Calamity Cast Iron Care

I really love cooking with cast iron.  It distributes heat more evenly than other pans I’ve cooked with, and I don’t find the care too onerous.   I find it more forgiving of  our mistakes too. (Hubby also does some of the cooking, and was raised on cast iron cooking, so if I say ‘we’, that’s who I’m referring to.)

Cast Iron Skillet – I find 2 10″ skillets and one 6″ skillet sufficient for our family of 3.   I love having the tiny little 6″ because it allows me to cook my eggs every morning without feeling like I’ve just dirtied the whole kitchen. The 10″ skillets can cook a whole meal by themselves if needed.   I don’t have a lid for the small one, but I do have big lids. 

Cast Iron Dutch Oven – I wouldn’t leave home without my Dutch Oven.  It does such a great job, with everything from bread to roasts and stews.  I have a lid for it, but sadly not the lid we’d like.  I have a domed lid for it, and we’d like to have a flat lid for easier campfire cooking.

My trick for judging heat in a dutch oven with charcoal – Count the number of coals, each coal counts as 10 degrees heat (roughly)  so I put 30 coals when I want 300 and 40 coals when I want 400.   With a flat lidded dutch oven, you can distribute the heat from above and below.  Without the flat lid, you have to put all of them on the underside. (Or perch them precariously.)  Obviously check the food and adjust heat accordingly. We have local cast iron cooking get togethers, at one of the state parks. Look for gatherings like that if you need an excuse to try something cool with your dutch oven.

Cast Iron Pie Tins – These are the little small 3″x3″ square or 5″ circular cooking utensils that hinge together and come on long sticks for easy campfire cooking.  I have made pancakes with them, grilled cheese, cherry pies, sauteed apples, fried eggs, toast and seared fish.  Very versatile, and easy for campfire meals that even kids can help with.  The good ones will telescope down for smaller packing.

Good to have – I find I need a lot of potholders. Luckily I have a couple of grandmas who make them by the box full, if you don’t have that,  you’ll need to get some.   You’ll need at least a couple for each cast iron piece, just to have enough around.   We use bamboo utensils as much as possible. It won’t scratch the pans, and can stand up to the cast iron heat.   We keep lots of oils by the stove, easy to grab.  I use a lot of olive oil in my day to day cast iron cooking. I do have family recipes that call for bacon grease coating, and I keep some of that handy.  That’s it, by the way, I don’t keep lard around, butter is the only other fat I cook with, but that tends to stay in the fridge because of the cat. :-D So, don’t be turned off of cast iron if you’re worried about all the fats, you have some choice over what you can use.

Care – We try to get the cast iron in the oven with a nice coating of oil, at least once a week.  We hang them on the wall instead of stacking them, to increase air flow.  Hubby is a bit of a germaphobe, so the cast irons do see some soapy water.  I know, I know, everyone says not to, the soap has fats in it, and it will seep into the cast iron.  But, there’s no convincing him on this one thing, so I’ve stopped fighting about it.  The truth is, I never notice any soapy taste, and while our seasoning isn’t perfect, it’s still good enough to cook on with ease.  I skirt him by not washing my egg pan every day. I’ll fry a few eggs on it before putting it in the dirty dish pile, and just wipe it down with a paper towel between times.  The wipe down clears off any large food particles, and spreads the leftover oil evenly around to protect the pan until the next morning. It does help to have a  partner to help with the cast iron care. One to wash and the other to dry and wipe with oil. Cast iron can be heavy, and slippery when wet.

Technique – Unlike teflon pans, you want to give your cast iron time to heat up.  I put oil in the pan, a little or a lot, depending on what I’m cooking, and then I let it heat up to hot.  Only after it’s hot do I put the food in for cooking.   After cooking, if the food has stuck badly for some reason, I will add hot water to the pan, enough to cover the bottom, before the pan cools totally.   This softens the sticking food enough to easily scrape most things out.  But, don’t leave your cast irons with water in them, they will rust eventually.

Hopefully you’re at least experimenting with cast iron cooking. I have a feeling most people will find the skill useful.  Do you have a cast iron question? Or a story or a recipe? I’d love to hear it.

-Calamity Jane