Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Seasoning Cast Iron Cookware

Cooking with cast iron is an easy and fun way to make delicious meals while camping.  Most people, including myself, can be intimidated by dutch oven cooking when they first see it done.  There is some art to the process that takes some trial and error, but if you have any cooking skills in a kitchen you’ll be able to figure the dutch oven out pretty quick.

Once you’ve found some quality cast iron cookware, you’ll want to perform the all-important seasoning process.  Properly seasoned cast iron cookware can last multiple lifetimes, as is the case with a cast iron skillet I use that belonged to my grandmother long before I came along.  It’s not difficult, but it’s the most important thing you’ll do as it prevents rust and corrosion, and it creates the non-stick surface for easy cooking and cleanup.

The initial seasoning process can take an hour or more.  This process will ensure you remove any factory applied coatings and contaminants and get a good surface to make your first meal.  Each time you use your cast iron cookware, with proper cleaning and treatment, you’ll be adding strength to the coating and look of your cookware.

When you first acquire cast iron cookware, it typically has a factory-applied waxy coating to protect from rust while waiting for its new owner.  Some cookware comes pre-seasoned, getting you to the camp cookout sooner rather than later.  Even with pre-seasoning, I still like to go through a heating and cleaning process before my first use.

To get started you’ll need a grill or oven; however, it is suggested to season your cookware outside as there will be quite a bit of smoke created.  For the true old-school experience, you can build a substantial fire to put your cookware in, but we’ll focus on using the grill for now.  The steps are as follows:

1. Heat your grill to around 400 degrees Fahrenheit, or about 204 C.
2. You’ll want to use warm to hot, soapy water and a good scouring pad to remove any waxy coating or rust buildup.  You need to get down to a clean metal surface.  After this first seasoning, you should never use soap for cleanup again.
3. Dry the cookware thoroughly and place it over the grill to remove any remaining moisture.  Remove it from the heat and let it cool until you can touch it with a bare hand.
4. Use vegetable oil or shortening and rub it all over the surface of your cookware, inside and out.  Do NOT use flavored shortening or butter.  You can use a paper towel or cotton rag to spread the coating into the corners, holes, and pores of the metal.  Wipe off excess oil until you have a smooth, clean-looking surface.
5. Now place your cookware on the grill, upside down and close the lid.
6. Bake your cookware for at least 45 minutes and up to an hour.  If you do choose to do this inside, open windows, turn on fans, and disconnect your smoke alarms.
7. Turn off your grill, but leave the cookware inside to cool for at least 30 minutes.
8. Find a good oven mitt or welder’s glove and remove your cookware.  Allow the cookware to cool until you are able to handle it with bare hands.

Your cookware should have a dark brown to black appearance with a smooth, glossy surface.  You may need to repeat steps 4 through 8 two or three times to get the desired look.  Now you’re ready to cook some great meals and enjoy the great outdoors.  As you use your cast iron cookware, you’ll see that the grease, oil, and fat from your foods will further coat and season each piece.  Acidic foods can strip the coating, so pay particular attention to clean up and recoating after cooking these types of dishes.  With proper use and cleaning, your coating will become stronger, cleanup will be easy, and your meals will be delicious and satisfying.

Enjoy your cast iron cooking!  What are some of your best (or worst/funny) stories about using cast iron at your campout?

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