Cast Iron -- It's a Guy Thing.

By Mark Tully

I don't know what it is, but for some reason women just can't deal with cast iron. Oh, they can wield it just fine, the problem comes with maintaining it.

Jack's Skillet, a relatively new book by Jack Butler, offers all sorts of tips and recipes using cast iron. Jack was on Wisconsin Public Radio recently and he expounded that, for some reason, women just can't deal with a good, black, greasy, piece of cast iron. They HAVE to clean it. They may not want to, they just have to.

So, guys, it's up to you. Take charge of your cast iron! Save it from further spousal abuse by wrestling it from your significant other and taking it under your charge!

Now, since some of you won't know what to do with your iron once you are in possession of it, here are a few tips:

  • POLISH YOUR IRON. Cast iron right out of the box rarely has a good cooking surface to it. Jack says that the cooking surface of any piece of iron should be sanded, scraped and buffed to a mirror polish before seasoning. The combination of a smooth, shiny finish and a good seasoning job will give you a perfect non-stick surface. Do NOT sandblast the inside of your iron -- that will put thousands of tiny pits in the metal which will make everything stick to it. Use a fine sandpaper, then progressively finer grits of emery cloth and steel wool -- just like when polishing your gun.

  • SEASON IT. Jack recommends wiping the inside of your new iron with shortening or some other cooking grease, then putting into the oven at 350 degrees for one full hour. It'll smoke up your house, but once it's seasoned you will be the proud owner of the ultimate non-stick cooking utensil. Non-stick does NOT mean you can cook without cooking grease -- you will still need to put a little oil in it every time you cook. You won't need a lot, just put a tablespoon or so of oil in the middle and wipe it around the inside with a rag or paper towel. It helps to do this when the iron is good and hot -- don't burn yourself! Unfortunately, the best things to season iron with are the worst things for your diet. Try using beef lard for a really fine, long-lasting season job!

  • INSTANT CLEAN UP. The very second you are done cooking your food, wipe out your iron with an old rag and a little super-hot water. Cast iron retains heat (one of the properties that makes it so wonderful for cooking) and if you set it aside -- even for a few minutes while you eat -- the food residue left in it will bake-on and get really crusty. If you wipe it out really well right away you shouldnŐt ever need to re-season it! I know a lot of you are squeamish about bacteria and all that, but I have it on good authority that just about any bacteria you might run into are killed by the heat of cooking, so if you wipe your iron out well with a little boiling water immediately after each use you shouldn't have anything to worry about.

  • DO NOT SOAK IRON. The worst thing you can do to a piece of iron is to wash or scour it with soap. The second worse thing is to let it soak -- even in just plain water. I can't count the times I have seen a frying pan full of water sitting all day next to a fire pit. If you wipe out your iron as soon as you are done cooking, it will retain its seasoning so the food won't stick and it will clean up in a snap. You shouldnŐt ever have to soak it in water to soften-up the baked-on food.

    For more tips and some great recipes -- including a great one on how to make corn bread in a skillet -- check out Jack Butler's new book, Jack's Skillet.

    See a follow-up article in the Spring issue.