Cast iron pans are amazing to cook with. Since I was a small child, I’ve enjoyed who knows how much food, healthy and otherwise, that was prepared on black, oily cookware of indeterminate age.
The pans are pretty much immortal if maintained properly. We use cast iron almost daily around here, and the pans are over a hundred years old.
Why am I talking about this today. Well, something I would like to do this year is to discuss the use of the produce from our vegetable garden; I would like to practice my campfire cooking. It’s been a while. I thought about it and I didn’t want to use our kitchen pans for this. Then I remembered that in a hidden corner in the basement there are a whole stack of cast iron skillets.
I think my mom picked them up at a garage sale or something. I’m not sure. Took a look at what was there and I decided upon a large, deep and heavy No. 8 skillet. It seemed perfect for campfire cooking.
But there was some work to be done.
What a piece of junk, many would say. Some would shake their heads and plant daisies in this fine piece of cookware. Not I. I’ve done a lot of metalwork, and I could see past the rust. This was one solid pan with tons of potential. I cracked open the newly cleaned and ready garage and went to work.
What you see above is called an angle grinder with a wire-wheel attachment. This is the quick way to deal with crusty, ancient rust.
A note of caution: These tools, while useful, are potentially dangerous. The wires can and will let go as you clean a surface. You can and will be struck by the sharp wires. Wear eye protection, gloves, and a long-sleeved shirt. Also, the grinder is powerful. Hold on tight! Finally, the grinder can cause sparks. No flammable materials nearby.
If the thought of using an angle grinder now freaks you out, you can also do this with a wire brush and steel wool. It will just take forever, that’s all.
With an easy half-hour of work with the wire wheel, this is what I had.
Looks much better, right? Well, it is. However, it is not yet ready to fry stuff up. As-is, this pan will rust again in a heartbeat. What it needs now is “seasoning.”
This isn’t hard. Lemme explain.
First, wash off the pan with boiling hot water to remove rust dust and other debris. Once you’ve done that, wipe it dry with paper towels. The pan will be a dull gray, and it will be dry.
Now you need shortening or vegetable oil. Either will work. DO NOT use non-food oils. Very, very bad idea. Edible oils only. Wipe the pan down with a generous coat of oil. Place it upon the cookie sheet that you have prepared with tinfoil. It should look like this:
Another note. Maybe it’s best if your family isn’t home for the next step. It stinks more than I remembered!
Set oven to 375F, (190C) set timer for 45 minutes. Once oven has pre-heated, stick the pan in. After about fifteen minutes it will start to really stink like something is baking. Do not be alarmed, but maybe do turn on the range fan and open a window. Wait.
Once the time has past, the pan is done. Note that it is now a shiny black color, instead of a dull gray. This is good, and desirable. The pan will smoke a little when you first open the oven. Let it cool down. Once it is cool, wash again with hot water and wipe it down with paper towels or a clean rag. Never use dish soap on cast iron, this will cause it to “lose season” and rust.
Now the moment of truth had arrived. Time to cook!
I chose to make pierogies, a regional favorite, as this aged pan’s first meal in decades.
As you can see on the first image, it did more than fine. Pierogies, loaded with potato and sharp cheddar, browned up nicely on the elderly iron.
I served them up to my kids. Success!
Not bad for a morning’s work.
If you come across a cast iron pan in need of some lovin’, don’t be scared. As long as it isn’t cracked, pick it up and recycle it.
It will be just as good as, or better, than new. Probably cheaper, too.
Put that old iron back to work!