I'm looking for tips on how to season and maintain a cast-iron skillet, Paleo-style.
If you Google it, you will invariably find tips to use Crisco or vegetable oil (plus people arguing back and forth about why one is better than the other). Only occasionally will people say to use lard, and the reasoning is usually something like "My grandmother always used lard... I know it's unhealthy, but it's tradition!"
So. I have a Lodge pre-seasoned skillet that I've been using for a while. I love it but I am getting frustrated with the food sticking to it. [There was a LOT of food sticking after I cooked anything.] I must be doing something wrong....
I sanded off all the pre-seasoned stuff and tried various things on my own. Before I went Paleo, I used canola oil (yuck). Now I use only grass-fed lard, but I'm still getting mixed results. So, my questions to you are,
What am I doing wrong?
How do you season your skillet to get food not to stick? What temperature/direction/length? Any special tricks? (Wipe off excess after the first 15 minutes of seasoning, or no? Pre-heat oven or not?)
How do you clean and maintain your pan after everyday usage? Use soap? Kosher salt? Wire brush (if so, where did you buy it)?
From a health perspective, should I be concerned about the high-temperature method, since the smoking point of lard is much lower than 450F?
I use a lot of paper towels around my skillet, to wipe off excess lard and to re-touch it on occasion. To minimize waste, I'd rather use a cloth towel of some sort that does not leave cloth fibers on the pan. Any suggestions?
**UPDATE #2 as of Sept. 2011: I no longer endorse the method below. I was very pleased with the initial results, as the pan was genuinely non-stick for the first time ever. But, the first time I splashed hot water on the pan (without soap!), the seasoning just washed off. I'm extremely disappointed, as I spent many hours seasoning my pan in the manner described below. I don't know if I'm going to bother trying again. I did use lard and not flaxseed oil as Sheryl Canter advocated, so maybe that's a key difference. I don't know. Please let me know if you find a good solution.
UPDATE #1: As I commented below, I followed the instructions on Sheryl Canter's blog very closely and got excellent results, after months of being very frustrated with a sticky pan and flaking seasoning. Here is what I did:
Sanded down all the seasoning, 100-grit sandpaper -- I had several layers of flaky and caked-on seasoning to get rid of.
I couldn't get all the seasoning off with just sandpaper, so I soaked the skillet in lye bath. I bought the lye at Lowe's. It's called "Roebic Crystal Drain Opener" and is 100% lye. Be very careful with lye as it can burn your skin.
Repeat seasoning steps starting here:
Notes: Sheryl insists that flax oil is the best oil to use, and that the seasoning process polymerizes the oil so that the oxidation/heat damage to the oil will not cause health problems. I'm not sure if this is correct. The idea is that the polymerization burns off all the fat so that only carbon is left behind.... Okay, but if that is true, why does a lye bath remove the seasoning? I thought lye eats fat. (I don't understand even basic chemistry so if I'm missing something, please let me know.) In any case, I used pastured lard and the results were awesome, so I don't see any need to use flax oil.
Also, in Sheryl's post about black rust (magnetite), as I understood it, the naked (unseasoned) pan should be heated at 450F for one hour before applying the first coat of seasoning, but this step doesn't have to be repeated for subsequent coats. I could be wrong on this, though.
Finally, according to Sheryl, you should not be concerned about exceeding the smoking point during the seasoning process, because you WANT to exceed the smoking point to facilitate polymerization. Or something to that effect.
Summary: Key factors: make sure all the flaky, crappy seasoning is off before you start. I tried half-heartedly sanding down my skillet and applying a coat of seasoning on top of a layer or two of crappy seasoning, and it was a total failure. Wipe off as much of the fat as you can before you put it in the oven. High temperatures work way better than low temperatures for seasoning. Results were excellent and now I finally see why cast-iron is a pleasure to use! This pan is now almost as good as a Teflon, and in much better shape than when it came pre-seasoned.
I think you are over-thinking it. I also think you are being a bit anxious.
A skillet takes a while to get "good 'n seasoned", be patient. Also, I'd totally drop the scouring, sanding, salt, etc. Each of these is stripping the seasoning.
All of this being said, I;ll now confess that I've never bought a new bit of cast iron in my life. I don't even know what "pre seasoned" is and shudder to think.
All of my (extensive) collection came from yard sales, flea markets,etc except for the ones I inherited. I have skillets over 100 years old, easy.
My advice would be to COOK in them and not try to keep seasoning them. Cook everything in your cast iron - it's all I use for my family of 7 - and don't sweat the clean-up. I very often don't clean mine at all; just wipe any excess grease and hang it up. If I have anything that doesn't want to wipe out, I let water stand in the skillet for a few minutes then use my fingernail like Kent mentioned. Then I wipe and hang.
I use only lard, bacon grease, and very rarely coconut oil.
Are you sure you're cooking with enough oil? You don't want a tablespoonfull. Don't be timid! You want a good generous spash. Get yourself a drippings jar and pour leftover grease into it after cooking. I have 2 mason jars for grease, one for beef and one for pork and they sit (covered) out on my counter all the time (in the SC heat, too!) and never go rancid.
best of luck with your cast iron! :)
The Chemistry of Cast Iron: http://sherylcanter.com/wordpress/2010/01/a-science-based-technique-for-seasoning-cast-iron/
An article about using flax oil to create a hard seasoning on cast iron. I haven't tried it but it sounds interesting.
boiling water is your problem, never boil water in your skillet! when you heat it up the pores of the metal expand, which is one way grease is trapped in and later comes out when cooking (what a properly seasoned piece of cast iron is suppossed to do). When you pour boiling water in it, the water washes all the oil out of the pores, then when it cools there is no fat and oil left to be trapped in the closing pores. Also, as mentioned above, cook everything in it, DO NOT use the scouring pad EVER! if you must scrub it, do it when it is cool, thus most of the oil is already trapped in the pores of the metal and you are less likely to remove it. if you do scrub it, use only like a wooden spoon or something to take the big stuff off, never anything really abrasive. I have about seven pieces of cast iron cookwear, I cook everything in them, and I never have any problems (unless i try to boil water or something). Also, it does take a while for a pan to be seasoned, and my grandparents (who refuse to use any other type of cookewear and have so for the last 60 years) would laugh really hard to hear that you are purposely trying to season your skillet! just cook in it and let it do the work, use lots of lard! and never wipe any of it out after cooking bacon!! let it pool in the bottom and cool, slowly, on your stove. next time you heat it up to cook it will be there ready to assist you!!
Your pan just needs to be used, frequently, now that you have scrubbed off the pre-seasoning.
Next use - Don't wash it, just wipe it out, apply a thin layer of grease on the entire surface, and place in 200 degree oven for 4 hours. Turn it off, let pan cool on its own over night. Repeat next 4-5 uses, then just wipe out when done and put away.
My grandmothers would season their pans after use every month or so, but they were using their pans DAILY. The seasoning allowed them to wipe out excess stuff that might be burning.
Wish I had those pans. They weren't valued back then.
Most of of what I would say has already been mentioned but here goes. Hopefully if you're paleo and thus not germophobic, you won't find this gross but I regularly cook in the same pan day after day without washing it! Just leave the fat there for the next meal. Beware if you have cats that like bacon grease, however!
My best friend is a pan scraper, which only costs 60 cents even at spendy Sur La Table. I got mine at a local home and garden store. I highly recommend it--using my finger nails makes me feel oogy.
When my pans get too grotty even for me, I spray them with hot tap water, use the pan scraper, wipe with a sponge if needed, and set on the stove to dry (or in the oven if it's still warm), then because I am cheap, I am using up some old cheap olive oil (bought for an olive oil lamp) to oil the pan after it dries. I figure once the oil has turned into another nice layer of non-stick carbon on my pan, it can't hurt me. I'll probably switch to lard when I run out of oil.
Another cheap/eco tip--I cut up all my old sheets and cotton clothes to make rags, which are great for wiping pans. Lint isn't really a problem with old cotton sheets and I never have to buy paper towels. A terry towel or something is going to leave more lint.
Sometimes if a pan needs it, I give it a good oiling and throw it in the oven, as is mentioned above.
Another thing you might check with the sticking is cooking temperature. I am an impatient cook and often turn the heat up too high, but if I'm careful about preheating my fat and watching the flame, I get much less sticking. And yes, as said above, not moving the food until it's ready.
I like the how to video on taking care of cast iron skillets from Cook's Illustrated. I think you can find it on their iTunes page here:
Look for 'Reconsidering Cast Iron'. And yes, use animal fat.
I consider my skillet well seasoned, but food still sticks from time to time. It depends on the food and pan conditions. I never use soap. Just hot water and some hand scrubbing with my fingers or paper towels.
I avoid cooking acidic things in mine. It's bad for the seasoning.
Most has been said already, but it is correct that the older cast iron skillets have a smoother finish to start with...the new Lodge is very rough. I am working on an older skillet I found to pass on to my daughter since I don't think she has the patience to go through the process. I worked on the rust first and did some on top of the stove heating of oil and cleaning up...did not do the oven thing. I cook my bacon every morning in the skillet and I use it to brown my meat. I pour off the grease (and save the bacon fat..yum) then I put a little water in and heat up to loosen any cooked on stuff, use a dish brush (no soap) scrub and pour that off, then use a paper towel to wipe out what is left, then add a little coconut oil or olive oil and rub it around before I put it up. It is getting blacker and slicker by the day. Daily use for 4 months now...so be patient.
I'm anxious to hear the responses here too - while I haven't been as methodical as you, I'm running into the same issues myself. I started with just a Lodge griddle, but have now also gotten a 12" frying pan. Both pre-seasoned.
I can tell you things that appear to help me so far, but still less than stellar results:
Seasoning fat: I'll vary between coconut oil, grass fed lard, ghee, and butter.
Clean-up: Just the soft part of a sponge with hottest tap water. With my griddle, I usually just give it a wipe-down to pick up any leftover food and excess fat unless I need to scrub it. If something's stuck I'll use my fingernail to loosen it.
Re-touching: The best I've seen my skillet so far is when I've kept it in my oven, and had to turn the oven on for warming purposes (170f) and left the pan in. After every use, I'll make sure I put a thin coat of one of the above fats. After the skillet sat through a few warming cycles, it had a beautiful sheen on it. The next time I used it, the ground (grass fed) beef I browned still seemed to stick more than I would hope.
I think I would avoid scrubbing with salt and opting for a sponge, and an occasional fingernail.
As far as cooking, I try to leave things well enough alone until they're more fully cooked. Eggs and omelets seem to stick less that way. I haven't found bacon without added sugar, which often melts and gets sticky necessitating a more thorough scrub.
My jury is still out on temperature and duration of a full seasoning cycle, though.
http://blackirondude.blogspot.com/2008/12/cleaning-your-cast-iron-cookware.html Has some excellent tips.
12 answers, 1000+ views, and only 7 upvotes for this? (now 8)
I am answering just to bump this thread. This is important and obviously a much needed question. Look at the variety of answers. Look at how much people struggle with this.
Personally, I don't have a cast iron skillet, but we are looking into it, and I am very hesistant to get a pre-seasoned one for all the same reasons mentioned here. Does anyone know where to purchase a brand new really good quality NON pre-seasoned cast iron skillet? I know some people here say buy a used one, but uh, no that's ok. Not really into buying used cookware.
Thanks for all your answers folks. More answers are welcomed too!
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