Your First Date with a Cast Iron Skillet

I saw you there at the thrift store; tucked into a corner, almost forgotten. Rust showing in your corners, seemingly ready for the trash heap.

But someone knew better. Someone knew that under those layers, there was a quality skillet just waiting to cook again.

Whether you buy your first cast iron skillet new, inherit it from Grandma, or find it abandoned and covered in rust, I’d like to share some tips for your first date. We want this to be a lifelong partnership, not a dramatic flameout.

A Word on Seasoning and Blackened Skillets

The most intimidating part of working with cast iron is the blackened coating on the pans and the risk of rust after cleaning.

Here’s a basic explanation of what’s happening:

  • Raw cast iron is vulnerable to oxidation and rusting.
    • Most new cast iron cookware will come with the first layer of seasoning already applied in the factory.
    • If you found an old, rusty pan, you can fix it!
  • Seasoning is burnt (hydrolyzed) oil that seals the cast iron pan and protects it.
  • Older pans with thicker seasoning (think of it like layers of paint) will almost be non stick in how they cook. This is the goal of the relationship you’re starting!
    • Burnt oil is what eventually ruins non stick skillets, the same chemical reaction makes these coatings stick like glue where the cast iron just gets better!

Be a good partner

Cast Iron seasoning can be damaged by over cleaning (soap and steel wool), acidic foods and standing moisture. To build up your pan, make sure to always use oils and fats (unless you’re baking bread), and avoid acidic ingredients like citrus juices and vinegars.

To clean without damaging the seasoning, use a stiff dish brush or Euroscrubby and hot water. This is the only cookware you can take hot from the stove and put directly under running water to clean (maybe not super hot; let it cool down a little from a hot sear. You can soak the pan if you must, but keep it company and get it dry as soon as possible.

What to cook on your First Date

Start your relationship off with an easy win. No need to go jumping to third base your first time together.

A simple grilled cheese sandwich (the first recipe shared by Myles in the Hungry Toque Cookbook) is a great first date, if not that romantic. You can learn about fats and heat without the stress of a difficult cleanup job.

Avoid anything that might stick and tear in the pan; leave the chicken breasts for later after you’ve gotten the hang of the heat.

Whatever you choose, use a good amount of a favourite oil with a higher smoking point. Perhaps something with a gentler flavour like grape seed or avocado oil to make spicy beans as a side dish. Cast iron is not about low fat cooking!

Get the Feel for the Heat

Heat management is the core skill of cast iron cooking and if you pay attention, you’ll get amazing results. These pans can take a while to heat up thoroughly but hold heat beautifully so be prepared to turn down the heat dial.

Cook your grilled cheese on a medium heat for a fully melted, gooey cheese center and that golden brown crunchy shell.

A pinch bowl of water can be a great tool to figuring out how hot you’re cooking, since the burner dial is not a thermostat. For a medium heat, you want the water droplets to dance and sizzle as soon as they touch the pan.

Put a few drops of water into the pan to check in with the temps on a regular basis, especially after you flip your grilled cheese to the cold side.

Embrace your new Lifetime Cooking Companion

It’s rare these days to find kitchen tools that can be heirlooms. Non stick cookware and even stainless steel have been made at cheaper prices for too long, for people who don’t expect to cook very often. Under heavy use, they wear out, burn food, and can be difficult to clean. No wonder enthusiasm about cooking was limited to watching the Food Network; they keep saying it’s “easy”, but my kitchen was a mess.

Today, however, cooking and kitchen skills are making a big comeback in our society as we all learn that the convenience we embraced is not working out as great as we were told. Cast iron cooking is not an expert level cooking challenge; with a few simple guidelines, anyone can enjoy the even results, durability and added iron content in their diet.

We’re ready to help you every step of the way into the #BigMtnLife – reduce your waste, enjoy the important parts of life and let go of the extra “stuff”.

Worried about the RUST that can inevitably come at some point in your relationship with cast iron? I’ve got a story and solution for that if you’d like to continue this conversation over email.

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