At one time, if you asked me, I would have answered that cast iron was the bain of my existence in the kitchen and I disliked them it much. I didn’t know how to care for them and my ignorance and unwillingness to learn how to take care of them stopped me from using one of the best pans around.
About 3 years ago I finally said I needed to learn. It wasn’t for me really, it was due to the fact I was starting to teach BBQ courses and people kept asking me how to care for their cast iron grills. I took out my cast iron pan that I had never really used because I didn’t want to care for it. I followed the directions I found on the internet and voila, simple! it was seasoned….well not really. It was seasoned to a degree, although when I cooked on it things stuck, often, bad. I still hated my cast iron pan, but at the same time I loved the way it held heat. So over the next three years I seasoned the pan probably a dozen times or more. Way too much.
Then about 2 months ago I read an article, unfortunately I cannot remember where I actually read this article. In short it stated if you seasoned your cast iron pan x way you did it wrong and that you really should do it this way. Well I am not above trying new things, especially with my beloved/severely hated cast iron pan. Apparently the trick was two fold, 1) not turning your pan upside down, and 2) using flaxseed oil for the seasoning.
How to season your cast iron cooking stuffs.
(at the end of this set of instructions is a link to another way of seasoning your cast iron as well, not written by me, it has a lot more detail)
1) Turn your oven onto 500 degrees (or better yet your grill outside). This will make your house very smelly so do it when there is nobody about, or outside (do it outside really).
2) Give your cast iron a good cleaning, make sure that all food stuffs have been removed. If this calls for you to use some dish soap, just do that. I know using dish soap is tantamount to a mortal sin for cast iron freaks, and after this you will understand why.
3) Make sure your cast iron is well dried, pour a small amount of flax seed oil into a bowl, use a paper towel and spread a small amount of flax seed onto the cast iron (if using a pan, just the cooking areas and the handles will do).
4) ensure that the flax seed oil is not pooling, then place in your oven, or grill and leave it there for 30 full minutes. I did a pan and I didn’t turn it upside down, it worked perfect.
5) After 30 minutes pull out the cast iron, let it cool down and add another round of flax seed oil. At this point you will notice that some of your flax seed may be pooling. Make sure where it is pooling is either totally wiped up, or that it spreads evening. Then put it back into your oven or grill for a further 30 minutes.
6) Remove and let cool again, you can do this for as many times as you need but you should have a very shiny, very glossy, very slippery coat of hardened flax seed oil on your cast iron.
From this point forward you will treat your cast iron with respect and wash it with warm water only and a soft cloth. It should wipe off as easy as a non stick pan (mine is a simple swipe usually). The odd time I will have to use a nylon scrub brush lightly to remove some tougher grime (I am tough on my pans) the coating is always there when I am done.
Apparently what is happening is that flax seed oil is a relative of linseed oil which is also a coating for wood. It dries hard. Flax seed is food safe and edible, and when it dries it does so rock hard as well. Makes your cast iron slippery and fairly non stick. 1 lb of bacon is a simple swipe for clean up.
Enjoy your cast iron as I have just learned to love mine for what it should be. I use it nearly every night.
Note: a friend of mine (David Ort) sent me a link on twitter right after I wrote this. It contains one hell of a lot more data than I have here to why it works. Her way of doing it was different than mine, a lot longer. If I have the time I will try that one at a later day for sure.