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Proper Care of Cast Iron Cookware

  Cast iron cookware is one of the safest and healthiest containers for cooking nearly any food, even messy dishes such as scrambled eggs.  Cooking acidic foods like tomatoes or beans for long periods can cause the seasoning (the non-stick surface) to break down.  Knowing how to use & care for cast iron is the key to loving it.

 If food sticks to your cast iron pans or the pan shows signs of rust, it may be time to re-season it.  New cast iron also needs to be "seasoned" before use.  Seasoning is a simple process that provides a safe, non-stick surface, (and has nothing to do with spices).

SEASONING CAST IRON PANS
First, thoroughly scrub the pan (and lid) using very fine sandpaper or steel wool, if needed.  Put some muscle into it and scrub until the surface feels completely smooth and there are no signs of rust.

Next, wash it with warm soapy water, rinse thoroughly with cool water and dry completely (I usually put it on a warm burner for a few minutes after wiping away excess water).

When the cookware is completely dry, apply a coat of high quality (preferably organic) shortening or oil, wiping away any excess. (its OK if the pan is still warm when  you coat it)  Place the cookware on a rack in a 225 degree oven for about an hour (set lids on the rack, don't cover pans).  Turn the oven off and let the pan cool completely.  When finished you should see a nice shiny surface that will prevent any food from sticking.

CLEANING & COOKING WITH CAST IRON
There is no reason to use high heat with cast iron and doing so can actually cause food to stick and will break down the seasoning; always start by using the lowest heat setting.  Cast iron also retains heat for a long time.

After cooking, remove any left-overs immediately & do NOT leave the pan 'to soak' in the sink. Do not use soap to clean cast iron and NEVER put it in a dishwasher.  Instead, simply rinse thoroughly with warm (not hot) water and wipe with a dish cloth.  If some bits of food are sticking, use salt to "scrub" them away.  Rinse with cool water and dry the utensil completely (again, I do this on a stove-top burner for a few minutes).  Any moisture remaining on the pan surface can cause rust; drying thoroughly is critical.

While the pan is still a little warm, coat the interior with a thin layer of oil, wipe away the excess.  Once cooled, store pans in a cool place (NOT in the drawer under the oven).  Store with lids off so air can circulate and upside down to prevent dust from settling in pans.  Even with proper cleaning, you'll likely need to occasionally re-season cast iron cookware; maybe once or twice a year, depending on how often you use it & how well you care for it.
2nd hand pan (before)

"seasoning"gives it new life (after)
I've used this method for a couple decades and love my cast iron, but of course there are other methods.  Its pretty easy to find cheap cast iron cookware at garage sales and re-sale shops, and no matter how gnarly it looks, you can give it new life and luster at a fraction of the cost of new.  With proper care and seasoning, cast iron cookware will last a lifetime or longer.

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