Cast iron pans can be a beautiful addition to any kitchen, but they can also a little intimidating. At least they have been to me! My pans always seemed to rust, and they did not seem “happy” or clean. It just seemed easier to use Teflon non stick pans, which can make you sick if over heated (known as Teflon flu). Since I knew I’d be cooking on a wood stove with no guarantee of temperature control I decided I’d give cast iron a real go out here. Cast iron cookware is known for distributing heat evenly, which is great for cooking over an open flame or on a wood stove. It’s also supposed to be naturally non stick when treated right. It just takes a little time to season.
Since I’ve always had a hard time with cast iron, I decided to throw out every rule I’ve ever heard and do things my own way. I received several pans as gifts from friends that needed a little help so I’ve reseasoned those and thought I’d show my process.
I’ve seen some advice around the web about cleaning old cast iron with oven cleaner, but I didn’t want to go that route, especially with no running water. I just didn’t feel like I could be sure I got all the cleaner off. So what I did instead was used 220 sand paper on the spots where rust had grown.
I then washed the pan in hot soapy water. After making sure it was completely dry, I coated the entire pan in coconut oil and set it next to my stove to let the oil set in with the heat. If I had an oven I would have put it inside until the oil dried. Be careful of what oil you use though! Some oils burn at a lower temperature than others, and over heated coconut oil is smoky and smelly (trust me, I know!).
You also want to make sure not to use to much oil, otherwise the pan gets sticky. I also ignore the rules for maintaining my cast iron. I know washing them with soapy water is advised against, but my pans never seemed clean. I was always ending up with black bits of chipped seasoning on my food if I just wiped them out. So if there is any residue in the bottom of the pan at all I wash it out with a soft sponge, then give it a quick swipe with oil and put it next to the stove. Maybe this only works because my pans live next to my wood stove so they dry quickly and have no time to rust, but I feel much better about having clean pans.
There are a few things that shouldn’t be cooked in cast iron, like acidic foods (think spaghetti sauce), but now that I have happy pans and a good routine, cast iron is a staple item in my off grid kitchen!