The Care and Feeding of Cast Iron


I have a fondness for cast iron skillets.  I do not know why.  I have gathered up a ton of them over the years and cook in them almost exclusively.  But being the frugal person that I am, I have only purchased a couple of them new.  The rest have come from second hand and antique stores.  These have been loved by the original owner and then abandoned by their offspring.  That is something I don’t understand.  Why anyone who grew up with a parent using these could choose to use anything else.

Here is what I know about the newfangled cookware.

  • They are light weight.  That is not really a benefit.  The heat does not transfer all through the pan as well and I have spent too much time scrubbing the bottoms where I have burned a ring of food.  Either that or I have to stay by the stove and stir constantly.  Neither one is appealing to me.  Even the copper bottom pans do not work as well as cast iron.
  • Aluminum pans have been associated with the increase in likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s and other neurological disorders.  I want to keep my brain….thank you very much.
  • Non-stick cookware is coated with Teflon.  That saves the scrubbing.  You can leave one of these sitting with food in it for days and all you have to do to clean it is to take a rag and wipe it out.  But there is a huge disadvantage to using Teflon.  It is made of ammonium perfluorooctanoate.  For me, if I cannot pronounce it, I distrust it.  So to make it easier for us laypeople, it is known as C-8, which has been linked to cancer, organ damage and other health effects in tests on laboratory animals.  So I won’t use that either.

Now here is the coolest part to me of using cast iron.  I get trace amounts of iron in my foods and never have to take supplements.  In fact, when I took pre-natal vitamins these overdosed me with iron.  And the over-abundance of iron in my blood caused me to have miscarriages.  So that is something to be aware of.  I had 3 babies without being anemic after I started using cast iron.

So for those of you who would like to use cast iron, there are a few things that you need to know.

  • When you buy them at antique stores, they will probably be rusty and ugly, but that is okay.  What I do is to take a metal scouring pad to it with a touch of soap and scrub all the rust and old seasoning off of it.  I have used a small putty knife to chip away at things if needed.  If it does not come off then I have used a wire grinding wheel.  This should be done outside because it spreads lots of dust.  These old pans are usually very smooth on the bottom once they get clean and I like these the best.
  • Some of the new ones that I have seen have circular ridges in the bottom.  I do not like those so I had my husband take it and grind it down with a grinder until it was smooth.  I do not know the reason for the ridges, but before I ground it down, it was harder to clean and I kept tearing up my eggs when I tried to turn them.
  • Once they are clean, rub them all over the inside with olive oil and put in your oven for about 1 hour at 200 degrees.  This puts a seasoning seal on it.

There.  Now you have one of the best cooking skillets that you could ever own.

Now for the unusual upkeep.  Never ever use soap in your cast iron again.  To clean, scrub with your stainless scrubbing pad and hot water.  Wipe dry.  Do not let water sit in your cast iron or you will have to start over at the beginning again.  For a while, recoat with a little olive oil after cleaning and wipe with a paper towel.  One of the frustrating things about cast iron is that I almost never get it put away.  It is always on my stove.  Where I am living now I do not have convenient hooks on the wall, so to put them in the bottom of a drawer is a nuisance. But I do use them every day so it all balances out.

When you get to looking for cast iron pans, you will be amazed at all the options.  I have skillets from 3” to18”, Dutch ovens of different sizes, saucepans, cornstick pans, cake pans.  One of my favorite skillets is one that has 2 parts, a 6” deep skillet and a 2” deep skillet that can also be used for a lid.  And I have flat skillets for pancakes and eggs.  Oh, what variety there is in the cast iron world.  Go on an adventure and see what you can find.  Then let me know what you find and how you like them.

About Janolyn

I am a mother of 5 wonderful children, 4 boys and 1 girl. During the years that my children were growing up, we grew most of our own food with a vegetable garden, many fruit trees and berry patches. I grew flowers for joy. We milked goats and raised our own meats and eggs. I learned to make my own cheeses, butter, canned foods, sourdough, and fermented foods. I made our own health products like soap, hand creams, lip balm, and herbal tinctures. We live off the power grid and have learned to do without conveniences that most Americans consider essential. The land clearing and building has been mostly accomplished with hand tools; some of them even the right tool for the job. After a couple of miscarriages between #2 and #3 due to “standard medical procedures”, I consulted a midwife and my last 3 children were born safely at home. That was when I was first alerted to the fact that doctors did not know everything nor would they have the time to share it with their patients if they did. As I learned the basic principles of heath-through-nutrition from my midwife, I learned alternative gardening practices from her husband. That introduction started a lifelong love of learning the practical life of our ancestors. I want to share what I have been learning with you and learn from those who are also living a sustainable life.


The Care and Feeding of Cast Iron — 5 Comments

  1. Great post! I also don’t understand why those raised with cast iron would abandon it, for all the reasons you have posted. One thing I wanted to add when purchasing a previously loved and used pan (or one of your old time stock for that matter) and you want to take it down to the metal to re-season…for those like me who have a wood stove in use…put the pan in the bottom of the woodstove (when cold) and build the fire on top of it, leaving it there until morning (when the fire has died down again and you can easily remove it). Viola’… all the old seasoning is either gone, or easily cleaned off.

    One of my favorite cast iron pans is a square one I picked up a little trading post on the top of Mt. Walker. It was rusted and pitted beyond belief, and since I was “a local” at the time I purchased it for a very good price. Getting it home I scrubbed it and scrubbed it down to bare metal. The pitting though was pretty severe. Little did I realize at the time, the seasoning filled in the pits and has been more durable and lasting than any of my other CI pans. So, to those new to CI, never give up hope. Cast iron will last throughout multiple generations!

    Thanks Janolyn for the great info! Love the blog!

    Shalom, PamiE

  2. Wonderful post! I just love my cast iron and like you I cook with it almost exclusively. However, I do not make anything to watery in it because it seems to loose some of its seasoning if I do. I actually found a cast iron baking dish with animal shapes in it. It is great for fun cookies, biscuits, or corn bread. Also, when cooking bacon I put a smaller skillet on top of the bacon in the big skillet and it keeps the bacon from curling. On Iron Chef America I saw them using an inverted iron skillet to get indirect heat and then cooking on the bottom of the skillet, quite interesting.

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