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Chat Leftovers: Seasoning in the pan

How was your morning coffee? Fresh enough for ya? If not, check out Joe Yonan's story today about DIY coffee roasting, perfected at home in his very own machine. And if you want to know more about it, join us today at 1 for the Free Range chat, your weekly chance to plumb the depths of the Food staff's collective expertise and see what comes up. Got culinary questions? Bring 'em on.

And speaking of questions, here's one we couldn't get to last week. To be honest, we couldn't get to it TWICE: This anxious chatter submitted the same query two weeks in a row. All right, already, whoever you are. Your determination will be rewarded.

Got a new pre-seasoned cast-iron skillet and am loving it. However, I’m wondering if there are things I shouldn’t cook in it. For example, I cooked a tomato-based dish (eggs poached in salsa) and it tasted metallic. Everything else has been great, though.
Also, the no-soap-when-cleaning thing is tough to get used to. How do you clean yours?

(Julia Ewan/The Washington Post)

I know there are a lot of people who say you should never use cast-iron cookware with foods that contain a lot of acid (tomatoes, wine, vinegar, etc.). Those people are right, but only up to a point. And that point has to do with seasoning. Yes, I know your pan was seasoned at the factory. But really, Lodge just begins the process. Only after repeated use will it reach that exalted state in which it becomes nearly impervious to whatever foodstuff you throw into it. Until then, acidic foods might emerge from the pan with the metallic taste you noticed.

Mark Kelly, a spokesman for Lodge Mfg. who swears he makes spaghetti sauce in his cast-iron pans all the time, says you have to think of the pre-seasoning as a "starter kit."

"When the pan leaves the foundry, it's as if it has been seasoned 15 or 20 times," he says. But it needs more than that to reach peak condition. So for a while, after you use the pan, apply a thin coat of oil and put it on a burner or in the oven (use low heat) to re-season.

In repeated cooking, oil from the food gets into the surface of the pan, hardens and stays there, forming a smooth barrier that acts to prevent sticking. "The more you cook with cast iron, the better it's going to get," Kelly says. So: Hold off on the tomato sauce initially, because it will remove some of the factory seasoning; use the pan frequently; and re-oil after use. "Once it's well seasoned, tomatoes are not a problem," he says. "People cook chili for hours in a cast-iron Dutch oven and it's fine."

Oh, yeah, and (to address your second question) to achieve good seasoning, don't wash the pan with soap. That's the official Lodge line, though Kelly amends it to say you can use soap if you want (he never does) but it should be a very mild kind. Ideally, you should clean the pan with hot water and a stiff plastic brush or a scrubber (no metal bristles or pads), then dry it right away and apply a light coat of oil to the warm pan. Don't worry about germs, because there won't be any, Kelly says: "These pans heat up to a minimum of 500 degrees. There's just not going to be any bacteria in it."

Check out Lodge's Web site for use and care information, recipes and more.

-- Jane Touzalin

By Jane Touzalin  |  January 20, 2010; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Chat Leftovers  | Tags: Chat Leftovers, Free Range, Jane Touzalin  
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I use some of Pampered Chef's stoneware and they too require no soap due to "seasoning." When my stoneware gets pretty messy, I will use baking soda and a little water (kind of like a paste) in the dish to clean it, but I really only need to do this once every six months or so. I think you could apply the same concept to cast iron skillets.

Posted by: Merdi | January 20, 2010 9:21 AM | Report abuse

I clean my cast iron with hot water, table salt, which acts as an abrasive, and a little elbow grease. I use a paper towel. After rinsing with more hot water, I set the pan on a low flame for a couple of minutes. Works great.

Posted by: hallosev2 | January 20, 2010 11:02 AM | Report abuse

It's really easy to destroy the seasoning on an iron pan... just leave water stand in it for a few hours. Or put it in the dishwasher.

I wipe mine out with paper towelling; if there's still some gunk in there, I scrub with kosher salt and the paper towel. If that doesn't work I put some water on the towel, scrub with more salt, then rinse, dry over low heat, and finally wipe with a little more oil.

My grandmother (b. 1886) never, ever, washed a cast-iron pan. She'd put them away with whatever grease was left over still in them, then melt it out before the next use. Fortunately for us, she used them every couple of days.

Posted by: heinpe | January 20, 2010 12:40 PM | Report abuse

I have the Lodge Pro-Logic 12" square grill pan. It really is a beautiful and amazing pan. So thick and rugged, I love it. I am going to pick up a few of the flat bottom pans for searing roasts and steaks.

Posted by: mattgitlin | January 21, 2010 10:42 AM | Report abuse

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