Monday, December 21, 2009

Cast Iron Cookware: Frequently Asked Questions

I get a lot of questions about cast iron cookware from friends, relatives, blog readers, and total strangers. Some of these questions come up quite frequently. Thus, I present to you these frequently asked questions about cast iron cookware.  (NOTE: If you have a question that I haven't answered below, please leave it in a comment and I will answer it as soon as I can. Thanks!)
  1. I've heard you're not supposed to wash cast iron. Is that true?  No. Wash your cast iron.  Use only hot water and plastic bristles (in a pinch, you can even use those mesh bags that citrus fruit comes in).  Soak it for a few hours if need be, but not overnight. Read more about cast iron care and cleaning.
  2. My scrambled eggs (or other foods) always seem to stick.  What am I doing wrong?  Chances are, you are not starting with a shiny pan.  The path to the shiny pan includes washing with hot water, drying with heat, oiling the pan all over while it is still hot, and putting it away greasy.  If you are starting with a shiny pan, you might need to let the pan heat up a bit more before tossing in your eggs (or other food).  Still having trouble with food sticking?  Leave me a comment and I'll happily investigate further. Thanks!
  3. I know you always say to "put it away greasy."  What if my compulsive nature makes me have a problem with putting oily cookware away in my cupboards?  First off, cast iron is about love. Love for your family. Love for your bloodstream. Love for your planet. Sometimes, love is best experienced by way of hot, hard, and well-lubricated tools.  All seriousness aside... the key here is that, because you 1) washed your cast iron with hot water and plastic bristles, 2) dried it with heat, 3) applied clean, fresh oil, and 4) cook with it often (you do cook with it often, don't you?); the surface of your cast iron cookware is no more unsanitary than the rack in your oven or the bottles from which your oil was poured.  Chances are very good that your cast iron cookware is in fact much more sanitary than your sink, countertops, fridge, or sponge. If the main issue is the oil that gets inside your cupboards, I'd recommend lining the cupboard shelves with corrugated cardboard.  The cardboard will soak up any residual oil from your cast iron pans, and you can change it out as often as you like.
  4. How do I deal with flavor transfer when I cook dishes like fish and pancakes in the same cast iron skillet?  I have found that most of this "transfer" is limited to the aroma of previously-cooked foods during heat-up of the pan.  The food itself usually doesn't pick up these flavors or aromas—even with fish, onions, garlic, etc.  That said, if you are finding that your Tuesday night fish is making your Wednesday morning pancakes taste like tuna... here are some remedies: 



    • Lemon and boiling water. Once your pan or skillet has been washed, give it an additional "how's your father" by rubbing it inside with a freshly cut half-lemon (or lemon juice and a plastic scrubber), and then pouring boiling water into it while continuing to scrub with the lemon. Then dry the pan as normal with heat, oil it, and put it away greasy.
    • Consider soap. I know, it's considered anathema to many cast iron aficionados, but oil absorbs other oils (e.g. fish oil), and detergents/surfactants remove oil. I would personally vastly prefer a slight fish taste to a slight detergent or artificial fragrance taste, but well-seasoned cast iron cookware can easily handle a light soap washing. Be sure to rinse thoroughly, dry with heat, and re-oil while hot to achieve the shiny pan.
    • Increase your fleet. Folks that cook on cast iron a lot will often have a "fish and meats" skillet and a "veggies and sweets" skillet (in a pinch, of course, you can also use both for one or the other to extend your capacity).



  5. What do I do if my cast iron cookware is rusted?  The first step is to get rid of the rust. Light rust can usually be removed with a mixture of coarse salt (e.g. kosher or sea salt) and oil.  Scrub with a plastic scrubber pad or brush until rust is completely gone (check for removal by rinsing under hot water and eyeballing it).  Once the rust is gone, re-season the cast iron by coating it with oil and putting it upside down in the oven (on 250 degrees F) for an hour.  Read more about seasoning cast iron cookware.  If your cast iron cookware is totally rusted, pitted, and in need of serious help, you need to burn the rust off and start over.  This is accomplished by tossing your cast iron in a fire for up to an hour, and then re-oiling it once it has cooled sufficiently. You can also use your barbeque grill or your oven's clean cycle. Read more about rescuing abused cast iron cookware.  
  6. I've heard it's a bad idea to cook acidic foods in cast iron. For example: A pot of tomato sauce. Thoughts? Advice?  All cookware contributes a little bit of itself to your meal. This is true for cast iron, stainless steel, Teflon, copper, aluminum, and even glass.  In the case of cast iron, many folks consider extra iron in the diet to be a good thing—especially women, and new moms in particular.   But the amount of iron contributed to the meal by cast iron cookware is increased when cooking highly acidic foods.  This can present two problems: 1) an overly acidic or metallic taste in the dish, and 2) destruction of the seasoning of your cast iron pan.  As you might imagine, the two are related. If you are noticing unwanted flavors, then I would recommend using enameled cast iron or stainless steel for these high-acid dishes.  Enameled cast iron is great for when you want to finish it in the oven. Stainless steel is just dandy for when you are finishing on the stovetop and/or would like to develop a deep fond for later deglazing.  
Some additional resources:
Still have questions?  Please leave a comment and I'll answer it as soon as I can. Thanks.

-Derek

32 comments:

  1. Thanks D! Great FAQ.

    Question: We've heard it's a bad idea to cook acidic foods in cast iron. For example: A pot of tomato sauce. Thoughts? Advice?

    Much love,

    Neal

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  2. Thank you Mr. Enssle for the great question. Please let me know if I have answered it sufficiently.

    Keep it shiny,
    Derek

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  3. Hey Derek!

    Any particular brand of cast iron you prefer over another?

    Kath :-)

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  4. My personal cast iron armada is made up of Lodge, Wagner, Le Creuset, and several that are too old to have brands on them.

    My general recommendation is to get cast iron that's made in the U.S. or Europe to avoid issues with lead.

    Hope that helps!

    -Derek

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  5. HI,
    I cooked beans and rice in a cast iron dutch oven, and the food turned black. Is this normal?
    Thank you,
    Kyrie

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  6. Hi Kyrie,

    Thanks for your question. I have some follow-up questions to help me make sure I have all the facts: What type of beans were you using? Pinto? Red? Also, did the blackness you speak of seem to be from burning? Or just a strange color? Did it taste OK?

    I'm guessing that perhaps the heat was too high and things got a little burned... but it may be that there was already some residue in the dutch oven that caused the food to turn black. Black beans also tend to "bleed" their color into the rice if you happened to be cooking with those.

    Thanks in advance for any additional info you can provide!

    -Derek

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  7. My daughter was just diagnosed with Celiac Disease. Is there some way to get all the gluten out of the cast iron skillet or do I have to go and get a new one? I have a sentimental attachment to the one I have or I wouldn't even ask the question.

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  8. Hi Elizabeth, great question.

    For starters, you can definitely strip any cast iron down to the raw metal by following instructions on Rescuing Abused Cast Iron here: http://www.derekoncastiron.com/2009/02/article-rescuing-abused-cast-iron.html. You can then re-season and cook only gluten-free foods in it.

    I'd be a little surprised if you need to, however. While it is possible that small amounts of gluten get trapped in your cast iron skillet's developing seasoning base, I don't think enough of this would ever make it into the food to affect your daughter. It will also probably be broken down into gastrointestinally-inert substances by the constant heat that a well-cared for cast iron skillet faces.

    Definitely check with a doctor or other qualified health care provider, but I'd be surprised if you needed anything more than a good rinse (followed by heat drying and oiling) between cooking foods with gluten and foods that are gluten free.

    Hope that helps!

    -Derek

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  9. This is a great sight! I'm fairly new to cast iron and this sure is a great resource.
    I would like to offer one piece of advice though. My son is highly allergic to egg, similar to the person that asked about gluten. We take good care of our cast iron, but we learned the hard way that the egg we cooked did get traces transfered to other foods. We now have a allergy cast iron pan and an allergy free one and my son does much better that way.

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  10. Hey CurlyJain,

    Thanks for the kind words!

    And thanks for the note about your son's egg allergy... that's great advice for anyone who's got a serious food allergy.

    Take care!

    -Derek

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  11. Hey. Awesome blog! I'm just wondering how you got inspired to make this blog.

    I've used non-stick all my life, but last year I decided to upgrade to steel. And for whatever reason, I got inspired to upgrade one more time to cast iron. I've used a cast iron before, but only the one with the grill lines, and only for steaks and chicken. But not for everything. So I'm just curious what inspired you to make this blog. Thanks!

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  12. Hi there,

    Thanks for the kind words, and congrats on your cookware upgrades!

    I got inspired to make this blog because I needed a more efficient way to answer people's cast iron questions and to send them recipes they wanted. Mostly just family and friends in the beginning. It seemed like a better way than searching for old emails or re-typing recipes!

    I'm glad that other folks are finding it useful as well.

    Take care!

    -Derek

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  13. I'm new to cast iron. I have a red enameled CI Dutch oven. I found your site by googling popcorn in Dutch oven and saw your video.

    My question: is CI ok on a ceramic/glass cooktop? It looked like your cooktop is ceramic. Ours is white and I'm concerned about staining it.

    Thanks for such an informative blog!

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  14. Hi Janelle,

    I've never had any trouble cooking on my glass top stove (except for how unresponsive it is to me lowering the heat!). I don't think you'd have any more staining with cast iron than you would with other metal cookware, but as you said I have a black glass top and it could be I just haven't noticed. Maybe give it a test run or two and let us know?

    Thanks for stopping by!

    -Derek

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  15. ok. i have a well seasoned cast iron kettle.given to me by my grandmaw.it has cooked alot of food. so i decided i wanted to start using it to fix pinto beans. the water turns black as can be..what is the reason? and how do i fix the problem? thanks ronnie

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  16. How to bake vegetables in my cast iron dutch oven? Thank you.

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  17. Hi,

    This recipe is in a cast iron skillet, but you could do it just as well in a dutch oven. Hope it helps!

    Skillet Roasted Vegetables Recipe.

    -Derek

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  18. Hi Ronnie,

    It sounds like there could be a reaction between the kettle and the beans, water, and spices; or maybe the seasoning is just loose enough to come off into the water. Either way, I'd recommend giving your kettle a good oven seasoning, and seeing how it goes from there. Please let me know. Thanks!

    -Derek

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  19. I just cooked a corned beef, with garlic and onions, in a dutch oven, removed it and added carrots and potatoes to cook in the water, thought the carrots were gray looking, but added the corned beef back into the water, finished cooking those foods and the water is charcoal colored. After washing the dutch oven, I notice a lot of metal shining through. what happened and is it okay to eat the food?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Howdy,

      You've probably already decided whether or not to eat the food... so sorry for the late reply.

      If things get really browned in the dutch oven, you can get some "grayness" in the liquid. In this situation I'd definitely taste things to make sure nothing has a metallic or burned flavor. Let your taste buds do the deciding!

      If things do taste "off," then a few things could be happening. Obviously, if it's burnt tasting, it got too hot somewhere in the cooking process. If it tastes metallic, the dutch oven may be under-seasoned, or something may have taken the seasoning off. A common culprit is adding cool liquid to a really hot pan. That will deglaze the seasoning right off (and into your liquid). This problem can be compounded by having acids in the liquid like lemon juice, wine, tomato products, vinegar, etc.

      If you have any additional information to share that would be great. Thanks!

      -Derek

      Delete
  20. Hi,
    I have been trying to cook pinto beans in a Dutch oven on a volcano cooker.

    I am using charcoal for heat. My question is why do the beans turn a dark blackish color. I have used this cast iron pot several times with potatoes. No discolor there.
    Thanks

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi there,

      Pintos will darken as part of the process, and it shouldn't affect the flavor. I typically brine my pintos for 24 hours prior to cooking them, and this seems to prevent any darkening. Here's my "almost famous" pinto bean recipe. Hope that helps!

      -Derek

      Delete
  21. A friend said that he can no longer use his seasoned cast iron skillet because ever since he fried "meat" in it, it is no longer "non stick", so to speak. I think he has to "reseason" it. Am I correct ? Would he have to strip it first and then reseason ?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hey There,

      First off, I'm assuming that your friend fried actual meat in his skillet, and not some sort of newfangled genetically-modified substance that needs quotes to be called "meat." If I'm right, there is no need for stripping and re-seasoning. He should just clean the skillet with hot water and a plastic scrubber, then dry it with heat, and then rub canola oil in it with a paper towel while it is hot.

      Hope that helps! Please let me know if you have more questions. Thanks!

      -Derek

      Delete
  22. I'm concerned about the metallic taste in my last meal. I cooked and covered frozen cod w/cilantro, lime and a little olive oil. After it cooked through, the food did sit for a few minutes before we ate and then discovered the metallic taste..After reading your blog(awesome feedback by the way!) I'm guessing the acidity of the lime brought out the unwanted taste...?

    My question is, will this metallic taste vanish as I cook more? or should I re-season my skillet? I also should add that there was a slight greying of my Lodge skillet

    Thanks for your help!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi There,

      It sounds like the acidity of the lime (perhaps combined with a newer/lighter layer of seasoning?) contributed to the off taste. Once you develop a really strong seasoning to your bare cast iron, this shouldn't be a problem. You might consider a few rounds of oven re-seasoning. In the meantime, you could consider doing this dish in a ceramic/glass casserole pan, or in enameled cast iron.

      Hope that helps!

      -Derek

      Delete
  23. I am completely ignorant about cast iron, but my husband bought a cast iron stop-top grill a few months ago. I did not know I had to season it, so we cooked pancakes on it without seasoning (unsuccessfully). Then I researched how to season a cast iron grill, and I've tried to season it, but the more I season it, the more white-ish it becomes. It's like the black part is disappearing. I know I'm seasoning it correctly because there are millions of sites about how to do it and it seems very simple. But my cast iron grill looks terrible! Do I need to buy a new one because I didn't season it the first time?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Erin,

      You definitely don't need to buy a new grill/griddle. Can you tell me what kind of oil/fat you are using to season it, and at what temperature, and for how long? Thanks!

      -Derek

      Delete
  24. Hello,
    Just came across your blog and of course half the things about the cast iron I never knew before. I have an enameled cast iron out from Cuisinart. So far I'm in love but I have an issue. I make rice dishes in it, (the kind where you leave the meat and rice and cook on low - indian biryani for example) and the rice sticks like hell:( I do cook the onions and whatever needed in the cast iron then add the mear and rice in layers. So I mean thw pot is not cold and shiny clean but still my rice sticks like crazy. I hope you can enlighten me as to what am I doing wrong.
    Also I have some brown spots on the bottom, how do I take them off (if possible).
    Thanks in advance and awaiting your reply.
    Silvia

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Silvia,

      For starters, unlike well-seasoned bare cast iron, enameled cast iron is not known for being non-stick. But I would think that you could make a rice dish as you describe without excessive sticking.

      Are you doing the slow-cooking on the stovetop or in the oven? I'm wondering if the sticking would be less problematic if the heat were lowered (which might be easier in the oven). You could also try the dish using a traditional bare cast iron dutch oven.

      As for the brown spots... I have some light staining on my enameled dutch oven as well, but it doesn't seem to affect performance. Do you think the brown spots are related to the sticking?

      Thanks!

      -Derek

      Delete
  25. Thank you for your reply Derek. I do cook it in the oven and I have the same effect as when I was cooking on the stovetop. At rhia point I think it might be the quality of the pot itself or because it's enameled. Maybe in time I'll get a bare cast iron dutch oven:)
    As for spots, it doesn't affect the cooking in any way I think, I just wish it was white and shine as before:)
    Thank you once again, I'll keep browsing your blog for more info:) ..when kids are asleep:D

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hey Silvia,

      You're welcome. Sorry I don't have more. It is certainly possible that the coating itself has something to do with it. It may help to add some (or more?) oil to the recipe.

      See you around!

      -Derek

      Delete

Howdy! Thanks for visiting, and thanks even more for leaving a comment. I'll respond as soon as the kids are asleep.