Let’s Settle This: How to Care for Cast-Iron


The cast-iron skillet is a culinary multi-tool
with plenty of knockout advantages over its typical aluminum siblings. But unlike any
other tool in your kitchen’s arsenal, these pans pack some kitchen-controversy over the
dos and don’ts of maintenance. today we’re talking the chemistry of why you should get
onboard that cast-iron train. And once on board, we’re going to show you the right
way to treat your cast-iron skillet. It’s time to settle this, once and for all. For those of you who aren’t privy to cast-iron
life, let me brief you on why these pans rule. First of all, they’re tough and seamless;
hence, the “cast” in cast-iron. Their full-metal build allows you to cook on the
stove and in the oven. Unlike most pans, the dense iron helps these pans hold onto heat
much longer. This makes for crisper sears and also allows you to deep fry with less
oil because it keeps that heat in place. Most important of all, cast-iron’s can become
non-stick if treated correctly, or well seasoned. The surface of a cast-iron skillet is covered
in little pores and imperfections that foods can seep into when being cooked. Heated proteins
can chemically bond to these imperfections, making the prospect of sunny-side up eggs
seem impossible. Well-seasoned cast-iron pans have a special layer of bonded residue from
foods that block those super-sticky-annoying interactions from happening. When fats, like
in cooking oils or butter, are heated up while in contact with metals, they polymerize. That
is, the fat molecules link together to form a plastic like coating on the pan’s cooking
surface. The more you cook, the more this polymerized layer builds up. Unfortunately,
it does take time. So, let’s say you just bought a second hand
cast-iron that’s not even close to being correctly seasoned. Here’s what you do.
Pour ½ cup of salt into the pan, and using a paper towel, scour the pan with the salt
in order to remove all dust and impurities from the surface. Then, clean it in the sink
and dry it off. Set your oven to self cleaning mode, and stick the pan in for a solid three
hours. Take it out to cool, and reset the oven to 232°C (450°F). Using another paper
towel, fully cover the surface of the pan in an oil high in unsaturated fat. Then put
your oil-coated pan in the oven for 30 minutes. You should notice that it’s a bit darker
than before. Let it cool, coat it in oil again and set it in the oven. You’re going to
repeat this three more times. By the time you’re done, your pan will be a much deeper
black due to the layers of polymerized fats, and thus, much more stick free. So, about maintaining that seasoning. There’s
a lot of disagreements out there about the dos and don’ts, so today we’re going to
play a little fact or fiction. 1. Never use metal utensils on a cast iron. FICTION: a
good seasoning is way tougher than metal, so pay no mind. 2. Lard and bacon fat are
the best seasoning oils; FICTION: These two are extremely high in saturated fats. Unsaturated
fats are far more reactive than saturated fats, which means that flaxseed and vegetable
oils will do a way better job than these. 3. Never, under any circumstance should you
use soap on cast-iron pans. FICTION: Soaps are gentle on basically everything except
grease, so you can use soaps no problem on your fancy polymerized, seasoned pan. 4. Always
dry your pan immediately after cleaning. FACT: iron is prone to rusting people. Dry it with
towel or re-heat it on the oven to dry it faster. 5. Coat your pan in oil when done
cleaning. FACT: oil helps keep a protective barrier to stop any moisture in the air from
affecting the iron, and also it’s going to help with the coming level of polymerization
next time you cook with it. Folks, if you want to learn more on cast irons
and any other kitchen related science, check out this brilliant book The Food Lab: Better
Home Cooking Through Science, a link’s down in the description. Do you have any other
cast-iron tips we missed? Post them down in the comments along with any other chemistry
questions you need answered. Subscribe and thumbs up on the way out, and we’ll see
you again soon.

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