Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Reviving Cast Iron

I cannot believe how excited I am about this. I just completely resurrected my entire collection of cast iron cookware from lifeless pealing cracked gross souls to beautiful glazed newness! It was so easy I cannot believe I have put off doing this for over a year. It's been many years now that I had completely transitioned from stainless and non-stick (blah) to cast-iron. I only use stainless for my saucepans now and they get used mainly for boiling pasta water and simmering tomato sauces. I am a total cast iron convert and have never looked back.

I had read so many places that the only way (other than scrubbing like heck with steel wool) to revive cast iron is to take it to a machine shop and blast the crud off. I had already tried steel wool with an exhausting amount of elbow grease and even resorted to using a chisel to chip it off. The other day I was searching online for a machinist near me when I came across a blog about using the self-clean feature on your oven. Wha-what?? I researched further and found the pros and cons on different methods using the self-clean button. This is what I used and holy cow it worked beautifully! I wish now I had taken before and after pictures.

1. Scrub your cast iron with hot water and soap- don't worry about the no soap rule this is the exception.
2. Dry and set cookware upside down on oven racks. Do NOT place foil or anything else along the bottom of your oven- every site I read that had people do this ended up with aluminum foil melted and baked into their ovens. One lady had aluminum pieces permanently etched into her brand new oven bottom. The crust and crud on your cookware will disintegrate into rusty soot that can later be easily brushed or vacuumed out. No worries.
3. Close your oven and press the self-clean button. Mine automatically set at 3hrs.
4. Get ready for a lot of iron-y fumes and smoke (if you've ever accidentally left your cast iron skillet on a hot flame you know the smell I'm talking about). Make sure you are doing this on a day you can open your windows and keep your kitchen well ventilated. I set up a stand fan blowing out my back door.
5. In 3hrs, let your oven turn itself off and allow cast iron to cool completely.
6. Once cooled, run under warm water with a steel wool briefly to get rid of any lingering rust spots. This should take just a light scrub. Rinse and dry immediately then place on a burner to dry thoroughly. At this point you can clean out your oven. I just used a hand brush and dust pan to scoop up the soot at the bottom, then gently wiped the interior (not really needed) with a wet cloth.

Now to season your cast iron.

You just stripped your cookware in steps 1-6 so now you have to season your pans in order to use them without everything sticking. I know, I many steps and it is time consuming but hopefully, if you do it right, you'll only need to do it once. Some people online have argued against stripping your pans as setting them back to "new" is not desired since now you are starting from scratch on the possibility of having an awful sticking mess with everything you cook. The answer = season your pans well and cook on them a whole lot! Cook bacon, brown up some ground beef, etc. The more you use them the better the seasoning will be which will turn them into a thing of beauty.

7. Preheat oven to 350. Lightly coat your cast iron with a film of oil. I used Crisco but just about any oil will do.

***The lesson I have learned through this entire process is to make sure the coat is lightly applied (You can go slightly heavier on the inside but the outside has to be extremely light). Take a paper towel, dip in oil, and wipe entire pan down inside and out, then take another towel and take another swipe to clean up any drips or over-applied spots. My initial fault many years ago was that I got way over excitable seasoning my pans for their first times and thought "more is better". What happened was as I continuously cooked with the pans, all the baked on oil I had excessively slathered outside of the pan became burnt and further baked on creating a monster of ugly scaly hard-as-nails crust. It was a nightmare and every one of my pans suffered from my over-zealous application. So, LESS is more and remember, you can always season multiple times if the first application is too thin. Which it won't be....

8. Once oven is heated, place oiled cast iron upside down in oven on racks. This time, it is totally acceptable to line the bottom of the oven with a sheet of foil. Other ways are to line each rack with foil or place foil on a baking sheet and put under the cookware to catch any oil drips. This is fine because you aren't getting the oven temp above a bazillion degrees to melt the foil.

9. Close oven door and set timer for one hour. After hour is up, turn off oven and leave cookware in there to cool completely.

10. Remove cast iron and stare at your handiwork. Isn't it gorgeous?? Now go cook on them!!!

To clean with every day wear just rinse under hot water and a good stiff nylon or similar brush. No soap. Though many people do use soap with no adverse effects I find soap unnecessary and counterproductive to the use of cast iron. Immediately dry and place on a burner to thoroughly dry. Once dry, immediately coat the inside lightly with your choice of oil. My oils tend towards bacon grease, avocado oil, olive oil, or coconut oil but pretty much any oil will do. Store in a dry spot. If stacking, use a paper towel where pieces touch to prevent rusting. If you do notice rust, just rinse with water, scrub with a little steel wool then re-coat in oil. Worst case you'll have to do steps 7-10 again.

Okay, I feel the need to mention this since I read of two people's events while using this self-clean method. These two people's self-clean feature set their cast iron on fire. Yep, on fire. Neither individual suffered any negative effects of this. Their ovens were fine and so was their cast iron but it scared them pretty bad and they were writing their story to warn others. One person drew up a chair in front of their stove and sat there with a fire extinguisher clenched in their hands until the oven turned off and unlocked the door. So proceed with caution. My experience was nothing but good and I had no fires.

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