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Cast-Iron Skillets

Country at HeartAs a child, I didn't mind housework, but when it came to washing dishes, I could have passed on those heavy, black, cast-iron skillets. And would you believe that they're still around? That's probably because they are built like the "Rock of Gibraltar" and probably can't be destroyed. Actually, since I don't use cast iron, I had forgotten about them until I saw someone cooking with it. I thought that cookware was a thing of the past, but I guess it's here to stay.

Now, let's go back to the kitchen and wash those dishes. My mind travels all the way back to my mother's kitchen in rural Arkansas, and there I am washing one of those heavy-duty babies. As I said, I really didn't mind washing dishes ... actually, washing dishes is one of my favorite household chores, but to this day, I don't own a cast-iron skillet. One reason is because they're so big and gawky and heavy, and it seems impossible to clean all of the food residue out of them. In the olden days, the pots and pans were always last, and usually with the cast-iron skillet, it soaked overnight and was tackled during the next day's dish-washing session.

Back then, I had never heard of nor seen a scouring pad nor a Brillo pad or anything close to them. We only had the dish "rag," and if that didn't work, and of course, a good scraping with a knife, then, that was it. Whatever didn't come out after the overnight soaking was good to go for the next frying. By the way, does anyone know the secret to getting these monsters completely clean? I don't.

As a scrawny, little, undernourished girl, washing those incredibly heavy pans was like lifting weights. My arms should have some strong, solid muscles from years of skillet-lifting.

So when I got grown, I never ever considered buying any frying pan heavier than a feather. And I was glad that by that time, those lightweight, Teflon and stainless steel pans were being flung on the stove by the modern, household cook. Whoopee! Good riddance, I thought, but from the popularity of those old-fashioned skillets, it appears they're here for the long haul.

On the other hand, though, I must confess. I've seen chicken and cornbread that were cooked in those skillets, and for some reason, they both come out more delicious-looking and more golden brown than when they are cooked in the newer-version pans. And, come to think of it, one day, I just might own a cast-iron skillet if for no other reason than to hang a pan full of my favorite memories on my kitchen wall.

cornbread in cast-iron skillet

Photo: Fotolia/MSPhotographic

stephenl
4/17/2014 4:01:31 PM

There are a few secrets to keeping cast iron pans clean: Season them correctly (coat with oil and bake in an oven to polymerize the oil). The seasoning is a non-stick coating. Never wash seasoned cast iron in soapy water or the seasoning will come off. Use only plain water and wipe dry. To wash, use plain, non-soapy water. A plastic bristle brush usually helps. You might also add some salt to the pan if dealing with a particulary stubborn stain. Only use the pan for foods that are inherently fatty (like bacon, sausage or fatty steak, or leaner meats with additional frying oil or grease), frying, or for pancakes, make sure the pan is adequately oiled/greased, slightly more than you would with a non-stick pan. If you cook something with a a watery based sauce or something that leaves a non-greasy residue in the pan, the seasoning will likely be worn off and you will have to re-season. After I cooked a steak in my cast iron chicken fryer (basically a deep frying pan) there was a bit of greasy residue left in the pan. I scrubbed with a plastic scrub brush and plain water, wiped with a paper towel, and there was still a bit of iffy yuck left in the pan, so I put it in the oven and (the next time I baked something, a few days later) let it re-season, polymerizing the remaining steak frying residue and leaving a thin layer of crusty carbon. After the additional time in the oven, I scrubbed it a second time with plain water and a plastic scrub brush, wiped with a paper towel and now the fryer is perfectly seasoned and ready for its next job.