Cast iron pans were the original nonstick-but they were displaced from American kitchens with the introduction of new materials like Teflon. Today, cast iron is making a comeback. This incredibly versatile pan helps get a great sear on meat. Interestingly, cast iron actually improves with age, as the "season" improves. "Seasoning" describes the nonstick surface on cast iron. Over time, the "season" increases in effectiveness-if you season the pan correctly and treat it right. Otherwise, you can actually reverse the seasoning process and cause food to stick to the pan. Conventionally, seasoning involves heating a fat on the pan's surface. The fat "dries out," forming a super-thin, hard coating almost like a varnish.
How to season a cast iron pan:
1. Rub the pan with fat. Traditional seasons call for lard-that's the way they season in the south, at least. 2. Heat the pan until the lard melts and the "pores" of the pan open up. 3. Wipe the excess lard off. 4. Repeat steps 2 and 3 until the pan looks dry after heating.
For many veteran seasoners, flaxseed oil is a popular choice. With flaxseed oil, using a high temperature above the oil's smoke point-around 500 degrees Fahrenheit-quickens the seasoning process. Some cooks even create multiple individual layers of flax seed oil on the pan!
Though the process to season a skillet generally varies on a theme, the process to clean your skillet is a constant debate. One important tip: Avoid washing a seasoned cast iron pan with soap - it'll ruin the seasoning. Instead, wash the pan with boiling water while the pan is still hot, or boil water inside the pan. Pour out the water and clean with a wooden spoon and a clean cloth or mild scrubbing tool. How do you clean your cast iron pan?
Follow these instructions and your cast iron pan will be a trusted kitchen tool forever. For a list of other essential kitchen tools, click here.
Share your tips and tricks for cast iron in the comments below.