Post #636 Who’s the Ferrous of Them All?

April 18, 2019 at 2:41 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Post #636 Who’s the Ferrous of Them All?

Okay, stupid title.  But it’s a play on the magic mirror, and the holy grail of a mirror finish on cast iron cookware.  Add the fact that iron is called ferrous, meaning a metal made of iron, and the title starts to make sense.  And, after all that, a joke isn’t funny if you have to explain it; any comedian will tell you that.

So, cast iron cookware.  You can find it in Walmart, or Bass Pro shops, or REI, or ACE Hardware, or Target, and in any number of antique stores.  We used to live next to a crazy back yard neighbor with no sense of boundaries who collected old cast iron skillets and re-seasoned them as a way to pass time.  Cast iron lasts so long it can be handed down from one generation to the next.  I once kept a cast iron skillet and lid my mom gave me that she got from my dad’s mom.

The benefits of cast iron cooking is that food doesn’t stick; the cookware is “easy” to clean; even heat distribution makes cooking simpler; iron hold heat longer which is a benefit when holding food till ready.

The downside, while few, are significant.  If you’re not used to using cast iron, scorching food is a real probability.  Cleaning can be tricky if you don’t know how.  And that’s the thrust of this post, because I lucked onto the best trick to clean cast iron recently.  It came from Alton Brown of the Food Network.  It works, and it’s easy.  And it gives that super shiny mirror finish that is the holy grail of cast iron cookery.

Every time I see that pan after cleaning, I just grin.

But let’s talk about cleaning cast iron first.  Water is the enemy of all metals.  It causes them to oxidize, or rust.  In iron, since it’s a very porous metal, it rusts very quickly and very deeply.  It’s best to find a way to clean it without water.  So what you want to do is “season” the metal.  That means to apply a very light coating of oil and cook it into the porous part of the metal to keep water out.  Luckily this is easy.

First, make sure that the pan is spotlessly clean and dry.  If you look at the picture, in the middle right third, you can see a sort of fingerprint like spot.  That is from some burned sugar.  Never put anything with sugar in a blazing hot iron pan.  It will never ever come off.  Actually, it will if you work hard enough and destroy the seasoning on the pan.  But that’s a different story.  Avoid sugar.

Once the pan is clean and dry, use a paper towel to apply a very thin coating of oil over all surfaces of the pan.  Be certain to do the bottom and the handle as well.  Spread aluminum foil over the racks of your oven and place the pan face down on the foil.  Set the oven to 450 and bake the pan.  Let the oven stay at that temp for ten minutes, then turn it off and allow the pan to cool.  Once the pan is cool, wipe off any excess oil.  Repeat two more times, then use the pan normally.

Now, there are several schools of thought about cleaning a cast iron pan.  Some people say a simple wipe with a dry cloth or paper towel to remove any leftover oils and bits is enough.  I agree to a point.  It will leave a light coating of oil behind to protect the pan and build up the seasoning to help create and maintain the stick free surface.  Eventually, you will have a non-stick pan to rival any of the new technology.  But, if there are any stuck-on or burned-on food particles, this method will be ineffective.

So then, there’s the steel wool group.  I hate steel wool.  It rusts quickly and completely.  Some people like the chain mail method.  It’s basically metal rings hooked together to form a small pad that you can run over the iron pan to dislodge any bits and stuck-ons.  But for any burned on or stuck on bits, I prefer this:

It’s a bristle scrubber on a short handle.  The angle of the handle allows you give a ton of power to the scrubbing action.  This is best for griddle pans with raised ridges.

Whatever you do, never ever use soap and water on a seasoned pan.  The soap will take the seasoning off in a heartbeat.  Then you have to go through the seasoning process again.  My mom used to get her pans seasoned to perfection, then I’d wash them and take the seasoning right off.  I’d scrub those things like a champion.  I overheard her complaining to dad about it once.  Never did it again.  Had a long talk with her about how to care for the pans.  Another thing never ever to do is dry the pan over heat.  That will remove the seasoning and also open the pores of the metal and start the rust process faster.

So what’s my go to method now?  Kosher salt.  That’s it.  I was watching Alton Brown several weeks ago and it was a throwback episode where he was reviewing old shows and either updating them or reiterating what was said in them.  One of those things was care of cast iron pans.  He was saying that the oil needed to season a pan was simple canola oil, but another oil, flaxseed oil, was rising in popularity and should be tried.  He also said that while he had tried several methods of cleaning cast iron, the tried and true method was still the one he used during the first episode on cast iron – kosher salt.  Do not use regular table salt.

When the cooking is done and while the pan is still warm spread enough kosher salt in the pan to cover the bottom to a quarter inch.  Then fold a paper towel several times and using tongs to hold the paper towel, rub the salt into the pan until it’s clean.  The salt is coarse enough to scrub away the stuck on bits, and will absorb any oils and fluids left in the pan.  Let the salt cool while eating dinner.  When you’re ready, toss the salt in the trash, rinse the pan, dry it with paper towels, and spread a very thin layer of oil in the pan.

That’s what it looks like.  This is the first time I’ve ever had that finish on my cast iron.  If you forget to put the salt in while the pan is warm, just heat it for a few minutes and put the salt in.

So, that’s today’s tip.  What do you think?  Holler if you have any questions or suggestions, and feel free to share the post if you want to.

As always,


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