Griswold and Cast Iron Cooking, Part 4: Caring for Cast Iron

Cast iron is making a huge comeback!!!  If  you’ve been watching any cooking show, you will see cast iron all over the place. I DVR Ree Drummond and watch occasionally at bedtime.  Joss tells me, when she likes my food, “Mom, you’re a good baker, like Ree Drummond.”  Poor kid.  Anyhoo, Ree cooks with Le Creuset (le CROO-zay) and Le Creuset gives her cookware to give away on her blog.  Lucky lady!!!  Ree also uses her cast iron skillet religiously.

If you are new to my blog and need more background about cast iron (and my love affair with it) here are links to the other three articles:

Griswold Cast Iron

Griswold and Cast Iron Cooking, Part 2

Griswold and Cast Iron Cooking, Part 3

So that being said, for the intent of this article, we will divide our cast iron collection into two parts:  enameled  and seasoned cast iron.  Here’s the difference:  enameled cast iron has a coated surface over the actual cast iron, seasoned cast iron does not.  Enameled cast iron is excellent to cook with and can be a little easier to clean (depending on the brand) and works well with any different type of sauce or wine, while uncoated cast iron’s nonstick finish (or seasoning) can be damaged by consistently cooking of acidic sauces and dishes (it’s ok to use seasoned, uncoated cast iron once in awhile for these sauces and dishes, but not everyday).  Seasoned cast iron and enameled cast iron require different types of care.  The seasoning or coating on seasoned cast iron must be created and maintained, while enameled cast iron does not require this process.

Here is the Le Creuset 7 1/4 Quart French oven that we found at a junk store, brand new, still in the box for $100, retails for $330!  Junk stores and flea markets are great places to begin your cookware collection!  But Buyer Beware!  Do your homework before laying out the cash!  This piece is a perfect example of enameled cookware.  I use it often and love love love it!

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Cast iron without the enamel leaches iron into the food, which is good for most people.  An iron-rich diet helps build immunity and fight fatigue.  The amount of iron leached from cast iron cookware depends on the type of food cooked and the amount of seasoning (coating) on the cast iron piece.  So, depending on the amount and the type of food I’m cooking, different pieces of cookware are best.

This is a Griswold Dutch oven, Number 8, small logo, which means it’s not very collectible.  It’s highly functional, though, and obviously needs some use and TLC.  The seasoning is scratched and it has a fine layer of rust around the upper edge.  It is, however, easily repairable with scrubbing and reseasoning.  This piece is perfect for deep frying in small batches.  Hello, wontons!!!  🙂

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Seasoned cast iron and enameled cast iron require some of the same considerations when it comes to care.

  1.   Use medium to low heat most of the time, even when bringing the cast iron to temperature.  To tell if the skillet is hot enough, sprinkle a few drops of water on the surface.  Add the oil or butter for cooking after the skillet is hot to keep it from smoking and browning too soon.  Exceptions:  when reducing sauces or boiling pasta.
  2.   Always cool the cast iron before cleaning.  Plunging hot cast iron into water creates a shock that will ruin the enamel and damage the cast iron.
  3.  Never drop or strike cast iron pans off of each other or hard surfaces.
  4.   Always handle hot cast iron with potholders or a thick, dry rag to keep from getting burnt.
  5.   Cast iron retains heat; therefore, it is the perfect choice for braising, searing and grilling.
  6.  Seconds served from cast iron cookware will still be warm (even after the burner or oven is shut off) due to cast iron’s ability to retain heat for a long time.  Just serve from it carefully.  Food and the cookware will remain scorching hot!
  7.   Use cast iron in any cooking situation, campfire, propane, gas or electric, even when grilling.  Just be cautious when using glass-topped stoves not to drop or drag the cast iron on the cooktop.

Enameled Cast Iron Care:

  1.   Cool the cast iron completely.
  2.   Scrub with a plastic brush in hot soapy water.  If there are spots that are burnt or stuck, fill the cookware with water and allow it to soak for 15 – 20 minutes, then scrub again.
  3.   Use only wooden or silicone tools and never use a sharp knife to cut food in enamel.
  4.   Never beat metal utensils on the edges of the cookware.
  5.   Never use metal beaters or small metal electrics in the enameled cast iron.

For more information about cooking using enameled cast iron check out: http://www.lecreuset.com/care

Seasoned Cast Iron Care:

  1.  Cool the cast iron completely.
  2.   Scrub using a plastic brush under hot running water.  We never use soap in our cast iron in spite of continuing arguments between cast iron collectors about using soap.  On a side note:  Sid was forcibly removed from the “Cast Iron Cooking” FB page for arguing about using soap on seasoned cast iron!  Oh dear.
  3.   Never soak seasoned cast iron.  It will rust and ruin the seasoning.  The seasoning is created over time and with repeated use.  Almost any type of oil and lard will work for the seasoning.  In simplest terms, the seasoning layer is “polymerized” oil, which means that it’s bonded with the iron molecules and other particles (like carbon) to fill all of the tiny imperfections in the cast iron.  Each layer of a good seasoning is very, very thin.  Thick layers of seasoning can come off all in one big chunk.  Yuck.  That’s not what we want!
  4.  After the skillet is cleaned, dry it completely with paper towel and place it back on the burner.  Heat it back up and make it very hot (400 – 500 degrees F).  Once the cookware begins to smoke a little, turn it off and let it sit until it cools.  Then spray with cooking oil or carefully wipe with oil or lard.  Wipe with a paper towel, then hang.
  5.  Using metal utensils, gently, in a well-seasoned cast iron skillet will not damage the seasoning and may actually help loosen imperfections to make the seasoning even more nonstick.

For more information and an excellent article about cast iron check out: http://www.cookingissues.com/2010/02/16/heavy-metal-the-science-of-cast-iron-cooking/

Finally, even seasoned cast iron that has been mistreated, rusted or sticky can be repaired as long as it isn’t cracked or chipped.  The recommendation is to put the cookware in a campfire or in the oven on the cleaning mode.  The super-high heat will reduce the seasoning layers to dust and then it’s up to you to start over with the seasoning through daily use and the re-seasoning process.  

Cared-for cast iron can last several lifetimes, and with a little maintenance, is a true joy to use everyday.

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