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My love for cast iron is so deep and abiding that I won’t even let my own husband clean my beloved cast iron skillet. While there are myths aplenty about the curing, caring, and cleaning of cast iron, I subscribe to very few of them. In fact, here are six things that I will never do to a cast iron skillet.
Many apologies to the fine makers at Lodge and Le Creuset, but buying a brand new cast iron skillet is blasphemous to me—especially when thrift stores and antique shops have shelves of the stuff bowing under the weight of so many perfectly useful skillets. Nope, no new iron for me. Used cast iron is worth seeking out and seasoning yourself.
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Why Get a Used Cast Iron?
There is a little history to back up my thinking here, too. Older skillets were once polished before sale as part of the manufacturing process—but when sales of cast iron rose in the 1950s, many manufacturers dropped the polishing step. This means that most modern cast iron skillets have a slightly bumpy surface that can only be smoothed by regular use and seasoning. Buying a used skillet—even one from the ’80s—means that the polishing has already been done for you.
1. Don’t avoid cooking in it.
Cast iron cookware improves with use. While cooking in cast iron might seem like a pain-in-the-you-know-what, it actually gets easier to cook in each time you use it. Seasoning the pan after each use creates a thin layer of polymerized oil that protects the skillet and becomes a nonstick surface. If you only use your pan a few times a year, then this “nonstick” coating is going to be very thin and prone to sticking or damage. Regular frying, searing, and sautéing in cast iron makes cooking eggs in it much easier in the long run.
2. Don’t let it soak in the sink.
“Avoid cooking acidic food in your cast iron” is a bad rumor that many cooks have heard. Truthfully, leaving your cast iron to soak in the sink is worse for it than any tomato sauce or soap will every be. Cast iron is porous, meaning that long exposure to water can cause it to soak up the moisture and eventually rust. While a short soak won’t do much harm, I avoid soaking the thing for fear of forgetting it and ruining the cure I’ve worked so hard develop.
For really stuck-on messes, I bring the pan to a boil with a few cups of water in it and scrape off the mess with the help of warm water. Dump the warm water and gunk and then clean, dry, oil, and store the skillet as usual.
3. Don’t scrub it with a scouring pad.
Those green and metal scrubbers are the bane of my cast iron-loving existence. I’ve never shied away from using a metal spatula on my pan while cooking, but those steel wool scrubbers are bad business for a good cure. Instead a little kosher salt and a glug of oil are all the scouring power I need to get my cast iron clean as a whistle.
4. Don’t store it in the oven.
Let me admit that this was a crime I committed against my own cast iron for a long time. The oven seems like a pretty ideal spot to store that heavy skillet when you are using it regularly, since it is relatively dry and close to the stovetop. Except that every time you accidentally preheat the oven with that cast iron skillet inside, you are slowly removing the cure. Instead store your skillet with the rest of your pots and pans. And don’t forget to slip a paper towel between skillets to protect the cure from friction and atmospheric moisture.
5. Don’t store it completely empty.
This is an admittedly weird tip I picked up from the folks at Lodge. They ship, store, and sell their cast iron with a slip of paper between each. Not knowing their logic, I tried storing my favorite skillet with a paper towel lining in it and never looked back. Now the paper towel allows me to stack other pans on my cast iron and sucks up any residual moisture from cleaning.
For all the legend and lore surrounding cast iron, we seem to forget that these skillets are forged from cast iron, a metal destined to stand the test of time. Sure, my husband has left my cast iron skillet soaking in soapy water overnight and, while I was miffed, it certainly didn’t ruin the pan. I cleaned it, dried it on the stove, rubbed it down with oil, and it lived to cook another day. They’re resilient. But to keep them that way, you have to care for them consistently.
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