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Old 08-25-2009, 12:49 AM   #1
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Question About seasoning cast iron

I've always had difficulty cooking with cast iron, so for a long time I haven't had any. Recently, a friend gave me several new Lodge cast iron pan, because he's convinced I will love them when I learn to use them properly, and I promised I will approach them with an open mind - indeed, I will try to like them. As part of doing so, I'm trying to learn about the whole process of seasoning the pans and what has caused my problems in the past. I have three general questions, with my thoughts about each so you'll understand why I'm asking...

Question 1: What is seasoning, really?
Any discussion of cooking with cast iron always revolves around the seasoning of the pan. But, what is seasoning really? Lodge gives very clear directions involving coating the pan with melted crisco and then placing it in the oven for, I believe, an hour. I understand that coating the pan with liquid fat should leave a good layer of fat to prevent things from sticking, but what is the purpose of putting it in the oven for an hour? Does this somehow make the "seasoning" work better, or is it just to facilitate excess fat to drip off? If the latter, could we therefore regard this step as optional?

Question 2: Why did my eggs stick?
My primary experience that put me off the use of cast iron 20 years ago is that every time I tried to make eggs in it, they'd stick. My mother and various friends would simply put some butter in the pan, melt it, add eggs, and they'd cook just fine and come out cleanly. However, every time I tried to do this, having seen it done probably hundreds of times, and using a well seasoned pan and plenty of butter (trust me, I use generous amounts of butter), my eggs would stick, and the owner of the pan would be upset with me for ruining the seasoning of their pan. Does anybody have any clues as to why this might have happened? (I'm expecting that answers will be in the form of what I did wrong, so don't be afraid to criticize me here. I know it can be done right, I've seen it done, it's just that when I try to do it things go badly.) I'm not cooking any eggs in my new pans until I have a better understanding of this. (I have perfectly nice teflon coated steel pans for cooking my eggs so I'm in no rush.)

Question 3: Is seasoning really necessary?
This may shock cast iron aficionados, but my mother washed her two cast iron pans every day. With soap. Yet, she had no problems cooking with her pans, and her food did not stick to them. Yes, I'm really very sure of these facts. This leads me to wonder: If you're cooking with an adequate amount of oil/grease/butter, is it really necessary that the pan be seasoned, or can it simply be kept dry when not in use, oiled up at cooking time, washed and dried afterward, and used normally? I'm not suggesting that it would be better to wash the pan daily with soap and use bare cast iron, I'm just questioning whether this can be done on occasion when necessary of if (and this point I can not honestly recall after nearly 30 years) my mother only got away with it by perhaps using stupidly large amounts of grease?

Thanks for any advice that anyone may be able to render regarding these three questions.

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Old 08-25-2009, 05:38 AM   #2
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Last question first. Yes, seasoning is really necessary. Unseasoned cast iron will rust on contact with moisture. Seasoning the entire pan, inside and out is how you prevent this from happening. A well seasoned pan is truly non-stick and impervious to moisture. That's why mom was able to use soap.

When you season according to directions, the thin layer of fat is carbonized by the heat and converts that layer of fat into the hard black coating that is seasoning.

Use solid shortening, Crisco, in a thin layer and a 350 F oven. Coat the entire pan with a thin layer of Crisco and place it upside down in the preheated oven for an hour. Then turn off the oven and leave the pan in there to cool slowly.

Unseasoned cast iron is gray. Seasoned CI is black. The first seasoning works to protect the pan but repeated use will add to the non-stick qualities. Over time, your eggs will not stick to the pan.

There are many posts explaining this process in more detail on this site. Chek out some of them for more info.
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Old 08-25-2009, 06:12 AM   #3
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Like Andy mentioned, seasoning is absolutely necessary. Your moms pan was well seasoned which is why she was able to wash it with soap and water. A well seasoned pan can hold up to that. Without the seasoning the pan would be trash. It would rust in no time.

When seasoning the pan you do not want a good layer of fat (meaning a lot). You only want to cover all the surfaces with just enough fat to get everywhere. You do not want any extra. That will make the pan sticky. I would stay away from liquid fat initially and use Crisco instead, but you don't have to. Liquid will work just fine if that is what you want to do. Putting it in the oven does two things that are needed. First is that it opens the pores of the pan so that the fat can get in. Second is that it carbonizes the fat whick is what seasoning actually is. When the pan cools the pores close up some and really make that seasoning a solid layer across the entire surface.

Seasoning is not done once and then you are done. The initial seasoning is a one (or better yet 2 or 3) time thing, but every time you cook with the pan (with fat) you are continuing the seasoning process. The more you use it the better the seasoning will get and the more non-stick the pan will become. After time egg will cook just as if you were using Teflon. That will not happen right away though. Use the pan often and you will be rewarded.
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Old 08-25-2009, 07:19 AM   #4
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As far as the sticking problem, I am guessing that the

pan is not hot enough. A cast iron pan takes much longer than a stainless steel pan to heat up. If the pan is well seasoned and hot enough the food really won't stick.
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cast iron, seasoning

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