This image of vintage cast-iron reminded us how much we love the endlessly-useful, impossible-to-destroy cookware. We’ve been using it for years having inherited many pieces from friends or relatives. It provides the even heat of heavy copper cookware at a fraction of the cost. We use a 10- year-old griddle to heat tortillas, small skillets to fry eggs, our classic big skillet to hot smoke salmon, and a big 12-inch Finnish Littala pan (below) to make our faux-fried bricked chicken…
If properly cared for, cast-iron will build up a naturally nonstick surface that can take the place of commerical nonstick cookware, about which there are health concerns. Here’s our tried-and-true method for restoring and maintaing cast iron, tested over 40 or so years of serious cooking:
How to Season and Maintain Cast-Iron
Seasoning is the process by which the surface of the skillet is cleaned of impurities and then heated with a small amount of oil which seals the iron and creates a smooth, black surface that prevents food from sticking to it. You will need a stainless steel spongy scrubber like this, which is basically a springy ball of curled stainless still (a teflon scrubber WON’T do the job):
Although some new cast-iron comes “pre-seasoned”, we still apply this method. If your skillet is new, scrub it with soapy water to remove factory oil and dry completely (this is the ONLY time you’ll ever use soap on it.) If it is old and rusty, scrub vigorously metal scrubber and water until all the rust has come off and the surface feels smooth.
1. Place the skillet on a burner over medium heat. Cover the bottom of the pan completely with a thin layer of household salt (we use Kosher salt). Heat several minutes until the salt begins to darken. Remove the pan from the heat and using paper towel, scrub the pan with the salt; discard and continue to any burnt on food or rust adhering to the pan is removed.
2. Rub the inside of the pan liberally with vegetable oil and set aside to cool and absorb the oil. Sometimes we put the oil-slicked cookware in the oven warmed by the pilot light for a few hours. Wipe out any excess oil, leaving a fine slick.
>>After cooking in cast iron, never use any soaps or abrasives to wash it. Simply use warm water and a brush or metal scrubber, and dry immediately to prevent rusting; you can simply pat it dry or put it on a hot burner for 30 seconds until all water has evaporated.
Initially after seasoning, you might want to lightly recoat the pan with oil after each use. Gradually a patina will begin to build up in the pan, becoming a smooth, black surface. If the pan ever begins to stick, re-eason as directed above.
As for where to buy cast-iron: We’ve bought a lot of pieces flea markets, including unusually-shaped ones like this griddle that spans two burners, perfect for pancakes or heating tortillas. We refurbished them using our trusty method, above.
We use our long-ago refurbished 10-inched for our Giant Parmesan Popover.
Otherwise, we recommend Lodge cast-iron, which these days, comes already pre-seasoned and nicely blackened.