New Secondhand Cast-Iron Pan, and Curing Fat Update

Cast Iron
New pan – front and center. Back right and left are my cast iron griddle and a roasting/baking dish respectively. Note: the reddish spots on edges of pan and inside it are caused by a trick of light (also seen as red-tinged reflection on the bottom of the pan) – it isn’t actually rusty.

Yesterday a friend of mine has showed me the local (larger) Asian shop (I’d not call it supermarket, but it is bigger than the other tiny Asian shop in city centre, and while we were in the area, we wandered by the secondhand store – where I ran across this tiny and cute cast-iron pan with pour spouts.  It had nearly perfect seasoning surface, so I grabbed it immediately because it means I could use it almost right away, with just a brisk cleaning and a single re-seasoning.

And since I was going to heat up the oven and smoke up the kitchen anyway, I have decided to give a thorough cleaning and a layer of seasoning to the rest of my cast iron as well.  I won’t go through the whole seasoning-from-scratch process here, because 1. that’s not what I did with these pans so I have no photos of process or any such thing, and 2. there are lots of good step-by-step guides to doing it on the internet.  What this is, is a short rundown on how to get your used cast-iron pan into tip-top condition for cooking, and it’s really both fast, and easy.

You are going to need:

  • Cast iron pan
  • Potholders, good thick ones
  • An oven
  • Some steel wool and something to scrape with (back of an unloved stainless steel spoon will do)
  • Rough dish brush
  • Hot water
  • A bit of vegetable oil such as raps, peanut or whatever you have in the kitchen (refined, not cold-pressed!)
  • Not white-or-new kitchen towels, paper towels or rags

Here’s what you do:

  • Place a rack in the middle of the oven and a foil-covered baking sheet below it.  Preheat oven to 250C.
  • Wash your cast iron pan thoroughly in hot water and wipe with a towel.
  • Examine the surface.  If it’s smooth but a bit worn down, skip next step.
  • If there is any burned-on food in charred-looking patches, scrape it off with back of spoon or whatever you are using.  Polish the spot(s) with steel wool.  Don’t panick about the soap often present in it – you are going to rinse and re-season the pan anyway, and honestly, I never noticed a bit of soap to harm the seasoning unduly.  Wash your pan and rinse it thoroughly, wipe with a towel.  Repeat step until you are happy with the surface.
  • Heat a stovetop burner, and set the pan on it to dry.  When you see smoke (not steam, it’ll smell of smoke!), turn burner off and take pan off it.  This is to prevent trapping any water inside the pores of the pan.  Allow to cool till warm but not hot to touch.
  • Drip a little of the oil into the pan, wad up a dry(!) rag or a piece of paper towel and spread the oil all over the inside and edges of your pan, wiping it around until you have a thin layer coating but nothing is dripping or leaking anywhere.
  • Stick the pan upside-down into the preheated oven, close the oven and turn on your exhaust.  Opening your windows as wide as possible won’t hurt, either – there won’t be a huge amount of smoke, but the oil smoke smell isn’t very nice, so I prefer to do all possible not to have it linger.  Set timer for 30 min.
  • In 30 min, turn the oven off and allow the pan(s) to cool inside it to avoid burns and other unpleasantness.
  • Take the pans out and admire the new shiny black seasoning coat!  Now your cast iron is ready for the autumn and winter cooking!

A lot of people argue muchly about the type of fat to season the pans with.  I use vegetable oil for quick reseasoning because it’s easy to wipe on, and it polymerizes quickly.  However, I believe the best seasoning layer would result from multiple seasonings with different fats, or build up as you cook various things in your newly-shiny pan!

In the spirit of the above, after this photo was taken, I fried some chorizo to go with an avocado and tomato salad for today’s lunch in the new pan.  The sausage browned beautifully on med-high heat setting, and the pan cleaned up very easily as well.  Victory!

In other news, I would like to offer a 2-weeks-in update for those curious about my pork fat curing experiment.  The update is without pictures, because the salt-covered fat didn’t look significantly different from the pictures in Day 5 update (not enough that it’d show in photos) and I didn’t want to keep the dish out of the fridge longer than necessary, so I re-buried the fat and placed it back in the fridge as soon as I was done taking a look.

Observations:  fat looks and smells great.  There has been a bit more liquid drawn out by the salt, judging by the salt’s detectably but not significantly darker color.  The consistency and color of the fat are more or less unchanged from last time – creamy white and pink, no discoloration or off smells.  According to Russian Authorities(™), it needs to cure another week before I reverently dig it out and slice it to try.  I can’t wait!

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5 thoughts on “New Secondhand Cast-Iron Pan, and Curing Fat Update

  1. If possible I scrub the skillet with coarse salt and a paper towel, (as per Alton Brown), then wipe out. Sometimes I have to add water to make a paste, then I rinse and dry on high heat then cool and coat with olive oil spray. Other times I use a shiny stainless steel wool used for pots and pans, and sometimes need Dawn dish soap but don’t like to use soap on them if possible. I alway dry on a burner and oil spray. Sometimes there’s still a coating of oil or bacon fat in the pan after cleaning with salt, and I don’t need to rinse.

    1. All of those work, except I would suggest avoiding using oil spray with propellant (like PAM) for cast iron. Spraying is only ok if you have a pump bottle – some of the additives in pressurized-can cooking spray aren’t terribly good to heat to very high temperatures such as when seasoning pans.

      I tend to make sure there isn’t a coating of fat left in the pan after I wash it, because that can go rancid and attract insects, which isn’t something I like in my kitchen. Salt or coarse brush and very hot water is my usual mode of dealing with it – I bring a bit of dish soap out if it’s too stubbornly greasy and refuses to clean up otherwise.

      1. If you really like to keep them oiled, I would just pour a bit of vegetable oil in after you’ve dried the pan, and wipe it around in a thin layer with a paper towel. The spray isn’t pure oil which is why I don’t recommend it.

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