to 500F (since corn oil has a higher smoking point) and put it in the oven upside down for an hour, turned off the oven and let it cool in the oven for two hours, and then took it out.

It looked pretty good and felt, to my fingertips, pretty even. I melted a bunch of butter in it tonight and then cooked a porkchop -- I usually don't use so much fat, but I wasn't sure about the pan -- five minutes each side. I let it sit in the butter and pork fat while I ate dinner, then rinsed it in very hot water and gave it a quick swipe with a dish-soaped sponge, then dried it over the burner.

It's still warm, but it's feeling pretty smooth to my fingertips. This thread gave me the confidence/knowledge to realize that boiling water in and scraping at the pan with metal implements, and even using an SOS pad, was probably not going to kill the thing, which helped me tackle it. So thank you!
posted by jaguar at 8:08 PM on February 22, 2015

I should note: that's a pan I haven't used in years because the seasoning got so lumpy and weird that it wasn't really usable. So it being back in my rotation is a huge victory. Woo!
posted by jaguar at 8:10 PM on February 22, 2015

I should also note: the dish-soaped sponge was necessary because the butter and the dried-herb crust on the porkchop left a lot of gunk on the pan. I was worried it was going to be enough gunk to require me to strip down the pan yet again, but hot water and a quick sponge-swipe got rid of it.

All this to say: I love cast iron.
posted by jaguar at 8:15 PM on February 22, 2015

Scraping with metal implements is actively good -- that is part of how you develop a perfectly smooth surface over time.
posted by Dip Flash at 8:16 PM on February 22, 2015 [2 favorites]

I grew up with a mother who did not often let us use her kitchen equipment, and who had a (lovely) set of Le Creuset enamaled cast-iron pans that were used for everything and about which she would constantly tell us, on the few occasions she allowed my brother or me to help cook, that WE COULD NOT USE METAL IMPLEMENTS. My mother was an awesome cook (if a crappy culinary teacher) and so I just grew up with the idea that "Nice cookware requires wooden implements." There was a bit of gleeful rebel in me today taking my metal spatula to a pan that I was trying to make more nice.
posted by jaguar at 8:22 PM on February 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

Le Creuset enamaled cast-iron pans ... that WE COULD NOT USE METAL IMPLEMENTS.

I'd also frown at you if you vigorously (gently is ok) used metal implements in my Le Creuset pots, but non-enameled cast iron responds well to rough treatment and scraping with metal spatulas polishes the seasoning. More scraping is more better.

Starting with a base seasoning from oil in the oven is great, but the way you end up with a non-stick pan is to cook the hell out of it, especially fatty meats (your porkchops are perfect). Don't cook anything acidic until the seasoning is solid, and even then making a tomato sauce will eat into it sometimes. That's no big deal -- a few porkchops later and things are back to normal.
posted by Dip Flash at 9:18 PM on February 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

Oh, yes! I have an enamaled cast-iron pot and I would never ever ever take a metal implement to it! It's just that only recently I realized the difference was not between "expensive pans" and "cheap pans" in metal-implement acceptability.
posted by jaguar at 9:23 PM on February 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

Now I want a porkchop.
posted by Dip Flash at 9:27 PM on February 22, 2015 [3 favorites]

So I normally hate spice/herb pre-mixed seasonings, but Savory's Bohemian Forest European Style Seasoning is quite possibly the best thing to ever happen to pork chops. It's basically herbes de provence plus mustard and black pepper, so you could do that, too, but if there's a Savory near you just go there and get the blend and be happy forevermore. (But add salt to the chops, because the blend is salt-free.)
posted by jaguar at 9:32 PM on February 22, 2015

(It's also excellent on lambchops. The store recommends it on poultry, but I've never tried that, as I tend to be very minimalist on poultry seasonings.)
posted by jaguar at 9:35 PM on February 22, 2015

Friday - 2 pan pizzas
Saturday - one pan seared halibut and rockfish, one pan corn tortillas (fish tacos, yay!)
Sunday - dutch oven white chile (at the request of my Native Texas wife, suckit Texas!), one pan flour tortillas

It's been a bang-up cast-iron weekend.
Tortillas are interesting. Both kinds leave a bit of dry residue that needs to be scraped or will end up as carbon build-up. Neither of them affect the seasoning in a negative way.
At the rate I have been going, I really need to get a comal.
Right? Who doesn't need another cast iron implement.

So, I started thinking about the soap thing.
If the purpose of not using soap is to avoid getting it in the "pores" or whatever so you don't get the flavor in your food, shouldn't fish have a similar affect, getting trapped in the pores and flavoring other food? After searing the fish, I let it sit for at least an hour before scrubbing in hot water, no soap, drying over a flame and rubbing with oil. After it cooled, no fish smell. Heating it to cook tortillas, no fish smell. No smell in the tortillas. I have convinced myself that the whole soap thing is bunkum.
posted by Seamus at 10:18 PM on February 22, 2015

I thought the "soap thing" was that it stripped oil from the pan, which was only an issue with improperly-seasoned finishes. Other people have said that when a pan has been seasoned correctly, they're able to clean a pan with soap without destroying the seasoning.
posted by Greg_Ace at 11:10 AM on February 23, 2015

The soap prohibition is about stripping off the finish. If it's not converted to a varnish, soap might be able to remove some of it.

If you have a decent varnish finish, not only is it resistant to removal by mild dish soap, but it completely fills any "pores" that might remain in the pan. Note that oil should not be just put on the pan surface, but up the interior walls too. All surfaces that might touch the food can be made smooth and pore-free.
posted by bonehead at 11:47 AM on February 23, 2015

I thought the "soap thing" was that it stripped oil from the pan, which was only an issue with improperly-seasoned finishes. Other people have said that when a pan has been seasoned correctly, they're able to clean a pan with soap without destroying the seasoning.

That's correct. If you've got years of seasoning built up, soap is fine (but shouldn't be necessary very often). If you seasoning is new-ish, soap can remove some of that thinner seasoning.
posted by mudpuppie at 11:47 AM on February 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

I imagine I really am talking to the weeds this time, but here goes with a quick mini-update.

Since my post over a week ago about polishing a pan and planning to try out the flaxseed oil seasoning method, I've only gotten around to applying 3 layers of seasoning - the weather's been just a bit too chilly to do the necessary window-opening to dispel the smelly smoke. The inside of the pan isn't nearly black, only a dark brownish-gray. But just for kicks I decided to make an omelet in the pan at lunch today, and it didn't even think about sticking! Not even when the cheese leaked out and started bubbling and browning. Surface is intact, and feels smooth and solid. I still plan to add more seasoning layers as I'm able, but so far I'm very happy with how this is going.

I imagine it will be a couple months or more before I finish, so I won't bother updating further. But I encourage anyone who's thinking about trying this to go for it!
posted by Greg_Ace at 4:32 PM on March 3, 2015 [2 favorites]

Might be just you and me here, Greg_Ace.

Because of your comments, I decided to give the flax treatment a go. I started a week or so ago with two of my Grandma's. I wasn't really happy with how they were turning out, so last night I gave those same two pans a Crisco-seasoning treatment. I was much more impressed with that single stint in the oven than with the ~6 flax attempts.

I'm giving them another Crisco layer tonight. I think it might be the method I go with from now on. As always, YMMV.
posted by mudpuppie at 6:50 PM on March 3, 2015

I'll admit to many attempts in the past to season typical modern cast-iron pans with only middling success, due to using the wrong oil (including Crisco) or the wrong amount or the wrong temperature, resulting in gummy finishes that wore off quickly. So I'd pretty much given up and just started using the couple of pans I had as-is, until this thread got me fired up again. Maybe flaxseed oil isn't the be-all and end-all of seasoning oils, but by golly it's the most amazing result I've ever had!

However...that said, I'm re-thinking the idea of using something other than flaxseed oil to season with, just to avoid the fishy smoke smell. I've got a slope-sided chef's skillet that's going to be next under the grinder; later this year I'll try seasoning that with maybe safflower oil and see what I get.
posted by Greg_Ace at 8:22 PM on March 3, 2015

I made the Foolproof Pan Pizzas, which were very easy and delicious, and had that yeasty tang I like.

But it didn't hold up well in the hands. Maybe cooking it on the burner to firm up the crust, next time.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 9:48 PM on March 3, 2015

But it didn't hold up well in the hands.

That's what she said.
posted by Greg_Ace at 10:38 PM on March 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

I started a week or so ago with two of my Grandma's. I wasn't really happy with how they were turning out, so last night I gave those same two pans a Crisco-seasoning treatment. I was much more impressed with that single stint in the oven than with the ~6 flax attempts.

I'm curious as to your results. How do you prep your surface and what did you do for seasoning?

I'm wondering if we started from different places and got different results. There's lots of crazyness out there for seasoning pans.

Clearly, you've got a method that works for you with shortening. I've not been so lucky with it. Now I'm wondering if I need to get a bunch of cast iron coupons made and do some backyard tests.
posted by bonehead at 9:32 AM on March 4, 2015

To be clear, I strongly suspect differences in surface prep are what's happening here, specifically surface roughness and the formation of oxides. When I cleaned mechanically, I was applying the flax oil directly to a shiny metal, mostly non-oxide surface. If cleaning is done chemically, by lye say, you're going to have the black oxide coatings. It's quite possible that the polymerization would proceed differently depending if a bare metal surface is available to catalyze the reaction or not. So differences in surface prep could, potentially, have a lot to do with successful formation of the seasoning varnish.
posted by bonehead at 11:32 AM on March 4, 2015

That fits my experience. After I had ground the metal smooth I washed it with hot suds and a scrubber and dried via 250° oven, checked for/removed any immediate rust, then went straight into applying and cooking the first coating of oil - all within 20 minutes or so.

The second pan I'm contemplating doing will need grinding/polishing as well, so I'll end up following the same routine. No scary lye for me, thanks!
posted by Greg_Ace at 12:14 PM on March 4, 2015

It's perhaps worth noting that I cleaned with a brass wire brush, to minimize scouring. I did get some light work marks on the iron, but they mostly came out with the emery cloth polish. I'd be much less sanguine about using a steel wire brush.
posted by bonehead at 12:18 PM on March 4, 2015

Of the two I reseasoned, one is 85 years old and has been used pretty constantly over that time, and the other (actually not Grandma's, I now remember) is from the 1950s; I stripped it/seasoned it a few years ago after I bought it at a flea market. The older one with years of seasoning definitely did more poorly than the other when I gave them the flax treatment.

I have one in an electrolysis tank now, so it'll be down to bare metal when I season it. It's sold, and the buyer is waiting on it, so I don't want to experiments to delay its shipment. I've got a stack of a dozen more waiting to be cleaned and seasoned, so I think I'll do one flax and one Crisco concurrently to see if there's any difference when starting from clean iron.
posted by mudpuppie at 12:25 PM on March 4, 2015

I'd be very interested in what happens, if you care to share.
posted by bonehead at 12:43 PM on March 4, 2015

I always care to share. :)
posted by mudpuppie at 12:49 PM on March 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

Tell me more of this eloctrolysis tank!
posted by rmd1023 at 1:56 PM on March 4, 2015

You do not have to ask twice!

I've got a large Rubbermaid tub. It's filled with a solution of water and sodium carbonate. This is not baking soda (sodium bicarbonate); you can buy it as Arm & Hammer's Super Washing Soda, found in the laundry aisle. I do not know what makes this combo an "electrolytic solution" -- maybe someone else can explain the chemistry?

The idea is to suspend in this tub 1) the piece of metal you're cleaning (in this case, cast iron), 2) a piece of "sacrificial," conductive metal. (I have a bunch of 1-foot lengths of rebar wired together into a cylinder.) The two should not touch.

You need a manual car battery charger. The automatic ones, which are intended to shut off after your car battery is charged, will not work, because they cannot be fooled into thinking that these two pieces of metal are a car battery.

You connect the Negative cable to the piece being cleaNed. (The Ns are how I remember which goes where.) You connect the positive cable to the junk metal. You plug in the battery charger, and you begin the process of electrolysis.

All of the rust and carbonized gunk from the cast iron are somehow magically attracted to the scrap iron. When the process is finished -- how long depends on how cruddy the piece was to begin with -- you're down to bare metal.

That's it! You need to do this outside, because the process gives off hydrogen gas.

It sounds scary, I guess, but I'm actually much more comfortable using this than oven cleaner. There is hardly any elbow grease required, and no tools that can damage the metal. ("Hardly" any elbow grease, because the piece I have in there now had a lot of carbonized crap on the outside and bottom of the skillet, and I am having to work a little bit to get the remaining bits scraped away from the heat ring.)

There are lots of instructions online, and on youtube. Mechanics and woodworkers also clean tools this way, so there's another set of search terms to use.

Here is a not-very-good picture of my tank just as I started with a new tub. After 30 minutes, the surface of the water is covered in rusty scum. The water looks gross when you're done, but you can continue to use the same solution indefinitely.

One thing I learned when I set up this tank (which is larger than the one I had last year): It might seem like a good idea to cut notches in the rim of the Rubbermaid tub so that your dowels won't roll around. But it is not! It is not a good idea, because even two little notches will weaken the tub's structure enough so that when you're filling the tub and you get to about gallon 20, you will have a miniaturized Johnstown Flood situation on your hands.
posted by mudpuppie at 3:56 PM on March 4, 2015 [9 favorites]

I was hoping the electrolysis tank was a panzer that would blast the body hair off of people.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 4:49 PM on March 4, 2015 [5 favorites]

mudpuppie, can you post a picture of a pan after it has been cleaned in your tank?

On the subject of old iron vs. new iron, at some point, someone gave me an off-brand set of cast-iron in a wooden box. It contained two frying pans, one griddle and one legless dutch oven. (All with cordura carrying cases. WTH? Those rock.) Since I have my grandmother's frying pans, I haven't pulled the newer set out in at least a decade. I did at some point, spend some time seasoning them.
Somewhere up above in this thread I talked about wanting a comal since I have been making a ton of tortillas lately (making? nay, perfected the art of!). So this past weekend I brought in the griddle. I didn't make any tortillas, but I did have some homemade bread going stale. So I made french toast on the cast iron griddle . . . that hadn't been used in years . . . with a crude, bumply new iron surface. Not a single bit of stickage with just the barest wipe of oil applied once before cooking. Then on Sunday I made pancake mix for the kids school day breakfasts (King Arthur has a GREAT oatmeal pancake mix recipe that I keep in the fridge.). We made waffles out of it on Sunday (no cast iron waffle maker yet) but on Monday he wanted pacakes, so I obliged. The griddle was still near the stove so I cranked it up and again, nothing stuck. Pancakes in cast iron have been painful for me in the past, so much so that I have a nonstick griddle that I have been using for years. but this crappy griddle was almost magical in its non-stickiness.
My point? Even crappy cast-iron can be good with a good finish.
posted by Seamus at 9:40 AM on March 11, 2015

mudpuppie, can you post a picture of a pan after it has been cleaned in your tank?

Can and will.
posted by mudpuppie at 12:23 PM on March 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

Hey, if you're ever short on cash (and ethics), you could sell those on ebay as footbaths too.
posted by bonehead at 9:54 AM on March 12, 2015

So, I sanded the hell out of my cast iron frying pan. I'm not sure if just seasoning will look good or if I should try and get some black rust finish going on the sanded surface before seasoning it. Regardless, assuming it seasons up reasonably well, I think it's going to be a very nonstick surface.
posted by rmd1023 at 8:06 AM on March 16, 2015

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