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“Everyday Cheapskate” My Hate-Love Relationship With a Skillet

Posted on Wednesday, July 15, 2015 at 11:16 am

SYNDICATED COLUMNIST

mary hunt

I really don’t know where I got the thing. It might have been a wedding gift. What I know is that I tried to use that cast iron skillet without success and I mean not even a little bit.

Food would become hopelessly stuck to it and burned beyond recognition. If it wasn’t turning out charred fare, it was growing a fine coat of rust. I couldn’t throw it away, so I banished it to the back of a closet.

everyday cheapskate - mary huntYears later I pulled that skillet out of detention, determined to take on the challenge of cast iron. I am proud to say that I won that battle. I restored my skillet to better-than-new condition and learned how to care for it, use it and thoroughly enjoy it. Every time I use it — which means every day — it just keeps getting better and better. Can you feel the love?

SEASON IT. Seasoning a cast iron pan is easy. Rub it down with a thin coat of vegetable oil (inside and out if it’s the first seasoning) and bake it for an hour in an oven heated to 350 F. This produces the first “non-stick” layer. Seasoning can be done as many times as necessary throughout the skillet’s life, which is pretty much forever. A cast iron skillet can never have too many layers of seasoning. Mine must have 1,000 layers of seasoning by now. More will never be enough.

NO SOAP. While you should wash a brand new cast iron skillet with soap, that’s the only time it should ever come in contact with soap or detergent for the rest of its life. I know there are those who will disagree with me on this point, but I stand firm: Never use soap on cast iron after that first wash. Instead, use a hard-bristle brush or stainless steel scrubber to clean it with water. For really tough spots, I use coarse salt and the cut end of a potato to scrub it clean.

NO SOAKING. Never allow a cast iron skillet to soak in water.

That will only produce rust — the archenemy of cast iron cooking. Should you ever develop rust, don’t freak. Just get out the salt, scrub it away and then re-season.

DRY IMMEDIATELY. I dry my skillet over heat on the stove. Once dry (it takes only a couple of minutes), I give the inside a light coat of vegetable oil and it’s ready for its next cooking assignment.

NO METAL UTENSILS. The way to preserve the seasoning is to use only wood or other nonmetal utensils.

RE-SEASON. You’ll soon learn to detect if your pan needs to be re-seasoned. You can never have too much seasoning on a cast iron pan.

USE OFTEN. Use your cast iron skillet to fry, sear, cook and bake as often as you can. Yes, I’m talking about cooking at home to eat better and save money, too. Get a great cookbook (“The New Cast Iron Skillet Cookbook” is my favorite) with recipes that are ideal for cast iron.

You can get a fabulous Lodge 10-inch cast iron skillet for about $15. Bump that up to a 12-inch Lodge skillet for about $30. Or scout out the local thrift store or junk collector. It would not be unusual to find a horribly abused, rusty pile of cast iron pots and skillets just waiting to be rescued.

Take care of your cast iron and it will repay the favor in turning out fabulously delicious food at your hands. As a bonus, your skillet just may become the envy of your friends and family.