the original green cookware
November 12, 2009 4:04 PM   Subscribe

Do you want a definitive guide to washing your cast iron pan? Or you're curious about your vintage pans, maybe? Maybe your well-meaning partner left your beloved pan soaking in the sink, and you need to get rid of the rust, stat. Or maybe it's a LOT of rust, and you're looking to build an at-home electrolysis tank (warning: top-of-page Borat swimsuit shot). For all your questions on the loves and lives of the fabled cast iron pan, Black Iron Dude has the answer.

inspired by this AskMe.
posted by peachfuzz (90 comments total) 143 users marked this as a favorite
Bonus links:
- The Wagner and Griswold Collector's Society
- the Pan Man
- you can bet your pioneers used cast iron, too
- including the now obsolete spider.
posted by peachfuzz at 4:08 PM on November 12, 2009 [1 favorite]

It's nice that this blog is OK with using soap on cast iron pans when needed, people who go on about never letting soap touch cast iron annoy the hell out of me. Sure in a perfect world you'd cook hot enough that not much will stick, and you'll clean the pan right after cooking so nothing will cling to it.

Life is complex, and sometimes you let remnants of those eggs, or a stew, or some curry sit in the pan overnight and hot soapy water is the best way to clean it. You seasoned the pan once, you can season it again, in a short time you'll have a nice black non-stick coating just like before.
posted by Science! at 4:11 PM on November 12, 2009 [6 favorites]

Love it, and my pans. Thanks for the post.
posted by Max Power at 4:14 PM on November 12, 2009

This is very helpful and, for me, timely (as was the AskMe).

My grandma died at the end of July. We started cleaning out her apartment on the day after the funeral, and there's a long story there about a greedy cousin and a drugged-up aunt and a set of purloined twin beds and a stash of used Depends that had been secreted away in a closet and Grandma's lost wedding rings (which we eventually found hidden in a hairnet in a dresser drawer, immediately before sending the dresser off to Goodwill), but I'm not going to tell that story. I will instead tell you that I flew home with two very well-seasoned cast iron skillets in my suitcase in an attempt to thwart the greedy cousin, and goddamn, that was the heaviest suitcase ever.

But they're the most awesome skillets ever, too, and in light of the story I didn't tell, I'm extra glad to have them. They are now my most prized possession, especially because they don't belong to the greedy cousin.
posted by mudpuppie at 4:17 PM on November 12, 2009 [14 favorites]

I had relatives who never ever cleaned their frying pan. They just reused the fat and oil that was left over from the night before. I'm not sure if this was for non-stick purposes, or because they loved the greasy flavours of 30 years worth of fat. Anyway, it was disgusting.
posted by Enki at 4:21 PM on November 12, 2009

I have a cast iron skillet that belonged to my great grandmother (a woman born in 1877.) She always called her skillets "spiders."

I could tell a tale about once setting a cast iron skillet full of oil on fire whereupon my dad grabbed it and ran out the back door just as the UPS man was making a delivery, but I won't.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 4:24 PM on November 12, 2009

If we had the IMG tage I'd just post a picture, but here is my wife's million year old brazed Griswold. There are plenty of Flickr cast iron groups.
posted by fixedgear at 4:24 PM on November 12, 2009

It's nice that this blog is OK with using soap on cast iron pans when needed, people who go on about never letting soap touch cast iron annoy the hell out of me.

I could leave my grandmother's cast iron pans in a vat of soap and the only result would be a vat of soap running away in fear (bacon every morning, pour the grease into a coffee can to use for cooking vegetables).
posted by ryoshu at 4:25 PM on November 12, 2009

Thanks, I love my cast iron skillet, but I always get so nervous about messing up the seasoning. As a result, I end up using it mostly for searing meat and roasting poultry. This blog should give me a better idea of what's okay and what's not okay with cast iron.
posted by mccarty.tim at 4:29 PM on November 12, 2009

In what seems part of the mechanical world's general hostility towards me, I have never been able to get a satisfying seasoning on my beloved cast iron pan.

I clean using dishwashing soap and light pressure and a nylon pot scrubber. Then, following a suggestion I saw on some other guy's web site, I dry over heat, lightly coat the inside with oil, and heat until the oil is absorbed. After every use. The results are OK, I guess. But I still have to use cooking spray if I don't want burgers to stick.

I guess I should try something else. But I'm not willing to give up soap cleaning.

posted by Joe Beese at 4:32 PM on November 12, 2009

Holy crap. I just noticed that my awesone Griswold 12" pan needed re-seasoning, then I look at Metafilter. Thanks for this!
posted by zsazsa at 4:33 PM on November 12, 2009

He doesn't say anything about using steel wool to scrub a cast iron pan (without soap). Any reason a brush would be better?
posted by gottabefunky at 4:35 PM on November 12, 2009

Black Iron Dude thinks Rachel Ray is SATAN; my wife is gonna love him.
posted by BrotherCaine at 4:38 PM on November 12, 2009

The skillet we are dealing with is a Wagner Ware 1056 {1935 -1959} that is in neglected condition.

I'd be happy if my cast iron grill pan looked that good after I cleaned it.
posted by StickyCarpet at 4:38 PM on November 12, 2009

Does steel wool take off some metal? I use copper scrubs.
posted by BrotherCaine at 4:39 PM on November 12, 2009

Joe Beese, I use the same mini-seasoning method (posted minutes ago here). But with reasonable amounts of fat added to a hot pan, even my test egg didn't stick.

Have you tried this with your burgers?

1) Hot pan.
2) Add a little fat to the hot pan, even if the hamburgers are fatty -- maybe a teaspoon per burger. More if you want a safety buffer.
3) Put your non-ice-cold burgers in the pool of fat in the pan over medium heat, then don't touch them at all for 5-10 minutes, depending on thickness. Cold meat sticks. Rushed meat sticks, too. Meat of all kinds will stick to any pan if you try to move it before the fibers contract and allow the meat to be released in their own good time. I can even sear, then fully cook, a lean pork tenderloin in a lightly greased stainless steel pan if I'm patient enough to wait for the meat to acquiesce.
posted by maudlin at 4:42 PM on November 12, 2009 [4 favorites]

This is great.

In Brisbane the council has a "hard rubbish", or kerbside, collection every couple of years. Our suburb was serviced recently, but instead of throwing anything out, we went around picking up everyone else's stuff. We have any empty garage so have been gradually turning it into a rumpus/home brewing room. Anyway, scored a super-comfortable three-seater couch in perfect nick, and we basically had our choice of working televisions but, like good Christians, we took only one and left the rest for the hooples. A plastic sun recliner thing for the backyard. Little breakfast table with a couple of chairs. About a hundred squares of carpet samples to line the floor of the garage.

We pulled up out front of one place that had a massive pile and were rooting through it shamelessly (coral collection, edge trimmer, unopened jug of motor oil) until the front door to the house opened. Here we go, we thought, ready to edge trim our way to freedom. Big old guy there and his big old wife (who turned out to be his big old sister). "There's plenty more inside," she said. Okay, we thought. They're going to play sex games with us and then burn us in the bath. But we can take them, we figured, if it comes to that, but naturally it didn't and it turns out the brother and sister were clearing out their father's house - he was 110, blind, and had died the week before. "Most of the good stuff is already gone," the lovely old lady explained, "but you can have a look and take whatever you need, it would be a big help to us." So I rooted around in a pile of Choice magazines from 1982 and my buddy went into the kitchen.

"James!" he hollered. I thought he had found some half-dead cats in a pile of bandages and crazy old blind man apple cores so I bolted in there.

My buddy, let's call him David, was holding up a cast iron frying pan. "Check this out," he said, and tossed it to me. It nearly broke my arms off, the weight of this thing. "Awesome!" David explained. "Awesome to the max!" I wasn't that excited by the frying pan but then he pointed with his toe and there was a pile of about a dozen pieces of cast iron cookware. Pots out the wazoo, more frying pans, a big frying pan you can actually plug into the wall (which weighs, I have estimated using tests, forty-eight kilograms), a little stand thing to put your kettle on and, get this, one of those wooden platters with a cast iron plate on it that you get served sizzling steak on in Chinese restaurants. David knows his kitchenware and estimates that all this crap, if we were to buy it new, would be about a thousand and a bit bucks. So, anyway, long story short, now we've got all this fucking awesome cast iron cooking gear and also the guy had an ancient copy of The Origin Of Species, bless him. Oh and we got a set of whiskey glasses. And a lantern. And an unopened tin of FJ Holden fuses.
posted by turgid dahlia at 4:46 PM on November 12, 2009 [34 favorites]

A lot of people have tried to tell me that cleaning a cast iron skillet with soap is actually dangerous and possibly fatal, and I kind of figure that the process that results in the mutation of "you shouldn't clean cast iron with soap because it will kill the seasoning" into "you shouldn't clean cast iron with soap because it will kill YOU" is why we have Republicans.
posted by invitapriore at 4:47 PM on November 12, 2009 [13 favorites]

I'm a fan of Cook's Illustrated/Country, if only for the incredibly consistent quality of the recipes (never had a flop for lack of quality, only for overabundance of prep work, which any good cook should have read about ahead of time). Still, it's good to hear this guy call out some of Chris Kimbal's weirder sentiments, especially blaming blogging for the fall of Gourmet. The reality is that the food blogging scene always struck me as reverent of skilled chefs and food mag writers. Often, the content of the blogs were about trying out new recipes from the magazines, especially if they did something unusual (IE Cook's Illustrated's vodka pie crust). The blogs created a community around the magazine.
posted by mccarty.tim at 4:48 PM on November 12, 2009

Further data: I had no idea how hot these things can get and made the mistake of treating them like normal frying pans. Don't treat your cast iron frying pans like normal frying pans unless you want to go from raw food to smoking carbonite in a minute and a half.
posted by turgid dahlia at 4:52 PM on November 12, 2009

I'm convinced that you can't make great fried chicken without a well seasoned cast iron skillet. They're also indispensible for baking crusty yeast bread rounds.

When I was growing up, I was allowed to wash the inside of the pans, but the outside was not to be scrubbed. When I inherited some of my grandmother's skillets, they were smooth and rust resistant on the interior, but had a black crust on the outside which looked much like the cast iron, itself. I was surprised to learn that, if you got the pan hot enough, the grease trapped between layers of crust could catch fire, but the pans survived just fine.

I'm now the proud owner of pans seasoned by Nana (which must be about 100 years old), by my mother, and by myself. None of them rusts at this point, even after soaking.
posted by path at 4:54 PM on November 12, 2009

The best and easiest way to clean cast iron is:

Run it under a hot tap immediately after you finish cooking.

If necessary, wipe it gently with a soap-less wet sponge. Put the pan back on the stove. The remaining heat from the stove will dry the pan in a minute or two. Wipe some oil on the pan and, voila, you're ready to cook with it again!

Leaving the pan to cool is a surefire way to keep any bits of food caked on, which will kill all that seasoning you worked so hard to bank up.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 5:03 PM on November 12, 2009 [1 favorite]

I need to know what to do about that hawk that keeps dropping muskrats and mice into my outdoor chicken fry. Is he weak or what?

I love my iron skillet so much, I took it on a canoe camping trip. Lots of portages. Indeed I caught fish and they were the tastiest on an open wooden fire. Those skinny cheap and nasty aluminum pans would have burned up to ash.
posted by alicesshoe at 5:06 PM on November 12, 2009

What? Now we're supposed to be fearful and opinionated about our pots & pans fer chrissakes? I cook everything in cast iron pans- chili, spaghetti sauce, you name it. I use a little dish soap on them when they need it and they stay seasoned just fine. That said, here's how I fry chicken.
posted by squalor at 5:08 PM on November 12, 2009

What? Now we're supposed to be fearful and opinionated about our pots & pans fer chrissakes? I cook everything in cast iron pans- chili, spaghetti sauce, you name it. I use a little dish soap on them when they need it and they stay seasoned just fine.

Ditto. Tart tatin, steaks, pork roast gets started on the stove top and moved to the oven, greens, etc. They're really not that complicated or fussy or hard to maintain.
posted by fixedgear at 5:11 PM on November 12, 2009

I love my cast iron pans. One of the many things I love about them is that they're so heavy and so coarse and so black... yet they are probably the wussiest parts of my kitchen. I mean, they will rust if you whisper "water" to them and they need constant care and affection. Gotta love that.
posted by soundofsuburbia at 5:12 PM on November 12, 2009

I introduced my fiancee to our cast iron skillet tonight. She made latke, and claims she's never using another pan, ever. I think she's smitten.
posted by uncleozzy at 5:14 PM on November 12, 2009

That said, here's how I fry chicken... All food is Soul Food.

I like this philosophy.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 5:14 PM on November 12, 2009

My cast iron skillets don't look quite as good as the Black Iron Dude's, but I reckon that's because I cook with gas. It seems to burn off the seasoning from the underside, leaving a discolored and ever so slightly rusty finish.

That being said, the topside is smooth as can be. No breakfast beats bacon fried in a cast iron pan, followed by eggs fried in the bacon glaze (after draining the grease of course) . While the pan finishes practically as clean as it started, my arteries are a little more glazed each time...
posted by anthill at 5:15 PM on November 12, 2009

I can't really speak to cooking on cast iron--the few times I've tried have left me a devoted fan of Teflon.

I just wanted to say that "Black Iron Dude" sounds like the best Shaolin kung fu blaxploitation film ever.
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 5:23 PM on November 12, 2009 [4 favorites]

So does anyone know what to do about a cheap-ass pan that has one stubborn spot that just will not season? Acquired well before I got my hands on my late grandmother's cast iron, which work just fine.
posted by dilettante at 5:25 PM on November 12, 2009

When my Grandmother and Granddaddy passed away some years ago, in fairly quick succession, some greedy aunts and uncles did a number on their possessions, scratching and scrabbling over furniture in a very depressing and disgraceful display.

One of them asked my Mom what she wanted out of the wreckage. Mom very classily, and quite sincerely, told him "Everything I really needed from Mother and Daddy, I got from them when they were still alive."

When the clawing and grasping was over, only a few items were left, which my Mom took home: Granddaddy's antique varmint gun and Grandmother's cast iron skillets.

She was of the opinion, and I agree, that these were the greatest treasures her family had ever seen, and it was to her siblings' great discredit that they never realized what they'd passed up.
posted by darkstar at 5:32 PM on November 12, 2009 [7 favorites]

After seeing so many nasty cast iron pots and pans...

Nasty, yes, but you're eating history, man.
posted by turgid dahlia at 5:32 PM on November 12, 2009

Cast iron is the only way to go.

Though I notice it's trendy and the prices of skillets have gone way up around here. It's like $25 for a good sized skillet! Outrage! Good thing one lasts a lifetime.

I know. I know. That's still cheap. But it used to be $9 at Chubby and Tubby.
posted by tkchrist at 5:41 PM on November 12, 2009

About 20 years ago I was renting a house in Demopolis, Alabama. In an effort to combat a mouse insurgency, I went into the crawlspace beneath the house to lay some traps. I won't detail the festering horrors I found there (I've never seen that many roaches in one place). But I did find an interesting skillet-shaped clump of rust. I took it out with me. A little work with a Dremel tool equipped with a grinder pad revealed an ancient cast-iron skillet. I reseasoned it and used it to cook everything for the next year that I was there. Sadly, the skillet left with the departure of the girlfriend. I don't miss her, but, damn, I miss my skillet.

I had no idea that newer cast-iron is more pocked and porous than the old stuff. This skillet took a single seasoning to become as slick as snail snot. Fried eggs just rolled right off of it.

Now I have three (newer, dammit) skillets, a pot, and a muffin pan. I swear by the stuff. Easy to use, easier to clean (rinse while hot, place back on burner, as mentioned above, swipe with an oily paper towel), perfect heat control. Plus I figure I could use the large one to stop a bullet while flinging the smaller one at my assailant.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 5:45 PM on November 12, 2009 [2 favorites]

Cast iron skillets totally rule. And talk about environmentally friendly! None of this teflon-coated-electric-griddle-that's-gonna-crap-out-in-a-couple-years-so-you-gotta-buy-another-one bullshit.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:49 PM on November 12, 2009

I don't know what my pans are made of, what they're coated with, or anything else. I don't do anything special to them. But they sure seem to cook just fine. I don't really know what all that extra effort is supposed to get me.
posted by Justinian at 5:52 PM on November 12, 2009

Thanks for the post... the past week has been spent looking at expanding the cast iron family here in the kitchen.. I've got a set of pans that are three generations old hanging above the wood stove at the house my ex lives in.... I'm going into withdrawal.

My best cast iron story was the pan that was used at a scout camp one summer. Jimmy baked something in it for a long, long time.... we couldn't clean it with a sand blaster...

His mother took it him, tied a rope on it, threw it in the pond behind the house and let the fish at it for a few weeks... pulled it out, reseasoned it... good as new...

I love cast iron!
posted by HuronBob at 5:53 PM on November 12, 2009 [2 favorites]

My cousin just told me that she recently threw out our grandmother's cast iron pan: the one my grandmother brought from Europe in steerage circa 1915. Apparently my cousin had been treating it as any other (non-cast iron) pan and it got rusty. (Weeping.)
posted by Wordwoman at 5:55 PM on November 12, 2009 [1 favorite]

So can one machine tool or otherwise dress the inside bottom of a newer cast iron pan to be nearly as smooth as as the older pans? Or was the magic mostly in the ore?
posted by BrotherCaine at 6:03 PM on November 12, 2009

I have a cast iron skillet that belonged to my great grandmother (a woman born in 1877.) She always called her skillets "spiders."

Was she from New England or Appalachia?
posted by dersins at 6:04 PM on November 12, 2009

They're made of iron. They're tough. I have my Mom's cast iron skillets, and they are wonderful to use. If it gets a bit rusty, re-season by cooking something with lots of fat, like bacon. Do not fuss over this equipment. It's old-school, low maintenance.
posted by theora55 at 6:06 PM on November 12, 2009

Many years back when I lived in a large old house with six room mates we had one room mate who couldn't stand how dirty the kitchen was and would go on excessive cleaning jags. He scrubbed the cast iron pans until they were completely dry and almost polished metallic. One of the pans was mine, given to me by grandmother, probably like 40 years old and perfectly seasoned. The others were owned by one of the room mates was in culinary school. She bought them used and had been seasoning them for four or five years. She had a complete conniption. It was like he had strangled a kitten.

"You are banned! Banned from the kitchen!"

She caramelized onions and garlic in the ruined pan and the same thing in one of the still seasoned pans just to show him the difference. He sat down to taste it while we watched. It was like a sad little light going on behind his eyes.

"My god. What have I done!"
posted by tkchrist at 6:09 PM on November 12, 2009 [12 favorites]

these are great stories...thanks everyone!
posted by HuronBob at 6:15 PM on November 12, 2009

Further data: I had no idea how hot these things can get and made the mistake of treating them like normal frying pans. Don't treat your cast iron frying pans like normal frying pans unless you want to go from raw food to smoking carbonite in a minute and a half.

Sometimes this is good, so says Paul Prudhomme.
posted by ryoshu at 6:17 PM on November 12, 2009

have a cast iron skillet that belonged to my great grandmother (a woman born in 1877.) She always called her skillets "spiders."

Was she from New England or Appalachia?

She was originally from Sampson County, NC. So, neither, I guess.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 6:19 PM on November 12, 2009

I don't know what my pans are made of, what they're coated with, or anything else.

Haha! Is that a point of pride?

I don't really know what all that extra effort is supposed to get me.

Well, as Sonny Wortzik (Dog Day Afternoon) said to the newscaster as he was being interviewed on live TV: "let's talk about something you fuckin' KNOW about!"
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:22 PM on November 12, 2009

I wish everything I owned worked as well as my cast iron skillet. It never leaves my stove top. I cook in it, wash it, and always put it back on the stove.
I don't bother putting it away for two reasons:
1) I know it'll be the first pan I reach for the next time I cook anything.
2) I don't trust any of my shelves to withstand the weight of the thing.
posted by Jon-o at 6:25 PM on November 12, 2009 [1 favorite]

I just have to say that I'm a huge fan of the various cast iron pans at the restaurants around town.
posted by saysthis at 6:46 PM on November 12, 2009

My husband has cast iron pans which he uses and I have to clean ('cause that's how we divide the chores).

I drain as much of the oil out as I can, then mop up the rest with a paper towel, then rinse with water and use a scrubby brush (with no soap because I don't want to deal with the repercussions if I use soap) to get any chunks of stuff.

Then I spray it with grapeseed oil and hang it back on the rack above the stove.

Does that sound right?
posted by Lucinda at 7:05 PM on November 12, 2009

I wouldn't bother with the grapeseed oil, but that sounds about right.

To everyone who is concerned about how new cast iron doesn't feel like the old stuff - my guess is that today's cast iron is no different. It's just that the pan is new, and it's cast (in sand molds), and so it will start its life with a rough surface finish. Cook with your new pan for 2 years and it will smooth right out (and your blood iron levels will go up).
posted by anthill at 7:12 PM on November 12, 2009

Lucinda you are doing just fine. If you want bonus points, after oiling put the pan on the stove over low heat for about 15 minutes or in a low oven for an hour. That will help burn the oil back into the iron.
posted by device55 at 7:41 PM on November 12, 2009

She was originally from Sampson County, NC. So, neither, I guess.

Or both:
posted by device55 at 7:43 PM on November 12, 2009

I had a pretty disastrous breakup with an ex that ended with her addict parents throwing me out of our apartment. The first thing I grabbed on my way out was the cast iron pan I had been frying bacon in daily for like 5 years. No soap has ever soiled it's beautiful black surface, and I regularly leave fat congealed in the bottom for the next time I need to saute some vegetables (if that thought grosses you out you lose, my friend, go enjoy a microwave dinner or something). I moved cross country shortly after, and the only things I brought with me were my dog, my skillet, and my camera.

I later learned the very first thing my ex did after I left was go get another cast iron pan, so at least she got something out of our relationship (besides the rest of my belongings).

I had a neighbor for a few years who was a great, close friend. The only thing that drove me crazy about this guy was that he completely subsisted on chicken tenders and pizza. We went out to eat - chicken tenders withoutfuckingfaileverytime. We would be hanging out, having some beers, and I'd always be cooking something - pan fried chicken, risotto with homemade stock, some sort of delicious baked good from scratch, steaks that weren't burnt to shit, etc. and he wouldn't touch it. Not once. He was recently on my side of the country, after not having seen him for a few years, and we got together at a bar to reminisce, and he asked me if I still liked to cook.

"Of course" I said, wondering where the fuck this conversation was going, knowing the extent of his palate.
"I got a cast iron skillet a few months ago, been learning to cook"
"Oh yeah? How's that going?"
"You were right all along... what the fuck have I been doing all these years?"

I just nodded and said, "You're ok now."
posted by bradbane at 7:52 PM on November 12, 2009 [9 favorites]

Allow me to out myself as a Boy Scout (Foul, corrupt organization that it is, my childhood troop was open to atheists, homosexuals and degenerates of all sorts)

I worked at a Scout Ranch doing manual conservation labor for many years as a youth.
We were the fuck-ups, the pot-heads, the dirty guys and gals who didn't mind working our asses off daily doing manual labor, carrying eighty pound packs and eating previously blast-frozen buffalo tongue four days after it had fully thawed. We kicked ass.

Well, the Boy Scouts being what they are could not let this stand, so they created a special Conservation program for the Order of the Arrow. The Order of the Arrow is the "Elite Camping Organization" within the Boy Scouts. The hope was that these good boys would show us how the job should really be done. Sadly "Elite Camping Organization" was best translated as "Brown-Nosing, Weak, Lazy Losers with No Camping Skills". It didn't bother us too much. We did our thing, they did theirs and when they were done, we went back and fixed their fuck-ups.

The only time they really bothered me was when they perpetrated an egregious abuse of cast iron. The bastards.

We had a training at the beginning of one summer where there were 50 or 60 people all camping in one area, cooking and eating together. For one dinner, the burn-out group was given the task of cooking and the bastards were given the task of cleaning up. It's hard to judge provisions for that many people when their is heavy manual labor being done. Sometimes people eat heartily and sometimes they do not. That night was some kind of tasty, meaty, cheesy taco casserole cooked in about 20 dutch ovens. Beautiful, cast iron, nicely seasoned dutch ovens. Twenty dutch ovens and sixty people, obviously there are going to be left-overs.Usually when there was left-over food, the real people would have a force feed. Everyone did their bit and ate a little more and soon their was nothing left. Well the weakling assholes saw this as some kind of coercive torture and refused the force feed.

"Whatever, great, you guys suck, but since clean-up is your job, get hopping."

Well, we were in bear country. Cooked food is messy and not easy to dispose of. It was going to have to hang around in a bear bag for a week before we would be able to hike it out of the camp. So when the Order fellow asked what they should do with the food (and again refused a force-feed) they were told to burn it. We had fires, we had plenty of wood.

Only when someone noticed that there were twenty glowing,cherry-red cast iron dutch ovens sitting in the midst of a huge bonfire did we realize that these "elite campers" had determined that the best way to burn extra food was in the pot in which it had been cooked. When the idiocy of their ways was pointed out to them, they got pissed at us for not giving them explicit instructions. The next morning some poor bastard had the task of re-seasoning, over a fire, 20 cast iron dutch ovens that were a reddish gray and full of charcoal taco casserole, because when you leave the tight fitting lid on a dutch oven, you quickly create an oxygen poor environment, perfect for making charcoal.

I still get pissed off that someone (who should know better) would destroy the seasoning on so many pots. Luckily they are damn near indestructible.

I am a geek.
posted by Seamus at 7:53 PM on November 12, 2009 [3 favorites]

sorry if i missed anyone mention this, if so, here's my seconding that comment; i scrub out anything that occasionally sticks with a paper towel and salt. it scours but not nearly as abrasive as something like steel wool. then rinse with hot water, which only takes a second, then back on the stove to dry.

and while your cast iron will last forever, so will teflon, only not how you want it to.
posted by rainperimeter at 8:11 PM on November 12, 2009

What's this stuff about washing? I got a great big ol' Griswold number 10 on the stove. It stays there. Bacon, ham, or sausage get frizzled up every day, followed by eggs (basted and over easy.) I like to keep about 1/8 inch of bacon/sausage grease in there, day after day... when it gets deeper than that, I'll pour it off into a quart mason jar I keep in the fridge.
It might get wiped out every couple of weeks, but that's about it!

Nothing beats cawnbread made in a cast iron skillet.... on New Years Day, every year, we have a "gathering" at the house.... I fill up all the skillets with cawnbread batter... you gotta use a coupla tablespoons of bacon grease in each one first, and heat it so the batter sizzles when you pour it in. Then bake it. Oh yeah, forgot the blackeyed peas with hawg parts. Last New Years we went through 18 pounds of blackeyes.

That's some good eatin'.
posted by drhydro at 8:38 PM on November 12, 2009 [4 favorites]

posted by darkstar at 8:56 PM on November 12, 2009

My roommates make a lot (a LOT [hi guys]) of bacon, and it makes our cast iron pan smell like animal. Like a barnyard or a wet dog. I guess I should probably read the links for a solution, since it makes my quesadillas taste like I'm licking a pig, but burying my complaints at the bottom of an FPP seems like just the right amount of passive aggression.
posted by oinopaponton at 9:09 PM on November 12, 2009 [5 favorites]

I'm pretty lukewarm about cast iron. Frankly, I find it a bit too high maintenance to truly win me over. It doesn't help that "tips" for use, cleaning and upkeep by the likes of Black Iron Dude always sound like arcane religious rituals that I'm supposed to be happy to perform. If my teflon, stainless, and glass cookware were as needy, I might have increased incentive to use cast iron more often. Unfortunately, given the alternatives, cast iron always seems to make my life just a little more complicated, with nothing I value in return.
posted by 2N2222 at 9:20 PM on November 12, 2009 [1 favorite]

I've abused my cast iron pans for years but it hasn't seemed to hurt them. They all have a nice shiny black to them. They've kept their season real fine.
posted by nola at 9:33 PM on November 12, 2009 [1 favorite]

Ahh, cast iron. I have three pans of varying sizes and I never use anything else to fry in. And although this will sound like heresy, I never do any special maintenance on the pans. If they have stuck-on food, I leave 'em in the sink overnight with water in them. I use soap in them almost every time I wash them. The key, I think, is that I am using them so often that if some of the seasoning comes off, well, the next day they're on the stove again, heating up and getting a layer of olive oil poured into them, not to re-season, but because I am eating something that requires frying in olive oil.

Another benefit that someone probably already mentioned is that a certain amount of iron leaches into the food when you cook with cast iron (especially new cast iron, especially acidic foods), giving vegetarians a nice boost of dietary iron.
posted by Fennel B. at 9:43 PM on November 12, 2009

My lovely spouse gave up on "non-stick" pans when it was determined that the coating on them would basically give you cancer and kill you. So she's got the skillet, and recently I got her a dutch oven. Cast iron is epic.

Sadly, it appears that there are no longer any US companies making them anymore, (as Lodge stopped). Please correct me if I am wrong.
posted by Windopaene at 9:46 PM on November 12, 2009

I take that back!!!

Lodge is the only company still making them in the US, but they no longer make bread pans. That was what we were trying to find and not finding...
posted by Windopaene at 9:54 PM on November 12, 2009

Call me when you start grinding your own meat. Seasoning cast iron is awesome but not that hard. Keeping rust and e-coli out of your great grandmothers meat grinder is an unreasonable amount of work. It's also totally worth it.
posted by tighttrousers at 10:09 PM on November 12, 2009 [1 favorite]

As rainperimeter mentioned, salt is a godsend for cleaning cast iron pans. I was really lamenting having to scrub the cast iron so vigorously every time I used it until I realized the wonders that a little bit of hot water and sea salt could do. It's changed my life in the kitchen, people.
posted by dhammond at 10:12 PM on November 12, 2009 [1 favorite]

Since I started, another BS memory. My scout troop would take one car camping trip and one backpacking trip per month. I hope my parents appreciated the alone time.

When we loaded up the bus and went "car" camping we always took the cast iron frying pan. It was about 2.5' across and had a stamped steel handle. You could cook 3 dozen eggs in it. Whose idea was that? That person deserves a medal.

My favorite cast-iron, however, is my potjie.
Pronounced "poy-kee"Three legged cauldron for cooking stuff over the fire. Love it. Need to use it more often, but fires in Texass can be painful 11.5 months out of the year.
posted by Seamus at 10:17 PM on November 12, 2009

A cast iron skillet will only season properly at 500+ degrees. A lot of people seem to think that oil/350 degrees will do it. In fact, this will only make the pan stickier on next use. You need the REAL high heat to carbonize fat. I suppose the reason that heavy use with minimal washing adds to the seasoning is that after multiple applications of high-ish heat, the bottom of the grease layer will carbonize. But that's not ideal, and you really don't need to do anything dogmatic like cook bacon in it every day to get a good coating. Daily post-wash rubbings of oil are equally useless. In fact, they may allow oil to become rancid, and dust particles to stick. Here's what you should do: wipe the clean skillet down with a thin layer of lard and bake it upside down at 525 for 2 hours. Do this every other month (or several times in quick succession if you're starting with no seasoning) and you'll have a wonderful pan. (sidebar: I bought a skillet from Lodge, and it had a bumpy, porous coating from the factory, so I oven-cleaned it off and built up a new seasoning with a week straight of twice-daily 500 degree lard bakings. It was worth it.)

The one thing to avoid is slow-cooking acidic sauces -- tomatoes, vinegar, anything like that. Acid is the enemy. You might get away with it five, ten times, but eventually you'll wear your skillet down to the gunmetal and end up with some damn condition:

And I agree with the link on cleaning practices -- paper towel, hot water, possibly a coarse plastic brush, no soap, high heat drying -- it's the most seasoning-conserving way that's still sanitary.
posted by gonna get a dog at 11:06 PM on November 12, 2009 [1 favorite]

Ahem, some damn condition:
posted by gonna get a dog at 11:13 PM on November 12, 2009

Cast iron rocks. I love that you can buy it in hardware stores.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 11:39 PM on November 12, 2009

If the center of the pan is higher than the edges, does that mean it's warped?
posted by BrotherCaine at 12:14 AM on November 13, 2009

Vegans and vegetarians can get a good proportion of their dietary iron from cooking in cast iron. This also applies to proper woks, AFAIK.
posted by asok at 1:52 AM on November 13, 2009

Jesus Christ turgid dahlia... You hit the hard rubbish Holy Grail. Each evening I walk the 'burbs of Melbourne during hard rubbish season I hope for the one big score that will reverberate through history to make it all worthwhile.

I've ganked some sweet items... Yet never enough to quit The Game.
posted by Thoth at 4:17 AM on November 13, 2009

When I was living in a block of flats in Malvern, there were a lot of foreign students who were constantly coming and going and basically leaving all their stuff behind when they went back to Japan etc. at the end of term. One chilly winter's eve I was downstairs hanging out the washing - a futile endeavour, yes - and noticed a few choice items in one of the car ports. Two of those items were a pair of near-mint purple pleather armchairs, which are with me to this day and probably the most comfortable things I ever did sit on.

My advice is to constantly be scoping the student areas, but not the Australian student areas. That's because there are other Australian students there and they will literally pick up splinters of wood and broken mops because they are so impoverished. But wherever the foreign students hang these days, that's where you want to be.

'Course, if you ever need something to sit on, just nick a chair or two from the alleyway next to the Town Hall in North Melbourne after closing.
posted by turgid dahlia at 5:39 AM on November 13, 2009

I just stopped into to say I once won a bet by using the mirror black finish of my grandmother's (and now mine) 10" cast iron pan as a shaving mirror. No nicks, no missed spots, and it makes awesome cornbread.
posted by 1f2frfbf at 6:19 AM on November 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

I don't use soap on my cast iron pans because I have found that I can taste it later.

Water and fingers works well for me when a paper towel and drop of oil isn't enough. I escalate to water and steel wool when necessary, like when I burn something badly or get a sticky mess somehow.
posted by rokusan at 7:12 AM on November 13, 2009

I've been using my cast iron pans for years and years and years. I make spaghetti sauce and all kinds of stuff that you're not supposed to do with cast iron as well as the stuff you are - fried chicken, bacon, cornbread oh yes - and it doesn't faze them one iota. I don't understand where people think they're high maintenance. I mean, good lord, you wash the thing with plain hot water, maybe a nylon scrubbie to get off the burnt bits, dry, put back in the cupboard, done. Put a paper towel in between them if they're stacked so the nasty black oily bits on the bottom from the last time you used them over a wood fire don't end up in the bigger pan.

Somebody just gave me a high quality nonstick skillet. I kind of choked on the thank you note - I mean, it looks nice in the back of the cabinet and all, but why would I need that? I have all three sizes of cast iron frying pans: small, medium and Mighty and they are all I want.
posted by mygothlaundry at 8:16 AM on November 13, 2009

Here's how my fried egg* turned out.

*From the ask metafilter question.
posted by Stewriffic at 8:28 AM on November 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

I don't understand where people think they're high maintenance.

Boggles me too. It's a damn near indestructible piece of solid metal.

I also keep the gifted space age non-stick NASA nonsense in the back, along with those "amazing" never-gets-dull magic knives and other silly gadgets. Give me a iron to cook on and some nice carbon steel to cut with, and I'll be fine for the next 50 years of daily use.

I suppose this cuts into potential sales somewhat, which probably explains why companies insist on "improving" these things so much.
posted by rokusan at 9:33 AM on November 13, 2009

I picked up three different cast iron pans in different sizes from thrift stores, carefully cleaned and reseasoned them. It took hours of work over a period of weeks to get them to a good starting point for cooking, and I was delighted finally to be able to make proper cornbread and such. My ex liked to cook but thought price and size told her just about everything she needed to know about pots and pans. She used my carefully restored cast iron pan to make who-knows-what and then ran. it. through. the. dishwasher. I was speechless.

In the wake of that incident, I taught her about seasoning and care of cast iron, and she never did it again. When we broke up, I kept my cast iron pans but got her one of her own and started the seasoning on it as a gesture of goodwill.
posted by notashroom at 11:36 AM on November 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

Yeah, I dunno. I think their sheer simplicity is confusing to a lot of us, who are used to things being delicate and complicated. But also consider that the way we cook now is really different from how cast iron was originally used - building and maintaining a seasoning on a cast iron pan wasn't, in the past, an entirely separate operation. Cooking not-too-lean meat over a hot open fire (and rinsing and wiping with limited water resources) every day used to be the norm. That isn't true for most of us any more, so we need to re-create the process. So yeah, it's sort of an artificially constructed procedure, but I get it.

I'll also say, we're renting a house right now with a flat glass-topped electric stove (it's the first time I've ever lived with one). We hate it. For people who cook damn near every meal they eat, it's a constant sort of hideously intense frustration. The cast iron pans go a long way towards mitigating its unpredictable and infuriating on/off burners - with their thermal mass, they get hot and stay hot, heating cycles be damned. We can actually predict how things will cook, with them--which is more than I can say about any other pan on that stove.
posted by peachfuzz at 11:38 AM on November 13, 2009

My wife scolded me for cleaning my first cast iron skillet in the sink with soap and water and then leaving it alone to dry without seasoning it. It rusted within a month.

Once I corrected that mistake (and purchased a new skillet), I've got to say that once it's been seasoned correctly, it is the best cooking surface to work with.
posted by jigsaw1999 at 12:46 PM on November 13, 2009

A cast iron skillet will only season properly at 500+ degrees.

In case this lone voice of dissent is right, and one has an oven that doesn't go up to such a high temperature, can you broil a skillet to season it? I still have no issues with food sticking to my five year old Lodge skillet, but if ever the need arises to re-season, hopefully I can do it in my own oven.
posted by Thoughtcrime at 1:54 PM on November 13, 2009

I use a cast iron condom, and I never wash it.
Sometimes I hear something like "unh, what about STD's?"
I answer, "Baby, those are Seasoned TD's, and there's nothing better."
posted by hypersloth at 1:52 AM on November 14, 2009

I like cast iron well enough, but without the commitment to keeping it in good shape, it will become a pet and ultimately the responsibility of making sure that the pet is fed and walked will fall entirely on my shoulders, as will cleaning up after the neglect.

Until I can get family buy-in, no thanks, I'll take the annodized aluminum and the non-stick version of the same, because the repercussions for not treating them properly are easier to manage.
posted by plinth at 7:00 PM on November 14, 2009

It's nice that this blog is OK with using soap on cast iron pans when needed, people who go on about never letting soap touch cast iron annoy the hell out of me. Sure in a perfect world you'd cook hot enough that not much will stick, and you'll clean the pan right after cooking so nothing will cling to it.

A lot of the so-called quality knives today are made of stainless steel, which doesn't rust but doesn't hold an edge like carbon steel. Problem with carbon steel is that it rusts. Well, also they're hard to sharpen, though they hold a very sharp edge for a long time. But it's possible to buy carbon steel knives and take care of them so they'll last a long time. And you can get a great carbon steel wok for real cheap that does a good job with directing the heat and will take a good seasoning, but you have to take care of it. Even so, miles better than any non-stick wok once it's seasoned, though not quite as nice as a cast iron wok, but much easier to handle.

If you season at 500 degrees and make sure to take care of the pan by washing after cooking and re-season it regularly (though I prefer not to strip it before if the seasoning is good), a cast iron pan will last a very long time and treat you well. You don't really want to destroy such an investment by using it to cook acidic foods too often or by washing with soap, which greatly increases the chances of rust. Sure, you can strip it if it rusts, but, man, that's just sad letting it get to that point when you could have been adding to the seasoning, and I hate the thought of rust in my food.
posted by krinklyfig at 1:35 AM on November 15, 2009

In case this lone voice of dissent is right, and one has an oven that doesn't go up to such a high temperature, can you broil a skillet to season it? I still have no issues with food sticking to my five year old Lodge skillet, but if ever the need arises to re-season, hopefully I can do it in my own oven.

You want it to get very hot, to the point where it will smoke from any residual fat which isn't carbonized, and you have to keep it there for two hours. A broiler might work. Maybe check the temps with a meat thermometer, but if it's scorching hot and smoking, that's good. You need good ventilation and a clean oven, because if there's anything else in there it will also carbonize.

An open fire is pretty good for doing this, too.
posted by krinklyfig at 1:43 AM on November 15, 2009 [2 favorites]

Maybe check the temps with a meat thermometer

Heh. Sorry, it's late. I don't know of any meat thermometer which reads up to 500F, so forget I said that ...
posted by krinklyfig at 1:44 AM on November 15, 2009

I'm just coming in here to say this post is a GODSEND. I've seen the requisite semi-annual recurring AskMe posts about confusion and frustration over the Mythos of the Cast Iron, and how to care for it, and how it's intimidating and all that...and I was also raised by New England old skool foodies, so I wasn't totally wet behind the ears about the stuff--knew not to wash it like a normal pan, knew how indestructible it was, its wonderfully stable heat properties, etc...but also got frustrated sometimes myself. My set of cast iron is in fine condition, but not, you know, gorgeous Cast Iron blogging porn-level beautiful. Well I got a little jealous and yesterday afternoon went forth and followed the steps he gives in your link to really revitalize your pans. And I must say--wow! That "barely warm oven, then REALLY HOT oven" trick works like a charm. My stuff is gorgeous now. So uh, thanks peachfuzz, and thanks Black Iron Dude!
posted by ifjuly at 11:05 AM on November 15, 2009

Also, I love how everyone has a "my clueless roommate/ex/whoever killed my cast iron" story; what's up with that? The first time I ever had roommates, one of them had a friend who'd come over occasionally and had erratic OCD tendencies--you know, where he'd clean some stuff religiously, but there wasn't much logical reasoning behind it because he'd happily let something much worse just fester. One night while I was at work he came over--not to cook or have dinner, mind you, just to hang out and watch a movie with my friend--and randomly took my two most beloved cast iron pans, which I keep on the stovetop (like so many others here apparently), and soaped 'em up, scrubbed 'em hard, and left them soaking. When I came home hours later I calmly asked what was going on while internally pitching a fit like so. I'm still kind of proud of myself for not visibly flipping out. How could I? I knew he didn't any better.
posted by ifjuly at 11:13 AM on November 15, 2009

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