Cast iron takes a little extra work to maintain, compared with the maintenance of nonstick or stainless steel pans. It’s worth the bother, because cast iron yields better results. Nothing beats a cast iron skillet for frying eggs or making pancakes or baking na’an bread.
Unlike non-stick pans, cast iron will hold up to hard use and won’t scratch when it comes into contact with a metal spatula. It provides the convenience of manufactured non-stick surfaces without the nagging worry about the health benefits of ingesting small amounts of plastic in your food. Cast iron also distributes heat more evenly than most aluminum or stainless steel, so there’s less scorching and burning. Food cooked with fats such as butter or ghee won’t stick to it. Margarine, canola or sunflower seed oil will work, but the pan will need re-curing sooner.
To season a new cast-iron skillet, place it in a hot oven to heat up. Remove the pan, pour some cooking oil in it, and wipe it evenly over the entire inside surface with a paper towel. Allow the pan to cool. Repeat this procedure after the pan has cooled. Redo this as many times as needed to achieve a smooth satin-like finish to the cooking surface. It will shine a little from the rubbed oil. There’s no need to fire up the oven exclusively for curing pans. Just store the pans in the oven and leave them in when pre-heating oven for other baking activities.
To maintain the pan after each use, clean it out as soon as possible, preferably before it has fully cooled off. If the pan is sufficiently cured, it only needs to be rinsed with water, wiped with paper towel, and dried off. If any cooked food has stuck to the pan, use a little salt-and-olive-oil mixture to scrub it out. To make this mixture, place a cup of coarse pickling salt in a wide-mouth crock and pour enough of the oil over it to moisten the salt and make a sticky paste. Keep a covered crock by the kitchen sink ready for use. It keeps for months and doubles as a moisturizing hand scrub for dry hands.
The oil-and-salt procedure works especially well for ‘rescuing’ a pan that has lost its cured finish. Four things are guaranteed to ruin the shiny, smoothness of cast iron: (1) Washing it with dish soap. (2) Putting it in the dishwasher. (3) Scrubbing it with steel wool. (4) Storing it wet. It will rust. On this last point, though, rust is rare and usually just appears along the edges.
Maintaining cast iron pieces quickly becomes part of the routine in the kitchen.These pans won’t wear out. They will stay in service long enough to become heirlooms. One inexpensive way to test this is to buy an old cast-iron pan at a second-hand store. Take the time to re-cure it, and the reward will be a pan with a history that’s also as good as new.