Giving a piece of Iron Cookware is a great idea. It’s an item that most people love, and cherish – IF they know how to use it. This quick guide will help anyone understand the processes of cooking and maintaining Cast Iron and Carbon Steel Cookware.
First, how to decide on what item to buy for someone, and what will that mean for them.
Enameled Cast Iron. An example of this is Staub, or Le Creuset Cookware. This has a rock hard glass based ‘enamel’ layer baked onto the Cast Iron. The enamel can be any colour and also be textured or smooth. The small texture differences are important to some people but as long as the pot is heavy, and the enamel is fully coated, them any of them will work very well.
Enameled cookware should be seasoned. Many people don’t season and complain of miss colouring and/or sticking, but due to the enameled layer, the clean up is easy so most people do not find out how to properly season their enameled cast iron. The seasoning process is the same as all cast iron, which is covered below.
Not so ‘Easy Care’:
Exposed Iron, which is raw metal, can be a nightmare if not cared for properly. An example of this is Lodge, Field and Mineral B. Looking after Cast Iron or Carbon Steel is not hard, but it’s a kitchen task, and maintenance is best made into a daily habit.
Most Iron cookware comes with some sort of protectant from the factory. For example, Lodge comes with either 1 or 3 layers of baked on seed oil, which is a fairly decent way to start using the pans. Field takes it one step further and obsesses over their 3 x factory seasoning, and it’s good to go out of the box (with a wash, or course).
Are they worthy?
So a big mistake is to buy someone an Iron Pan because someone told you they’re great. It’s true that they’re great, and probably the best cooking material for most jobs on the stove, but the recipient really needs to be ready and want one. The cooking results are unparalleled but some people can not be bothered with the care of the pans. If they will not care for them well, then you should buy them something else, because the pan will either never get used, or they will hate it, and then not use it.
Choosing the right item
Seasoning and maintenance is less of a thing when it comes to pots that you do not fry in, like a Cocotte, or a small Rice Pot. Due to the amount of moisture using when cooking in these vessels, sticking is less of an issue. Mostly, these shapes are best bought with an enamel coating, for ease of use. So in summary, anything with enamel is quite easy to use and care for.
This leaves unenameled – or raw iron cookware. This is what most people struggle with when stove top cooking. Why? Because they do not take the time to learn how to season, cook, clean, and postseason.
That’s a lot of steps. What does this mean?
Seasoning, is cooking a thin layer of seed oil onto a pan so that the end result is a hard layer left on the metal surface. This process is called polymerization. The goal is to build many layers and maintain the layers so that when heated, the pan behaves like a chemical nonstick, without the chemical.
How do you do this?
There are 2 ways to build a seasoning, but first. Rule number 1: when cooking with iron (or any cookware for that matter): NEVER USE OLIVE OIL, or any fruit oil. Only use seed oil. Fruit oils cause a sticky mess and do not work well for seasoning. Please do this – it will save you a load of frustration.
- Oven method: Preheat oven to 450f. Heat your pan on the stove top and spread a very thin layer of oil all over the inside of the pan. Invert and transfer the pan into the preheated oven. Bake for 45 minutes. Take out to cool. Repeat if necessary.
- Stovetop method: This is simple but can cause some smoking, so turn on the fan as a precaution. Put the pan on med/high heat. Wait for 3 or 4 minutes. Spread a thin layer of oil all over the inside of the pan. Let the pan sit on the heat until it just smokes. Turn off the heat. Let cool. Repeat if necessary.
When you are done each of these steps, the pan will have a dull shine to it. This is normal.
Now that we’ve covered the simple but critical steps of seasoning it’s time to move into the everyday use of the pans and where problems occur.
You’re seasoning is now perfect, and now it’s time to get cooking.
You can use the pan whatever way you want but the hotter the pan for a long duration, the more likely that you will hurt (burn/dry) the polymerized coating and/or really cook something onto the surface. This is not a big issue, and will not hurt the iron pan, but you increase the chance of cooking food onto the surface of the pan. Don’t stress if this happens, it can be fixed, and I will show you how to do it in our You Tube Video:
HOW TO SEASON CAST IRON AND CARBON STEEL COOKWARE (grab a coffee, this is a long one)
The coles notes of the videos are, that if you cook at the right temperature, and let the cookware heat up to the right temperature, and use the right cooking oil, then you will be ultimately successful. When you do overcook something, and get a stuck on mess, then you can scrub the surface down using a metal scrubby and/or Kosher Salt. Depending on how cooked on the food is will depend on how much scrubbing you so. When the surface is again smooth, reseason.
You should not need to use this method to fix your pans often, and think of it as a last resort. Although when you are first getting used to your new pans, you may find that you need to scrub them a few more times that you’d like. This is the learning curve. Once you master using your pans you will only use the repair method when you’d made a mistake.
We recommend seasoning with Grapeseed Oil or BuzzyWaxx – we sell both.
I’d love to hear from you if you have any questions about seasoning. Please feel free to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org
The instructions above are specifically for these brands: