One of the greatest things you can get for your kitchen is a set of cast iron cookware. It's durable and will last a lifetime with the right care, and it's one of the only that won't get destroyed if you suddenly need to cook over an open fire. Plus, being cast out of a single piece of metal, there's no fancy handles to melt or burn. I've ruined more than one of my wife's pans cooking over an open flame. Trust me, it's not worth it. If you've not got a set, ask your relatives. They may have an one in the back of a cupboard, and I've also seen older sets fairly regularly at yard sales. Mine was gifted down to me from my grandparents, and once I actually learned how to use it, I've not looked back.
- A cast iron pan is almost impossible to destroy
- With a little work you can create a non-stick surface
- A good set will last a lifetime
The real trick with your cast iron cookware is to create what's known as a "seasoning" on the pan. Instead of cheap teflon that can be scraped off with an accidental scrape of a metal spatula, a cast iron skillet gets easier to use the more you use it, because the oils from your cooking bond with the metal and form a non-stick layer of their own. Plus, the metal will stay hot for a long time, which makes them great for slow cooking meals or if you need to quickly brown up some meat. If you're buying a pan, my advice is to find a big heavy one. It adds to the authentic cooking feel when you use it, and in my experience the thicker the metal is the more heat your skillet will hold. You may also want to buy potholders as the handles will heat up as you cook, and the last thing you want to do is burn yourself in the middle of cooking a meal. Again, take my word on this one.
Cleaning your cast iron skillet
Now everyone is going to have a different method they use to clean their cookware, and for the most part I agree with them. I've tried a number of these techniques when I first inherited mine, and settled on this cleaning method for my own. Primarily because it's easy, and easy is good. So let's say you've just finished cooking, and your skillet is empty save for a little waste and the oil and grease left in the skillet. Let it cool but while it's still warm, grab a thick paper towel and wipe out the grease into your trash. Then you just need to grab a clean dish towel and give your skillet a wipe. Done. It's that easy. If you've got some stubborn food that's stuck, you can try running hot water over it. Never use cold, it'll make the process harder and if the cast iron is still too hot the thermal shock from the temperature change can crack an ruin your pan. Then simply give it a soft scrub with a scrub brush, the goal is to get the food that's stuck loose without hurting your seasoning. Then, simply wipe your skillet dry. But after a scrub you need to care for it a little. Get it on the heat again so it gets warm, and rub in a thin layer of oil. It doesn't need to be much, just enough to cover the inside of the cooking area. Then put it back in your oven to let the oil dry, and bond with the metal. I only use this technique if I've had to scrub my cast iron clean, 99 percent of the time I'm able to simply wipe out the grease and don't even need to follow these steps.
Restoring a cast iron skillet
If you've managed to pick up a secondhand cast iron skillet, awesome. But often these have rust spots and years of misuse that need to be taken care of before you can start cooking on them. Fortunately, there's a simple method to get it back in good working order. First you're going to have to make a judgment call. Depending on the amount of rust your best option might be to get it sandblasted at a machine shop before re-seasoning it immediately. If it's not that bad, you'll be able to fix it up at home. Now you need to get hold of steel wool, and go to town on all the rusty spots. Remove all the rust you can find, working until you scrub down to the bare cast iron. Then under a warm tap use soapy water and a scrub brush to give it a good wash and remove any rust particles that may still be there. Next, you're going to dry your pan and cover the entire piece in a thin layer of oil. This means the bottom too, and the handle. Line the bottom of your over with some aluminum foil to catch any dripping oil, and put the entire skillet in, upside down, and heat it to 350 degrees for an hour. This bonds the oil to the metal, and forms a new "seasoning." Once it's cooled it's ready to use. Personally I'm a big fan of cooking with cast iron, as it gives me the barbeque feeling without having to brave terrible weather to cook up a few burgers on the grill. Plus, being almost indestructible, I've got cast iron cookware in storage at my two bug out locations, and I can trust that it'll be there when I need it. Knowing how to properly use and care for your cast iron cookware is a skill that's easy to learn, and will make your life far easier once the SHTF. Just because there's a disaster, it doesn't mean you can't eat well.