Cast iron is so superior for cooking utensils to our modern aluminum that I not only cannot grieve for the pioneer hardship of cooking in iron over the hearth, but shall retire if necessary to the back yard with my two Dutch ovens, turning over all my aluminum cookers for airplanes with a secret delight. - Majorie Kinnan RawlingsIf you haven’t heard my recent podcast with Gabe DiMaio (and if you haven’t, shame on you! (not really, but you can listen to it here.)) I spent some time speaking of my love for cast iron cookware. Not the expensive enameled cast iron like La Creuset (though I have acquired similar pieces at a reasonable price).
No, I speak of the cast iron cookware that has been in use for at least 2000 years. Have you visited a Colonial cooking site? Someplace like Mt. Vernon, Monticello, Williamsburg or Ft. Erie? If so, you will have found pieces of cast iron cookware all but identical to those manufactured today. The problem is, that those manufactured today are not produced in quite the same manner.
These days the largest manufacturer of pure cast-iron cookware is Lodge, and while many suggest that it is just as usable as the old-style pots and pans made by Wagner or Griswold, I have to disagree. The casting process has changed. The old-style cast iron pans were cast with a very smooth surface. Lodge pans have a kind of “pebbly” bottom that I just don’t like. And despite the fact that the newest versions of the Lodge pans are supposedly “pre-seasoned" they still require some substantial seasoning.
As for me my preference is still for the old-fashioned style, no longer manufactured. Yet, all is not lost. For a person interested in the best cast-iron cookware you can still find many pieces of Wagner, Griswold or other old-style manufacturers for very reasonable prices at garage sales or flea markets.
Best yet, you can often find rusty, ill cared for pieces for an extremely reasonable price from sellers who don’t understand how easy it is to return them to usable status.
You can scrub out all the old rust and grime with the steel wool pad and a lot of elbow grease, but my preferred method is to place the pan on the bottom of my oven and run the self-cleaning function which supersedes the oven and pretty much burns all the junk off. Let it cool in the oven. After it is cool take it out and clean the residue off thoroughly in hot water and with a steel wool pad. Rinse again and heat over low heat on your stovetop till the pan is dry. Let it cool again.
Preheat the oven to 425°. Put a sheet pan on the bottom rack with some tinfoil on it to catch any oil that might drip down. Coat the pan lightly with a thin layer of neutral oil, like canola oil, using a paper towel and place upside down on the upper oven rack. Bake in the oven for one hour and then let cool totally in the oven. Repeat this one more time.
Further seasoning can be achieved on the stovetop like a wok, heating the pan until it begins to smoke and wiping it down with a small amount of canola oil. The more you use the pan properly, the more permanent the seasoning becomes. Many of said not to clean a pan like this with soap, that turns out not to be the truth, however if you can avoid it I would. A properly seasoned pan should be easy to clean with the dish brush, or worst a tablespoon of salt and a dash of water used as a scrubbing solution. Why risk your good seasoning.
The same method is used for a wok, or my new toy a carbon steel skillet which with a little extra effort is more nonstick than a nonstick pan.
Give it a try, and let me know.