Am I abusing my cast iron skillet?

mallyJune 17, 2006

I use the skillet to stir-fry and steam. I sear some small pieces of meat over high heat, then remove them from the pan. Then I stir fry some veggies, such as sugar snaps. I then add a little water, and then some vodka (which produces a lot of steam), and then cover with a lid to allow the veggies to simmer for a few minutes. Once most of the liquid has boiled away, I add the meat and some soy sauce. This tastes great, but I'm having problems with my pan. I have to scrub it vigorously after each use with soap and water, otherwise there is a black residue in the pan.

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Problem may be that the skillet isn't properly cured; especially as you've been cleaning it with soap.

Soap's job is to dissolve grease. And the cure is made of grease. Other than the initial cleaning of a new piece, soap should _never_ touch cast iron.

I'd recommend that you recure the skillet, and then use it _only_ for frying until you've obtained that nice, black finish. After that you can cook with liquids.

To clean cast iron, run it under hot water. If anything is adhering use a scrub brush to wipe it away. Immediatly dry the piece and wipe it with a thin coating of new grease. Lard, of course, was traditional, but most people use shortening nowdays.

    Bookmark   June 18, 2006 at 8:17AM
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This is just my opinion, but I think the way you are cooking in your cast iron pan will promote rust - and rust in a cast iron pan is not a good thing. You can pan sear, fry, roast, bake, and braise in cast iron, but steaming, especially with the addition of vodka, is not so good for this type of cookware.

A large saucepan with a lid and a collapsible steamer basket will do a better job of steaming vegetables.

    Bookmark   June 18, 2006 at 9:01AM
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I use a carbon steel wok the same way you're using your cast iron skillet (sear -> sauté -> steam). I clean it with a stainless Chore Boy scouring pad and hot water - no soap. You might try that with your skillet. For small batches when I'm cooking for one I use a 10" stainless lined sauté pan which works well too.

    Bookmark   June 18, 2006 at 10:12AM
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thanks all. I know I'm not supposed to use soap, but I think that I need to get rid of the black residue. I'm re-seasoning it now. I'm also wondering though, whether a carbon steel wok would work better. BTY, this is an induction cooktop, so I'm looking at carbon steel anyway.

    Bookmark   June 18, 2006 at 2:14PM
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black residue. . . I thought cast iron was supposed to have that black residue?it's a black iron oxide that is stable and prevents the red oxide from forming?

    Bookmark   June 25, 2006 at 12:44PM
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Jasper austin, you raise a good point. I don't know what this black residue is. Even after strubbing the pan using very hot water, the black shows on the towel. maybe you are right. others on this forum have stated that this means the pan should be reseasoned. I don't usually see it on well seasoned pans, unless I burn something in the pan, or maybe if I add liquids. do you have this on your pans at all times?

    Bookmark   June 25, 2006 at 6:49PM
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If you cook with a any pan at very high heat, you will get black residue, it is carbonization.

The trick to seasoning an iron skillet or a carbon steel wok is to not wash away the carbon, but let it build up until it has a sheen.

The way you do this is to not wash the pan with soap (as has been mentioned earlier), but to scrub it with something abrasive, like a doobie pad that has no impregnated soap, or a scrub brush.

The point is to wash away any food particles that are loose on the surface, but to leave the really hard seasoning behind in the pan.

Using lots of organic oils to attempt to season the pan, like vegetable oil or peanut oil, will cause rancidity. It is OK to do the original seasoning with these oils, but additional coats will add additional organic elements that can turn.

Seasoning a cast-iron skillet is just as much art and luck as it is science.

Try this: since you've already hit the skillet with soap, go ahead and scour it and get it as clean as you can get it using detergent and scouring powder and whatever. Once you are there, wipe down the inside of the pan with a non-flavorful oil, like vegetable oil or canola oil.

From there, put the pan in a 350 degree oven for one hour, you could even do this on your gas grill if you can control the temperature.

Pull the pan, let it cool, wipe away the excess.

Cook from there, and keep the soap away! It's tough if you have a greasy mess. You can put a drop or two of detergent in there if you just can't stand it. I occasionally do.

You can tell if you're taking away the seasoning by careful washing. Start with hot water and a brush.

Good luck!

    Bookmark   June 26, 2006 at 12:16AM
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Here's an article you may find useful.

Here is a link that might be useful: Cast Iron Care

    Bookmark   June 26, 2006 at 8:26AM
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Nice article, GardenLad ;-)

We just bought a new set of preseasoned Lodge pans from Costco (so hard to resist! Its been YEARS since I owned cast iron and I can't figure out why it took me so long to come back to one).

The instructions said to NOT use soap for the first use. I assume this is because the pans were preseasoned.

First thing I cooked was burgers - ahhhhhh. My grill had run out of propane so I was VERY happy to have these on hand.

To clean it, my handy plastic scrub brush wasn't enough - I used a stainless steel scrubby we picked up somewhere. Is that OK?

Also, can you be a bit more specific about 'shortening' - you mean Crisco, which I have? We don't do pork, so lard is not an option. I also have canola oil that I could use. Is that approved?

Thanks - J

    Bookmark   June 26, 2006 at 4:35PM
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Yeah, Crisco is fine. In fact, that's what I use, for no other reason than pernicious habit.

I don't like curing with oils, especially at first, because they often leave a sticky film that only goes away when you reheat the pan.

I recently saw a film about how Lodge does that preseasoning. Pretty interesting. But you have to remember that their preseasoning is just like their instructions for seasoning a regular pan. It's just a start. And until you have a deep cure, things could still stick---especially if you work at high heat, which you shouldn't be doing.

As to the stainless scrubby, it probably cut into the seasoning (which is just on the surface, at first). But, so long as you immediately regreased it after washing, that shouldn't be too big a deal.

I would just use the items to fry with, the next few times. And watch the heat levels. Think of it as stainless that takes longer to heat up.

    Bookmark   June 26, 2006 at 5:08PM
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OK, thanks!

    Bookmark   June 26, 2006 at 6:57PM
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By all means, try not to use soap. If stuff won't come off, soak in hot water for a while, then scrub off and dry the pan carefully.

After a decade or two of good use, nothing will stick to it, period.

    Bookmark   July 13, 2006 at 11:39PM
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I've used the following method several times recently, and it seems to work. After cooking, I pour hot water into the pan while it is still hot and let it sit a few minutes. then I pour off the water and scrub (without soap). If necessary, I put the pan on the stove again, add water and heat to boiling. then scour again. this has eliminated a lot of the "black residue" problem.

    Bookmark   July 17, 2006 at 11:58PM
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One cautionary note, Mally. Adding water to hot cast iron can cause it to warp, and even crack.

The black-residue question seems to be a function of induction heating. I've gotten several questions about this, and in all cases that was the only commonality.

Problem is, cast iron should not be used on an induction stovetop, because it overheats. Indeed, one of the benefits of cast iron is that you don't need high heat, because the piece, itself, is a heat sink that holds on and maintains even temperatures. But you can't control that with an induction stovetop, because the iron keeps pulling the heat and getting hotter and hotter.

At any rate, what I'm guessing is the problem is that the cure (which, remember, is a combination of carbon and grease) is actually carbonizing from the high heat. The grease is sublimating off, leaving behind the residue of powdering carbon.

Like I say, that's only a guess. But I would bet money that that's what the problem is.

    Bookmark   July 18, 2006 at 11:29AM
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Cast iron is used all the time on induction cooktops, and many people really like it. Yes, cast iron pans will continue to get hotter as long as the heat is on, but that will occur on any type of cooktop. And, on induction (and probably professional style gas) it is easy to overheat the pan. I'm new to induction and so I'm still learning to regulate the heat properly. I think that at least some, or all, of the black residue is burned on grease and other food particles. Boiling water helps to get it off. cast iron is meant to take high heat; it is often used for stir-frying and grilling. Some out door grills have cast iron grates.

    Bookmark   July 19, 2006 at 5:38PM
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Two other hints: If you need to scour, try using coarse salt (like kosher salt) and a dry paper towel. Once the food residue is loosened, rinse with hot water and re-oil.

I use coconut oil for seasoning; seems to work fine. I have a Lodge hibachi-type grill, and I get the fire going well and knock off any loose crud off the grill surface with a scraper and a wire brush. Right before I put on the food, I wipe down the grill surface with a paper towel holding a glob of coconut oil. Some of it burns, some of it vaporizes, but there's a fairly clean and freshly oiled surface for the food.

As others have said, if you use soap, plan to re-season.

I read somewhere if you obtain some old cruddy cast iron piece you can clean it up by putting it dry in a self cleaning oven, then running the self cleaning cycle; the crud is supposed to flake off then so you can clean it and re-season. Haven't tried it myself, tho.

    Bookmark   July 23, 2006 at 9:27AM
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I found a detailed article that has helped me to decide whether I really want to invest in a cast iron skillet.
This article may help in how to take care of it.

    Bookmark   August 17, 2006 at 7:49AM
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instead of starting a new topic, I would just like to ask this new question to the people on this forum:

"After the initial care of seasoning the cast iron for everyday use, can you use olive oil for everyday cooking or must you just the regular shortening? I have the understanding through the article that you really dont need to use oil for cooking since it's supose to be a non-stick product after the seasoning or curing is done."

What is your opinion?

Thank you in advance.

    Bookmark   August 17, 2006 at 8:09AM
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Yes, you can definitely use olive oil for cooking in the pan. I have a very well seasoned pan, but it is not totally non-stick. Besides, without oil, food will not brown well, and will cook differently.
After using the pan, I rinse and scrub with hot water. Then I put a small quantity of canola oil (I only buy olive oil and canola oil) on a paper towel and wipe the pan. If there is some black residue on the paper towel, I wipe the pan with a clean paper towel and a little oil. I continue this until there is little or no black residue on the paper towel.

    Bookmark   August 18, 2006 at 12:32PM
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Nothing wrong with your procedure, Mally, and your comments about cooking with oil are right on.

But, FWIW, in practical terms, the entire rape crop is genetically modified. So I no longer use canola oil for any purpose, because I don't knowingly use frankenfoods.

Anyone who chooses to do so is welcome to their choice. But I think they should be making informed choices.

Anyway, as to reoiling, I keep one of those baby cans of shortening just for that purpose. A small cloth wiper stays in the can. Been doing it that way for years, periodically replacing the cloth as necessary.

    Bookmark   August 19, 2006 at 10:57AM
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savvy artist,
I would agree with Mally that you need a little oil or butter in a cast iron pan to help with browning and release of the food being cooked. I often make scrambled eggs in my cast iron pans, but always heat the pan first, then add a bit of butter to melt and swirl in the pan before adding the eggs. Usually a slight film of cooking oil is sufficient. I use olive oil or safflower oil and butter for the eggs.

    Bookmark   August 22, 2006 at 3:15PM
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I have some wonderful old cast iron pieces but would like to get more. What I see in the stores though has a nubby cooking surface. Mine has a very smooth surface. What brands and where can I find them have this smooth surface.

    Bookmark   August 24, 2006 at 6:18AM
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Indylars -- The only new cast iron cookware I've seen in recent years is Lodge, which has the nubby surface you described, and some cast iron from China sold under a number of names including Emerilware. I tried a Lodge griddle and was not happy with the results. I offered it on Freecycle and there were no takers (apparently I am not the only one who doesn't like it). The Chinese cast iron has a smoother surface than the Lodge but it is a lot heavier than good old cast iron and not nearly as nicely finished. Fortunately, cast iron is virtually impossible to destroy and it's been manufactured for many many years, so there is a huge supply of old Wagner and Griswold out there, often at amazingly low prices (like 50¢ for a 9" Griswold skillet at a PTA garage sale - I told them they'd underpriced it and gave them $5 for it - and still felt a little guilty).

    Bookmark   August 24, 2006 at 1:32PM
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Don't, necessarily, look only for branded ironware. There were numerous companies turning out cast iron cookware that never put a name or code on it. Keep in mind that it's been around at least 500 years.

Check out flea markets, antique malls, garage sales, etc. If a piece looks like it was quality made, and the price is right, then buy it. If necessary, clean it down to raw metal (using any of the techniques we've discussed) and recure it.

Most of my ironware has no identifying marks. But there isn't a piece I'd willingly give up.

    Bookmark   August 25, 2006 at 2:01PM
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Interesting discussion. I picked up one other hint that hasn't been mentioned -- which is the one I use. I do the hot water in the pan on the stove with a bit of vinegar. Works for me to get off the bits of food that need to be gone.

I always have a bit of black on the paper towel when I dry and when I discussed it with a friend, he said he thought that was fine and worrying about it was like "overparenting" the pan. I stopped worrying and my pan is fine and behaves exactly like a well-behaved child should.

    Bookmark   September 6, 2006 at 10:15PM
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Hello-I was given a (what seems to be old)cast iron skillet. I just unpacked it after about 2 years in storage, and washed it in the dishwasher. I see this is a my question is should I season it...and if so, should I use vegetable oil/lard. I usually only keep canola oil or olive oil on hand, but will purchase what is necessary. Also, should I try to clean the outside, seems to have little chunky stuff on the outside. No rust. Please advise. Thank you.

    Bookmark   September 10, 2006 at 11:24AM
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Probably you should thoroughly clean it first, by putting it in the oven and using the self-clean cycle. The attached article is pretty good at explaining this, as well as how to season the pan once you have cleaned it. I use canola oil for the seasoning and it seems to work fine.

Here is a link that might be useful: cast iron

    Bookmark   September 10, 2006 at 3:57PM
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Yes, you ARE abusing your cast iron if you are using soap on it. The 'black residue' is SUPPOSED to be there, and acts as a non-stick agent. The MORE of it you can get built up, the better non-stick properties you will have.

I would not suggest using any food type oils on your cast iron, as they will turn rancid and sticky. I use mineral oil, as it will not turn rancid or cause odd flavors.

I have a Lodge cast iron wok, and it has never been touched with soap, (except for initial washing). I used high temp flat black spray paint on the exterior. Conventional stoves do not typically get hot enough to properly use a wok. I would not use a steel wok on your glass cooktop. That ring you will need to use to keep it "flat" will concentrate the heat not only on your wok, but on your cooktop as well, which will crack (glass tops), or burn thru the metal on conventional tops, if you use your wok a lot.

I pre-heat my cast iron wok for about 15 min on high, to sear the meat, but once that is done, and I add veggies, etc., it rapidly loses the stored heat, and the stove top cannot produce enough heat to keep the wok properly heated.

As to steaming in your cast iron cookware, I personally dont see the problem. I steam frequently, and have never had a problem. If you properly care for your cast iron cookware, rust should not be a problem. Besides, iron is GOOD for you, even if its rust, lol.

As to cleaning, I went to restaurant supply place, and got a plastic handled brush, (made with coconut fibers), and that is all I use to clean my cast iron stuff with. I put water in the wok, and bring it to a HARD BOIL, then transfer to the sink, and scrub away with the stiff bristled coconut brush. I rinse it out, and return it to the stove and put the burner on HIGH for several minutes, and I just store it. IF I know it will be in the cabinet for a long period, (Yeah, right, lol, like cast iron stays away for long), I will put a LIGHT coating of MINERAL OIL on it.

This is just what I do, your mileage may vary, read your owners manual, and the usual disclaimer language, LOL.

Feel free to email me if I can be of further assistance.


    Bookmark   September 18, 2006 at 3:51PM
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I taught mineral oil is bad for you...even on the does not penetrate the pores...they use it in construction!

    Bookmark   June 21, 2007 at 11:01PM
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Refined grades of mineral oil are not bad for you.....the unrefined grades can contain some impurities that may be harmful in very large dosages. Food grade or pharmaceutical (USP) grade mineral oil is perfectly safe to use. USP grade is used for laxative, relief of occasional constipation, and as a skin moisturizer. As noted above, it does not turn rancid, will never get sticky, and works well as a protective coating for preventing rust.

However, because mineral oil is composed of molecules that are 100% alkanes (unsaturates) it is totally worthless for patina development on cast iron. For good continual patina development it is preferable to use purchased lard or Crisco. These fats/oils have been hydrogenated to keep them stable from rancid reactions and they both contain sufficient unsaturated molecules that will polymerize when the pan is heated the next time it is used. Pam works well too.


    Bookmark   June 22, 2007 at 1:32AM
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