Cast-Iron Maintenance


“When you first get a cast-iron pan, it will have either a bullet-gray dull finish (if it’s an unseasoned pan) or a slick-looking black surface (a preseasoned pan). Unless you bought a seventy-five-year-old pan at a garage sale, it will also have a pebbly-looking surface, like this:Modern cast iron is bumpy like that because it is not polished the way old cast iron was and retains some texture from the mold. I’ve compared my shiny, totally smooth 1930s Griswold pan (acquired at a flea market) to my ten-year-old Lodge skillet (which I bought new and seasoned myself) and found slight advantages with the old pan, but the new one does just fine.So the key is all in seasoning it properly. How does it work?”

“Well, if you look at the surface of a cast-iron pan under a microscope, you’ll see all kinds of tiny pores, cracks, and irregularities. When you cook food in the pan, it can seep into these cracks, causing it to stick. Not only that, but proteins can actually form chemical bonds with the metal as they come into contact with it. Ever have a piece of fish tear in half as you try to turn it because it seems like it’s actually bonded with the pan? That’s because it has.To prevent either of these things from happening, you need to fill in the little pores, as well as create a protective layer in the bottom of the pan to prevent proteins from coming into contact with it. Enter fat.”

“Use the pan often. A good layer of polymers should build up slowly in a succession of very thin layers. This means using your pan as much as possible—particularly for oil-based cooking such as frying or searing. Avoid making liquid-based dishes in the pan until it has acquired a reasonably good layer of seasoning.• Clean the pan immediately after use. Removing food debris is much easier with a hot pan than one that has cooled. If you clean your cast-iron skillet while it is still hot, chances are all you’ll need is a tiny bit of soap and a sponge.• Avoid tough abrasives. These include metal scouring pads and cleaners like Comet or Bar Keepers Friend. The scrubby side of a sponge should be plenty for most tasks. I’m particularly wary about this at dinner parties, when a well-intentioned guest may decide to chip in after the meal and get a little too generous with the elbow grease, scrubbing out some of my seasoning.” “Dry the pan thoroughly and oil it before storing. After rinsing the pan, set it on a burner and heat it until it dries and just starts to smoke, then rub the entire inside surface with a paper towel dipped lightly in oil. Take it off the heat and let it cool to room temperature. The oil will form a protective barrier, preventing it from coming into contact with moisture until its next use.”

Excerpt From The Food Lab: Better Home Cooking Through Science J. Kenji López-Alt This material may be protected by copyright.