I'm in love with cast iron pans. I've never known why. I just always knew they seared meat, made fantastic Dutch pancakes, and stayed hot enough to brown most anything put in them. Then I read Alton Brown's Gear for Your Kitchen. He put the science behind my reasoning by declaring that cast iron is a great conductor of heat because of its mass. Example of this would be when slapping a cold steak into the pan, it doesn’t lose any of its heat and can start searing immediately. But a key to cooking in cast iron is having a well-seasoned pan. Well-seasoned meaning that it has a sheen to the metal and exhibits non-stick properties of its own. Cast iron doesn't come that way from the manufacturer and quite often used pieces are either spotted with rust or simply look dull, almost dry. Those pieces are not 'goners'...no, they just need re-seasoned. And with the help of Alton, I figured out why my seasoning process was good but wasn't great. I had been using oil rather than solid vegetable shortening. Anyway, on with the good stuff and how to properly season a cast iron pan so that you will love yours as much as I love mine.
How to Season a Piece of Cast Iron
Turn your oven on to 350 degrees. A new piece of cast iron should be washed in soapy water to remove any type of manufacturing residue and then air dried. An older piece being re-seasoned doesn’t need this step.
Put a lipped cookie sheet or disposable foil pan on the bottom rack of the oven.
Place the cast iron item on the middle rack and put a tablespoon of vegetable shortening in the bottom of the pan. Using vegetable shortening is key here…the difference between my not being able to effectively season a pan before and getting perfect results now.
Once the pan has warmed enough to melt the shortening, carefully remove it from the oven and rub the entire interior surface with the shortening…inside, outside, and handles. You can use a paper towel or a pastry brush.
Now it is time to put the cast iron piece back into the oven, but this time, it needs to be put in upside down so that the excess shortening does not puddle inside and create a gummy texture.
Bake the greased cast iron for an hour, and then turn off the over and allow it to cool down and finish curing in the oven.
After it is completely cool, give the entire piece a wipe down to remove any residual shortening.
The next time you use the pan, do not scrub it within an inch of its life with soap and scrubber, but instead pour in a little coarse salt and some oil. Give all of this a rub down with a paper towel, and then wipe clean before storing. All should be good for the next time over the flame or round in the oven.
If storage were not an issue, I'd have cast iron all over the kitchen. My small skillets, large skillet, deep skillet, and Dutch oven are wonderful as is my scone pan. But on my list, would be more small skillets for individual Dutch pancakes and a double burner cast iron griddle. Someday...