Cast iron pans are a staple to cooks everywhere, regardless of whether you’re a seasoned pro or just starting out. They are versatile and can be used to cook everything from steak to even pizza.
Despite their versatility and durability however, many people are hesitant to use them because they can be difficult to take care of. However, a cast iron stove is not only more manageable than you think but can also be seasoned without an oven.
What Is the Seasoning Process?
Despite the term, seasoning a cast iron pan has nothing to do with using spices. Seasoning a cast iron pan is a process that involves creating a hard protective coating on your cast iron that is formed by heating layers of fat, which then bonds to the metal. This is what is referred to as polymerization, or the process of converting fat into plastic.
It takes several layers before you can get the right amount of coating on your cast iron, but once you get it right, it will be worth it. Despite using fat, the coating ends up becoming a hard and blackened skin that will protect the metal when you use it in the future.
The seasoning process will also create a non-stick, rust-resistant surface on your pan that will make cooking pancakes and eggs a breeze.
How Do I Season My Cast Iron?
For the most part, a brand-new cast iron pan comes somewhat pre-seasoned. However, it would be a good idea for you to season it on your own too to make sure that it’s thoroughly coated before you use it.
The first step you’ll want to take is to wash and dry your cast-iron pan. This is not just to help with the seasoning process, but for sanitary reasons as well. Be sure to dry the pan as much as you can.
If you suspect that there may still be some moisture left on the pan, simply place it in your oven with the heat on. This should evaporate any moisture left over that you might have missed.
Next up, you are going to want to rub every inch of it with oil. This includes the handle as well. You can use anything from regular vegetable oil to canola or corn oil. While you are rubbing the oil in, be sure that the pan has soaked it up all the way, to the point where it doesn’t look greasy anymore.
Now comes the tricky part. Typically after the oiling process, you would need to place the cast iron into the oven to essentially “cure” it. Don’t worry if you don’t have an oven, however; you’ll still be able to complete the seasoning process without it.
If you have a stovetop or a burner, you can use that in place of a stove to season your cast iron. During this process, it’s important to keep an eye on your pan as it could start smoking rather quickly.
Keep in mind that once your cast iron has been seasoned, it’s important to use it as frequently as possible. If you leave it sitting unused for too long, it could turn gunky and even rancid. The more you use your cast iron, the better it will perform in the long run.
Caring for Your Cast Iron Pan
After your pan has been seasoned, it’s important to keep up with the proper care of your cast iron pan. First things first; don’t let your pan stay wet. Leaving moisture in your cast iron pan is a surefire way to get a rust spot on it.
Although getting the rust off of your pan isn’t as big of a deal as you may think, it can still be a pain to get it removed as it involves plenty of scrubbing and you may even end up having to re-season it.
Speaking of re-seasoning, your cast iron pan will need to be re-seasoned at least once a month. The good news is that frequent use of it will make the process much easier.
As with most pots and pans, food is bound to get stuck on the bottom of the pan. Simply use warm water sans soap to get food off the pan. Because the pan is already coated in grease, it shouldn’t be too hard to get it off.
You can always prevent this from happening in the first place by just making sure that you’re cleaning your pan as soon as you use it.
If the food is being stubborn and you’re having difficulty getting it off the pan, you can try to use a salt and oil scrub and use a paper towel to scrape it off. Once the residue is gone, rinse it with water, making sure that you are drying it as much as possible.
A good brush is also necessary in order to make sure that your pan stays as clean as possible. Once your pan is dry, add another coat of oil to it, making sure that you don’t let the oil pool in the pan.
Storing your cast iron pan properly is also important. As always, make sure your pan is entirely dry before you hang it up or put it away in a cupboard. If you are planning on storing it with other pans, be sure to use a paper towel on it to keep it from getting scratched up against the other pans.
Although your cast iron pan is pretty heavy duty, it doesn’t mean that it is completely indestructible. Signs that you may need to get rid of your cast iron pan include a warped base, or any cracks or holes that may appear.
What Can You Cook in a Cast Iron Pan?
When most people think of a cast iron pan, they think of cooking steak. This is because a cast iron pan is perfect for that. However, cast iron pans are also good for other things such as cooking bacon, cornbread, eggs, and even a chocolate chip cookie cake.
The depth of the cast iron pan also makes the perfect mold for deep-dish pizzas. Although there are dozens of delicious foods that you can cook, there are also some foods that you should never cook in your cast iron pan.
Foods that are particularly potent are a big no-no. This is because things such as fish, cheese, and peppers tend to leave their smell behind in your pan, which will then resurface the next time that you use it to cook.
The last thing you want is to be making a chocolate chip cookie cake that ends up tasting and smelling of garlic and fish. If you do happen to notice a strange smell in your pan, the best way to get rid of it is by putting it in the oven for 10 minutes at 400 degrees F, which should do the trick.
Acidic foods are up in the air in terms of whether or not you should put them in your cast iron skillet. Some people believe that foods such as tomatoes and lemons can cause your pan to discolor, but if this is the case, there’s an easy solution for it — baking soda.
Cast Iron Pan Recipes
As mentioned earlier, there are dozens of ways for you to put your cast iron skillet to use. Pizza is one of the easiest and best ways to use your cast iron pan. The pan makes the pizza crunchy and crispy and still manages to maintain its shape at the same time.
In order to make a pizza in your cast iron pan, you will need dough, whether it be store-bought or homemade, pizza sauce, mozzarella cheese, parmesan cheese, oil, basil, and red pepper flakes. You can also use whatever other toppings you prefer.
Before doing anything, be sure to preheat your oven to 500 degrees F and place the pan in there as the oven is preheating. Take your dough and divide it up into dough balls, making sure that the balls are thick enough that there won’t be any holes in the dough when you flatten it out.
Take the skillet out of the oven once it’s been in there for about 20 minutes, making sure to be careful to not burn yourself. Using a paper towel, coat the pan with oil. If you need to, be sure to use an oven mitt to keep yourself from getting burned.
Once you’ve done that, place the dough into the pan. Then you can start to spoon the sauce onto the dough, being sure to spread it evenly. After the sauce has been added, you can start throwing in your separate cheeses.
Stick your pan into the oven and bake for about 15 minutes, leaving it uncovered. Keep checking in on the pizza occasionally to make sure that the cheese isn’t burning. Once the cheese begins to bubble up and you notice that your crust is turning a golden brown, you can proceed to take it out of the oven.
Again, you can add as many toppings as you want, throwing them in on top of the cheese. When the pizza is out of the oven and has started to cool down, add basil to it and begin slicing!
If you have a sweet tooth, perhaps a cookie cake would be more up your alley. This is also a simple recipe that can be done in your prized cast iron pan.
For this recipe you will need: a cup of butter, a cup of brown sugar, a half-cup of sugar, two eggs, a teaspoon of vanilla, two cups of flour, a teaspoon of baking soda, a half teaspoon of salt, three-quarters of a cup of milk chocolate chunks, and three-quarters of a cup of semi-sweet chocolate chips.
Start by preheating your oven to 325 degrees F and then melting butter over your cast iron skillet on medium heat. After the butter has been added in, turn your heat down and add in the brown sugar and granulated sugar, making sure to continue stirring so the sugar doesn’t stick to the pan.
Before you add in your eggs, make sure that you let your pan cool down, for obvious reasons. The best way to cool down your pan is to stick it in the fridge for about 15 minutes. When the pan is cooled enough, you can add in your eggs, vanilla, flour, baking soda, and salt.
Start mixing chocolate chips into the dough in your cast iron pan. Place the cookie dough mix into the oven for about 30 minutes or until you see that the chocolate in your pan has melted.
Keep an eye on your cookie cake so that it doesn’t burn. If you notice that the edges of the cake are burning too quickly but the inside is still raw, cover the edges with foil.
Owning a cast iron pan can be difficult at times, but it’s certainly worth it. All you need to do to keep it happy and healthy is to keep it clean, store it properly, and make sure that you are seasoning it before you use it.
Although seasoning your new cast iron pan would be easier to do in an oven, it can still be done by placing it over a stove top. All you need to do is coat it in fat, oil or grease, and then place it over the stove so that the coating gets cooked into the pan.
Do this repeatedly until you are satisfied with the coating on your pan. Be sure to re-season your pan a couple of times a year for best results. If you are restoring a rusty pan, over-season it before storing it to make sure that it doesn’t get rusty again.
A cast iron pan is a kitchen staple for a reason. It’s versatile, it’s durable, and can handle just about any kind of food as long as you keep it clean, season it on a regular basis, and don’t leave it sitting full of food.
Sarah is the founder of Baking Kneads, LLC, a blog sharing guides, tips, and recipes for those learning how to bake. Growing up as the daughter of a baker, she spent much of her childhood learning the basics in a local bakery.