Sad Tale Of A Once Perfectly Seasoned Cast Iron Pan – Tidy Tuesday

This is the tale of a perfectly seasoned cast iron frying pan.  If you own any cast iron cookware, you know what a pan looks like and cooks like when it’s been seasoned and used with love for years.  You may also know that sometimes the pan takes a beating and has to be re-seasoned.

My friend Patti Winker of RemarkableWrinklies.com has such a pan.  She loves cooking old fashioned meals in old fashioned ways.  She has even gathered together over 400 recipes from the “good ol’ days” and put them in a cookbook.  Be sure to check it out by clicking here:  Memory Lane Meals

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Just to show you what a lovely pan Patti had, here’s a picture of the pan taken some months ago for an article she was writing.  Beautiful isn’t it.

Not only is that a delicious looking fried egg, but look at the color and texture of that beautifully seasoned cast iron pan.  That is truly a little slice of cooking Heaven.

If you’re familiar with the routine used by many folks to care for their seasoned cast iron pans, you know it goes something like this:

1) Let your pan cool down completely.

2) Take a soft sponge or dishcloth, wet it and wipe down the pan to get the surface oil, seasonings, and food particles off. You can add a tiny drop of soap to it if you wish, but many people don’t.

3) Give it a good rinse under running water.

4) Put the pan on a stove burner on high for just a few seconds to make sure there’s no moisture left. Watch it closely.

5) Wipe the pan out to make sure it’s totally dry.

6) Finally, put a drop or two of good oil or fat in the pan and wipe the pan down well and store in a dry place.

Now, to the tale.

The sad turn of events was innocent enough.  My friend had cooked a little breakfast early one day in her beloved cast iron skillet, and after eating, set the pan in her empty sink to cool it down enough so she could wash it up a little.  Well, the day progressed as days often do and, getting busy with her normal routine, she forgot about the pan.  That wouldn’t have been a problem, except she was then called over to her daughter’s house for an evening of catching up on some fun cooking shows, and decided to spend the night.

Okay, still not a problem just letting the pan sit there, unless you happen to have a husband come home in between… a husband who cooks himself a little dinner.

That sweet man decided to do his wife a favor.  After washing his own dishes, he thought he’d give that cast iron pan sitting there, now with stuck-on food, a good soaking.  So, filling it with a good dose of dish soap, some cleanser, and hot water, he went to bed.  And that is where my friend found her pan when she got home the next morning.  Even as she walked up to the sink, she said the smell of iron and cleanser hit her nose.  She knew the pan had been soaked into oblivion.  As she carefully washed it, she could see the seasoning was peeling away, and once it started, it was too late.  She had to scrub it raw and start over.

Here’s a picture taken of the now “clean” pan.
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Well, after a few tears were shed, she proceeded to re-season her pan.  We both follow the same routine, but she does one thing that I think is an improvement over the suggested method by some cast iron pan manufacturers and users alike.  She does not turn her pan upside down in the oven.  If you heat the pan upside down (and you may have run into this problem) you end up with sticky little puddles of oil on the bottom or sides of the pan. Then, if you try to wipe off those spots, the rag or paper towel just sticks to it.

Rather, she sets a baking sheet on the bottom rack to catch any drips, then on a rack above that, she sets her pan face up.  That way she can keep wiping the pan down with more oil as it’s heating, keeping the surface smoothly and evenly coated with oil instead of having the oil slide to one side or the other, and forming a “pool” of oil.

This is her system, which I’m thinking would be a good one to adopt.

Preheat your oven to 250 degrees.

If you have a new cast iron pan, wash the pan with soap and water to remove any grease and dust from the manufacturer.  If your pan needs re-seasoning, wash the pan with soap and water to remove any leftover food particles, seasonings, or oil from cooking.

If your pan has any stuck on food that’s not coming off with a sponge, add a sprinkle of salt to the spot and rub softly until the pan feels smooth.  This method is used to remove rust also, but you may want to add a little vegetable oil to your salt to make a paste, then rub continuously until the rust disappears.  Even a little steel wool can be gently used to remove serious rust.  Rinse well with very hot water.  Then dry by putting the pan immediately on a hot burner for a few seconds, and wipe with a towel.

Cast Iron Pan wiping websizeNow, to begin the seasoning process.  Put your clean pan on a hot burner for about 30 seconds to give it a head start, opening up those little pores nice and wide!

Pull the pan off the burner and add either some shortening or other vegetable oil to the hot pan, carefully wiping it all around the pan, including the outside, until you have a nice greasy pan.  Some people may not see the necessity of wiping the outside of the pan, but it does add a nice color and sheen.

Cast Iron In Oven websizePut a cooking sheet on the bottom rack of your oven to catch any drops of oil, and put your greased-up pan on the rack above, right side up, in your 250 degree oven.  Set a timer for every 30 minutes or so.  When the timer goes off, open the oven, pull the rack forward, take a paper towel, and carefully wipe down the inside and edges of the pan, evenly distributing the oil once again.  Add a couple drops of oil to your pan or dip your paper towel in shortening at this time if the pan is starting to look dry.  The pan should always look “oily” during this process, more so than when you store it away.  If you’re very careful, you can wipe down the outside of the pan, including the bottom and handle, before you slide the rack back in.

Continue this process, heating, wiping down, adding more oil, wiping again, heating… every 20 to 30 minutes, or as much as you have patience for, for at least 2 to 3 hours.  Some folks use a hotter oven and a shorter time.  You can certainly do that, but wiping the inside of the pan down during the process is what will eliminate that whole greasy sticky puddle thing.  If you choose a hotter oven, shorten the time in between wiping the pan down to 10 to 20 minutes.  You’ll be surprised how little time it takes in a hot oven to make that oil sticky.

You won’t get that lovely patina the first time you season your cast iron pan, nor will you get the beautiful seasoning back immediately once a pan is damaged.  It will take some time.  Once you have gone through the seasoning routine illustrated here, you will have the start of a well-seasoned cast iron pan.

However, keep this in mind… the best way to season your cast iron pan is by using it!  Get out that recipe for cornbread, fry up some bacon, fry a bunch of chicken… that’s the beauty of cast iron.  It’s meant to be used every day, and if you do that, you’ll end up with that beloved cast iron glow we all know and appreciate!

Cast Iron All Better cropped websizep.s. Here’s a picture taken of my friend’s cast iron pan after she’s cooked in it a few more times. It’s already looking better!

p.p.s. If you want your whole house to shine like this newly seasoned cast iron pan, check out these Spring Cleaning Made Simple. It’s packed with ideas to help you get your house sparkling in no time!

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11 Responses to “Sad Tale Of A Once Perfectly Seasoned Cast Iron Pan – Tidy Tuesday”

  1. Heather Hook Says:

    I never, ever use vegetable oils or shotening when seasoing my pan. I prefer a good animal fat. (usually bacon grease which I save in a glass jar and keep in the refridgerator for this purpose. I have found that using animal fat helps to maintain the pan better and gives a little moer flavor to your food. Vegetable products certainly can be used I just feel the animal fat does a much better job. P.S. Thank you for this site. I enjoy it ever so much! :)

  2. SANDRA Says:

    i NEVER PUT ANY SOAP IN MINE, I DID FOR YEARS AND IT WOULD JUST DRY IT OUT. I JUST RINSE AND WASH WITH HOT WATER AND IT STAYS GOOD, MY MOM SPRAYS COOKING SPRAY IN HERS, BUT I NEVER DO AND I THINK SOAP IS THE CULPRIT.

  3. Living Remarkably Says:

    My parents and grandparents all cooked routinely in cast iron pans and griddles. I’m fortunate in that I have some of these pans still and will pass them along to my grandchildren one day. They are still beautiful. I normally rinse them out with hot water, use only a drop of soap if I absolutely have to, then dry them over a hot burner and add another wipe down with oil.

    One of the benefits of cooking with cast iron, to add to the MANY benefits mentioned already, is the benefit of absorbing more iron in your diet. When you cook in iron, your food naturally absorbs some of that iron. Which became very important to me recently.

    You see, a funny thing happened to me when I eliminated most processed carbohydrates like bread, crackers, cereal and the like from my diet. I started to crave iron. That made sense since my iron intake had taken a nose dive. Iron is one of the main additives in most processed foods. So, I had to quick find a way to add a lot of iron to my diet. Not being a fan of multi-vitamins, I decided to do two things – eat more spinach (which I was starting to crave) and cook almost exclusively with my cast iron pans and griddle.

    Well, it seemed to have worked. I had a routine blood work-up and my iron was fine. And, I no longer CRAVED iron like I did at first. My Mom knew this and always cooked up big batches of chili or spaghetti sauce in her cast iron Dutch oven. It was the darkest chili and spaghetti sauce I’ve ever seen! That stuff was delicious and packed with iron. We kids didn’t need to take additional iron in our house!

    Thanks for the great re-seasoning instructions. I like the idea of continually wiping the pan down with more oil, keeping it nice and smooth. I’m going to treat my cast iron to a re-season just for the heck of it as soon as the weather gets colder and I can have my oven on that long without distressing the air conditioning.

  4. Christine Says:

    We actually just wash ours pretty normally. We wait until the water’s good and greasy if possible, but there’s still soap in the water. We just need to add oil every time we use the pan, but I grew up with ‘non-stick’ fry pans so I’m used to that. Soaking it in the water, however, is just scary. I feel for your friend.

  5. Susan Says:

    After years of using cast iron, I had a similar experience as your friend. I was living with a room mate and she didn’t know that you do not put a cast iron skillet, (or a wok) in the dishwasher! As you can imagine, I came home and found my cast iron entirely rusty and ruined. I was so upset. We are still friends. :)

    My mother in law told me that you should always add a little water in the pan, put the pan on high and then using your plastic spatula scrape loose the stuck on food. Pour it out and wipe it clean. Never add soap. Use the oil after every use. Her words not mine. My cast iron has looked beautiful since.

  6. Nadine Says:

    I never knew what seasoning meant therefore I never bothered with cast iron. After reading this I think I will invest in one. Any type of brand I should consider?

  7. Living Remarkably Says:

    Oh, Heather, your comment reminded me of something my Mom always did! She would go to the butcher and get “suet” which is just the fat from trimmed meat. That’s what she used routinely to season and reseason her cast iron pans. It has no salt or other stuff in it like processed meats so is “pure animal fat” so makes the ultimate seasoning for cast iron. I’d forgotten about that! Thanks Heather for the reminder.

    I also remember that suet hanging from trees during the really cold winters at home. Mom would put some of the suet she got for seasoning her pans in plastic nets, leftover netting-like packaging that veggies sometimes came in. After she stuck the suet in the net-bag, she would take handfuls of bird seed and stick it on the suet. Certain winter birds, like chickadees, loved those “suet bird feeders.”

    Just something I remembered and thought I’d pass it along. The suet was free or very very cheap. I’m going to check it out today!

  8. Barkcookware Says:

    When I married my wife this is one of the things she came with, That is several pieces of cast iron cookware, at the time I never thought much of it she would use them almost daily. Unfortunately I never really paid much attention to the fact that she never put them in the dishwasher, I just figured it was full and they wouldn’t fit. Needless to say this was not the reason. About 2 years after we married my wife decided to go back to collage and I took over some of her normal every day tasks around the house to give her the time for her studies. A little history on these cast iron pans my wife was the 3rd generation to use these pans ( go figure I had no Idea). Well it didn’t take me long to cook something in her 14″ skillet and after I got done it fit in the dishwasher just fine and to top it off I left it in the dishwasher after it was done running over night. The next morning when we got up for breakfast needless to say my wife went to get her skillet to cook some bacon an eggs it was missing!! We’ll I didn’t know if I was going to survive it, you would have thought I gave away our first born. We’ll obviously I did here we are 17 years later and some lessons on how to handle cast iron cookware have paid off for me.

  9. Linda Says:

    Oh boy… for me, the most useful ingredient in seasoning is vegetable shortening. I’ve never had much luck with liquid oils except pure corn oil, but shortening works every time.

  10. Southern mad woman Says:

    I so know what u went through.I just had the same thing happened.I’m very mad cause I’ve already told everyone n my house never wash my iron.He did anyway!!So this time I wrote on the vThis time I wrote on my vent w a permanent marker.”Do Not Touch My Skillets”!!!!

  11. Rose Says:

    I use lard to season all my new cast iron. My many years old cast iron I just wash with hot water, wipe out with paper towel, heat on burner until very hot, take a rag dampened with cooking oil, wipe the inside with it, let it cool before putting away.

    To keep from getting a grease buildup on the outsides & bottoms turned upside so none gets inside I do use hot soapy water & scratch pad to clean, wipe with dry rag, heat to finish drying. This has worked for many years.

    By the way I don’t use paper towels, such a waste, rags I always have on hand, old towels cut up, old t-shirts, wash cloths, etc, kept in small wastebasket under the sink. Thank you for reading!

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