Green Your Kitchen with a Cast Iron Skillet

By PAUL WHEATON

I have been polishing and re-polishing an article on the amazing value of a cast iron skillet for many years now. I reckon I’ve convinced a few thousand people to switch from their teflon, and teflon-esque pans to cast iron. The sales pitch is made pretty easy by the folks making those crappy pans.

People who cook a fair bit end up needing a new pan every six to twelve months. And then there is always the concern for the gick that came off: where did it go? The main reason people shy away from cast iron is because they had a bad experience. Basically, they fired it up and did it all wrong. So stuff stuck. And then they tried to soak the petrified food and the pan rusted. My message is simple: with a little knowledge, cooking with a cast iron skillet can be non-stick and last hundreds of years.

Start with a good piece of cast iron cookware

When starting my cast iron quest, I bought a brand spanking new “Lodge Logic” cast iron skillet at some department store. After seasoning it, I used lots of oil … sometimes food stuck to it, sometimes it didn’t. Clearly there was something I didn’t know. What was I doing when it didn’t stick that was different from when it did? Years of trial and error, combined with the advice of hundreds of people led me to a few simple things so I can have a non-stick experience every time. I was persuaded to get rid of the “new” skillet. It’s crap. The new cast iron stuff is sold to be freaky cheap, not freaky good. I think they like the idea that somebody will buy it because it’s cheap, their cooking experience fails, and then they toss the pan and buy something else. Look at the cooking surface: it’s rough.

The old cast iron manufacturers used to machine out the cooking surface, but that process nearly doubles the cost. And if people are focused on buying “cheap” instead of “good,” then …. well … they get crap. I suggest you go to ebay and buy an old Griswold cast iron skillet. Or maybe a slightly cheaper Wagner cast iron skillet. Griswold and Wagner skillets have a very smooth cooking surface. You should be able to find a skillet for about the same price as a new one, but this used skillet will be far superior.

Seasoning a cast iron skillet

“Seasoning” is what makes a cast iron skillet non-stick. It is layers and layers of carbon and polymerized cooking oil/fat. (“polymerized” means the fat molecules have re-arranged to a hard and slippery surface) The more you use it (properly) the more seasoned the pan becomes. Some people want to season cast iron in an oven doing all sorts of weird things. But really, the best way to season cast iron, is to simply use it. Maybe use a little more lard the first few times.

Wielding the mighty spatula!

I have looked at dozens (hundreds?) of cast iron pans. It’s always fun when I look at a pan and say “you use a plastic spatula, don’t you?” and the people say “How … how did you know!” “Elementary my dear citizen! You have lumps and bumps all over the cooking surface. That would never happen if you used a proper, stainless steel spatula with a flat edge!” Oh sure, the metal scratches the seasoning. But in a good way. And with proper use, we are constantly rebuilding the seasoning layer anyway. The flat, sharp, metal edge sort of scrapes off any bumps while they are still teeny tiny. With regular use, little bumps don’t turn into big lumps. Here is my spatula: spatula for a cast iron skillet

stainless steel spatula with flat edge and rounded corners at amazon.

Soap is okay on cast iron

Someone once told me that they told their spouse “If you use soap on the cast iron again, I’m going to kill you”. I’m here to say that spouse-a-cide is not necessary. The seasoning layer is polymerized. Soap will never get it to budge. The concern about soap in cast iron is rooted in making soapThe lye used in making soap will destroy your seasoning layers. Once lye has been soapified into soap, it is perfectly safe for your cast iron seasoning.

Let’s fry one egg

Using a good cast iron skillet, put a teaspoon of oil on it, and a bit of salt and pepper. Once it barely starts to smoke, start the egg.

Summary

It’s easy! It’s cheap! It lasts hundreds of years! The only thing missing to make a cast iron skillet sing for you, is a tiny bit of knowledge! Other interesting bits: – teflon and dead birdsoptimal popcorn in a cast iron skillet

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BIO: Paul Wheaton is is the tyrannical ruler of two on-line communities. One is about permaculture and one is about software engineering. There is even one for Missoula. Paul has written several permaculture articles starting with one on lawn care that he presented at the MUD Project 17 years ago, including articles on raising chickenscast iron and diatomaceous earth. Paul also regularly uploads permaculture videos and permaculture podcasts. In his spare time, Paul has plans for world domination and is currently shopping for a hollowed out volcano in the Missoula area, with good submarineaccess.

See all of Paul’s contributions to MakeitMissoula on this Blog Homepage here.