Cast iron cookware represents one of the oldest types of pots and pans, dating back to colonial times. Prized for their durability and exemplary heat conduction, cast iron pots and skillets, if properly cared for and seasoned, cook most food with minimal sticking or burning. Several methods keep the interior surfaces of cast iron smooth and stick-resistant.
Before using a new cast iron skillet, season it to create the beginnings of a non-stick surface that will last for years if correctly maintained. Coat the interior and exterior with a light film of oil and wipe it off. Use a vegetable oil with a high smoking point like canola or sunflower oil, solid lard or vegetable shortening. Place a sheet of aluminum foil in the oven bottom, preheat it to 450 to 500 degrees Fahrenheit and place the skillet upside down on the center rack. After 30 minutes, turn the oven off and let the skillet cool inside it until it reaches room temperature. Wipe off the excess oil. Repeat the entire process, including re-oiling the skillet, three to four times.
Cooking with Cast Iron
To keep foods from sticking, thoroughly preheat the iron skillet before adding food to it. If you've properly seasoned the skillet, use only a minimal amount of oil to sear or sauté foods; use more oil to submerge fried foods for even cooking. Avoid cooking high-acid foods with tomatoes, lemon or vinegar in cast iron, as they will pit the finish and allow iron to leach into the foods. The leaching imparts a metallic taste into acidic foods.
Cleaning Cast Iron
Avoid using heavy detergents on cast iron, as they eat away at the non-stick surface and promote rust. Use a nylon or plastic scouring pad to remove stuck on food, because metal pads will ruin the slick finish. Never let a cast iron skillet or pot soak in soapy water. Clean the pan as soon as it has cooled enough to safely handle it. Do not add water to a hot cast iron pan, as it may cause it to break or crack. Never clean cast iron in an electric dishwasher.
To keep the non-stick surface in good shape, thoroughly dry the skillet and store it in an airy space without lids or other pans inside of it. Lidded pans trap moisture and encourage the formation of rust. If foods cling to the bottom of the skillet or you notice rusty spots on the interior, repeat the seasoning process to restore the non-stick finish.