Cast iron skillets were grandma’s favorite “fry pan”, and everyone’s choice for campfire cooking. For durability, ease of cleaning and even heating, they can’t be beat. In fact, many cast iron skillets are family heirlooms, having been passed down for several generations.
The beauty of a really good cast iron skillet, one that is thick, well made and seasoned over time is that when you use them to cook in, they actually contribute to the taste of the food, and they provide some iron content to whatever you are preparing.
Most really good cast iron, is old cast iron. If you don’t have a family member that is willing to pass theirs on to you, you may have to find one at a flea market or antique store.
All cast iron must be seasoned before using. This prevents the iron from becoming rusty after it is cleaned, and adds flavor to whatever you are cooking. It also seals the porous interior surface of the skillet and prevents food from sticking.
If your skillet is new, or used and you have just thoroughly scrubbed it, you will need to start over with the seasoning process. Most skillets are seasoned using a shortening such as Crisco. Put a thin layer of shortening on the inside surface of the skillet, and put the skillet in an oven set at 350 degrees. Leave the skillet in the oven for 1 hour, let it cool, and store it away. You can expect some smoking from the skillet during the process.
Each time you use your skillet, simply clean out the skillet with a paper towel, rinse with hot water, and use a brush to clean out any leftover food in the pan. Technically, you should not use soap and water in your skillet, and you should most definitely never put it in a dishwasher.
If your skillet doesn’t already have a thickened crusty outer surface, it will. Carbon collects on the outside of the skillet, adding to the overall even heating capabilities of the pan. If you have to clean this off eventually, there are several substances that the pan can be soaked in without destroying it. A lye and water bath, over a period of several weeks, or months, will eventually loosen up the outer residue. Lye is caustic and should be handled with extreme care. Once the residue is loosened, the skillet is rinsed well, washed several times with soap and water, and seasoned once more.
With proper care your skillet should last you a lifetime, and be around for many generations in the future.