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
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.
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.
Now, 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.
Put 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!
p.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!