I don't know about you, but I am one of those folks who hasn't quite made the transition to full-time homesteader yet. I still have a 'town' job a couple days a week, and life always seems to sap away my free time. So, when the holidays arrive, hubby and I look at it as a chance to have a few days to catch up on chores without having to worry about leaving the house. After Thanksgiving lunch, we raked leaves and spread compost (for a little while, it was really hard to bend over!) and Christmas and the following three-day weekend has arrived with a growing list of chores stuck to the refrigerator.
My husband is one of those people, you know the type, blessed by the gods with good fortune. (Hey, he married me, so I'm not going to argue.) Last summer he decided he was going to a few yard sales to look for a cast-iron Dutch oven. Just something he always wanted, and he told me it was worth a shot. When he finally found a Dutch oven, he asked the woman what she wanted for it and she said “five bucks”. Fair enough, I thought, but she then stopped my husband and said “no, five bucks for the whole box”.
Yup. You guessed it. Five dollars spent and an apple-box loaded with cast iron. Skillets, saucepans and lids, as well as the much-coveted Dutch oven. That's the kind of luck this man has.
Anyway, fast forward to Friday. I have been meaning to get that box of pans out of the garage for months now and properly clean and season them, and now I finally had the time.
Cast iron can be a tricky beast, but if you take care of it properly it will last a lifetime and then some. Really, all you want to be able to do is avoid dents and cracks. The surface needs to be kept as pristine as possible to avoid giving places for rust to settle in and ruin your pot.
If you are lucky enough to obtain some used cast iron, here are some tips to help you get it ready for use:
* Clean it as soon as possible. Forget the old wives' tale about using soap in your cast iron. Dish soap removes oil, sure, but the seasoning on your pan is a polymerized oil. The oil actually changes chemical composition with the heat and a simple rinse of dish detergent will NOT ruin your cast iron. Do yourself a favor and just clean it once, really well. If you have wooden handles, remove them and wash in between the fittings also.
* After it is cleaned, put it on the stovetop with high heat to dry out all of the water. Use a small amount of a stable oil like canola oil and rub it over the surface of your cast iron with a towel.
* Preheat your oven to 350 F and place all of your oil-rubbed cast iron in it for 30 minutes. After that, turn off the heat and allow your pots to rest in the hot oven for another half-hour. You might want to do this on a day when you can have the doors and windows open. Personally, I'm not partial to the smell of hot iron and it does linger.
* Store your cast iron in a dry environment and if you have to 'nest' it and are worried about chips, you can always put toweling between the layers to protect your pans.
Properly seasoned cast-iron is a great investment, and if done properly, seasoning will only improve your treasure. A good season on the pans will provide a layer of polymerized oil that will provide both protection for your pans as well as a semi-nonstick layer to make your cooking easier.