In the kitchen, a cast iron skillet is durable, versatile, and even adds a dose of healthy iron to your diet. Cooking with a cast iron skillet is a little different than cooking with stainless steel or on a non-stick surface. If you follow certain cooking and maintenance tips, though, you'll find that your cast iron skillet is the pan you turn to over and over.
Season the Skillet
A brand new cast iron skillet needs to be seasoned before its first use. Now, don't grab the salt and pepper just yet. Seasoning a pan consists of coating it with oil and baking it. First, wash the skillet with hot water, a couple of drops of mild detergent and a soft cloth. Dry the pan thoroughly. Next, coat the entire skillet with vegetable oil and bake it at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for one hour.
Frying in Cast Iron
Frying is a good way to "break in" your new skillet. Heating oil in the newly seasoned pan will help to reinforce the seasoning. Also, because the heat is distributed so evenly in a cast iron skillet, you'll find that it is easier to achieve consistently golden brown results when frying.
Preheating the Skillet
If you are not using your skillet to fry, preheat it in the stove or on the oven before cooking with it. Because cast iron is so heavy, it takes it longer to heat up than skillets made from lighter materials. By preheating the pan, you will ensure that the heat is evenly distributed before adding the food.
Getting the Most Iron Out of Cast Iron
Whenever you cook with cast iron, a small amount of iron seeps out into the food. Yes, it sounds icky, but the extra dose of iron is actually good for you. In fact, doctors often recommend the use of cast iron to their patients with anemia. In order to get the most iron out of your pan, cook acidic foods such as marinara or spaghetti sauces, which break down even more of the iron.
Cleaning a Cast Iron Skillet
As archaic as it may seem, it is necessary to hand wash cast iron. Putting it into the dishwasher will wash away all of your seasoning efforts and may even cause the pan to rust. Instead, you should usually just clean it with hot water and a soft cloth. If the skillet is especially sticky or gunky, a mild detergent and plastic scrubber may be used. After washing the skillet, dry it thoroughly to prevent rust.
Words of Caution
Before you jump right in and whip up a batch of corn bread, there are a few more things you should know. Cast iron retains heat for a long time. Always use an oven mitt or pot holder when removing it from the stove. Keep in mind, also, that the skillet may leave black marks on the pot holder so you might assign one or two pot holders to use on the skillet every time. Finally, do not boil water in your cast iron skillet. This can cause the pan to rust.