Apparently, I’m a cast iron dunce.
I’ve received more helpful "teachable moment" comments and emails (no phone calls yet, thank goodness) about this cast iron and egg cooking debacle than anything else I’ve written about!
So many folks have stepped up to defend good old cast iron that truly, the pans ought to run for president. They’re winning a popularly contest hands down over here!
Everyone tells me they cook perfect eggs and clean up is a breeze.
I am told my pan is just not well seasoned enough.
(My pan is very old and has been used almost daily for a few years here at my house, so it’s not "too new." I’ve just never "officially" seasoned it in the oven.)
Time to invite you to my kitchen…
Here’s me cooking eggs:
See some of that "non-stick" quality happening under the eggs? It was working great…
Until the end of the process. Yuck. Lots of stuck egg!
This is a pain…
Scraping got this much off…but it still took water, a green scrubby, and 5-10 minutes to finish the job.
I was planning to just follow the directions to season the pan last week and then post on cast iron care…but after I seasoned it using one set of directions, not only did I find about 5 other ways to do it, but I also still couldn’t cook the perfect egg.
It was better:
But not perfect.
As usual, here I am telling you how NOT to do something.
As part of the Safer in September series, my readers will step in and share today about their successful egg-cooking love of cast iron, and by the time you reach the bottom of the post, you’ll have plenty of ideas about how to season yours!
How to Season Cast Iron Pots and Pans
Always add oil, in my opinion. Keeps the moisture out!
And here’s how I season mine: rub with bacon grease (I’m sure any solid fat would work well) and set in the oven while I’m baking bread or something that takes longer than 30 minutes to bake. Leave the pan in during baking and afterwards, and then you should have a nice black pan. I don’t rub it with oil after every time I wash it, but only if I’ve cooked something that has started to affect the seasoning (like polish sausage and sauerkraut).
I tried this version at 350-400F for about an hour and a half to 2 hours. They smoked, they smelled, the bread and dinner still baked up okay, but my eggy results are the last photo above. More testing needed!
I seasoned our cast iron skillets (a wedding gift to my mom 30 years ago that she NEVER used, so she gave them to me) according to the method listed on GNOWFGLINS.
We’ve used them numerous times and never had to re-season them. maybe the problem is that you are “washing” them… even if it’s just with water. i never use water on ours unless i ABSOLUTELY have to. (that’s happened maybe twice.) i simply use a metal spatula to scrape off whatever is on the pan when it’s still hot, and then leave it! no water, no scrubbing, no drying. (talk about a major benefit to using cast iron!) i have noticed that when i’ve used water, it’s like all of the oil is gone and the pan almost seems a little rusted. the couple times i’ve had to do this, i just coat it as soon as it dries with a layer of butter.
Links that really give comprehensive tutorials on seasoning cast iron:
- From Naturally Knocked Up – this is the one I’m trying next when I get around to it – a whopping 500F with all your windows open!
- If that doesn’t work, this method that hinges on using flax oil would be another one to try, but I don’t really love buying flax oil because it goes rancid so quickly.
- How to fix old and rusty cast iron – this tutorial has lots of photos and uses oven cleaner, a plastic bag, a vinegar soak, and then teaches how to season the cast iron with oil upside down in an oven. Helpful for those garage sale finds!
- From Joy the Baker – she instructs to heat on the stove, add fat, then bake upside down at 350 multiple times.
- From About.com – a few hours at 225F; don’t know if I trust this one
This is my second cast iron pan, one that was given to me new a few years ago and sat in a box for 6 months when we moved. It looked pretty rusty when it came out, and I FINALLY got around to some reseasoning it last week in the oven with dinner, as I mentioned above.
This black oil is freaking me out though – no way am I putting food in there! Perhaps this is why some sites on seasoning cast iron say to wipe the excess out, thin layers are good, and turn the pan upside down to catch any "pooling." Pooling is bad. I’m thinking this is the result of pooling. Don’t do what I do…
When the cast iron is really a mess:
Cast iron restores well, too. We inherited one that had layers of stuff stuck to it. While we were having a bonfire one night we put the pan right in the fire. The next day we pulled a brand new pot out of the ashes. All it needed was a little seasoning.
How to Cook with Cast Iron
Here’s the advice I’ve always used for cast iron cooking:
Heat up the pan for a few minutes without anything in it.
Add the grease, liberally (on medium heat so you don’t smoke out)
Add the food.
When you’re finished and the eggs still seem to have made a mess, add water and bring to a boil. Most – most – of the junk will come right off.
I also received plenty of egg cooking advice from folks who make perfect eggs in cast iron. It’s an art form to be learned, for sure!
Warm Pan, Cold Oil – Key to cooking with cast iron!
I also use cast iron for everything including eggs and pancakes. The key is enough oil, but I usually only oil once while making pancakes.
"Warm pan, cold oil," meaning you heat up the pan, then add the oil.
My mom’s been using cast iron her whole life to do most of her cooking, and this is how she taught me to do it.
Perhaps the most helpful and simplest tip:
A reader pointed out when she saw the photos of my cast iron and Xtrema in my ceramic cookware review that I probably learned to cook eggs in Teflon, because I was using a plastic spoonula. She was the only one to point out the simple problem:
Just use a metal spatula like this one to scrape the eggs as you go.
Really? I tried it with our metal grill spatula which looks like the one she pointed out but longer handled, and honestly, it did make a humongous difference. However, it still took me 5 minutes (not 10!) and some elbow grease to get out the stuck scrambled eggs from the side of the pan. Maybe I need a wire brush instead of my scrapers and green scrubby?
eggs will stick…
via email: Hey – I cook with cast iron. Always have, and keep pans seasoned well. Here is the truth about cast iron and not sticking: 1) if you are searing something inherently dryish (meat, veg) on a dry hot pan and you pay attention to it, turning/removing as soon as it releases from the pan, it will stick very little. 2) If you are cooking a colloid (like eggs) or another gelling-sticky substance (like cheese or milk products), you must use a goodly amount of oil/fat, preferably putting it into a hot pan (as hot as the oil will take without smoking). 3) Otherwise, fuhgetaboutit.
My reply: LOL! You’re right, it IS why Teflon sells. I know the fat thing, I just can never get enough, even though I’m not afraid of fat. It gets expensive cooking that way! Thanks for the encouragement!
no butter, no scraping…
My hubby fixes eggs in the same cast iron skillet I do, and inevitably leaves a lot of egg remnants in the pan. Whereas I’ll fix the same style of eggs, and leave almost nothing – I think it is just technique.
I also don’t fry my eggs in butter – only lard or ghee. (or bacon fat.)
For eggs I heat the pan on medium (while gathering materials), put in my fat, and throw in my eggs once the fat is hot. I gently move quickly with a fork, (one less dish!) flipping over parts that are cooked, rather than dragging my utensil across. I also turn the heat down slightly.
A note from Katie: Yes, I get to talk in this post, too! Many readers have also mentioned that the newer cast iron pan, like that Lodge Logic one linked to above, are made differently than the old ones.
Older cast iron is smoother, newer are more pitted and absorb more (not a good thing). So. I guess that wasn’t really me talking, was it? My readers know everything!
use butter, let the bottom cook first…
LOTS of readers told me I just need to change my eggy technique. "Not so much stirring, Katie!" coming from all directions.
Apparently, one trick to cooking with cast iron is to let the scrambled eggs cook up a bit on the bottom, then flip them over, instead of constantly stirring and stirring. This blogger to whom I was referred says to use butter, brown it, then cook slowly with minimal stirring.
This is going to break my son’s heart. Since age 4, he’s prided himself on making the best eggs in the house, mostly because he has the time and patience to cook on low, low heat (the best flavor for eggs, guaranteed!!!) and stir them the whole time so there aren’t bits of white and bits of yolk, but creamy, uniform eggs.
The rules for cooking eggs in cast iron:
1. Get the pan hot first. Maybe at least 2-3 minutes of preheating.
2. Use lots and lots of fat – enough to really cover the bottom.
3. Use a metal utensil and scrape as you stir
4. Let the bottom set up a bit and then flip, rather than constantly stirring.
How to Clean and Care for Your Cast Iron
I get why some people run and hide from the idea of cast iron cookware. It’s not as simple from the get-go as non-stick – although sometimes it’s simpler, in practice.
You just have to remember the rules for cleaning cast iron:
- As mentioned above, preheat the pan really well first to avoid messes.
- Just wipe it out if it’s not a big mess.
- Don’t use soap. Just hot water for big messes.
- Scrapers are okay! Metal utensils are okay!
- Salt is a great scrubbing tool.
- For stuck on food, many people – myself included – find that adding hot water right away and/or boiling a bit of water on the stovetop loosens everything up quite nicely. Cuts cleaning/scraping time by 75%!
- Make sure it’s completely dry – I tend to use the stovetop for 30-60 seconds to dry it out. Cast iron stains my towels too much and I don’t like using paper towel if I can help it.
- Most say to add a layer of oil after drying, if you used water. (I’m cutting up old T-shirts to keep under the sink for this task, in an attempt to not use paper towel to do it anymore. I’ll throw them away after a few uses – it’s not recommended to put oil-soaked rags in the washing machine.)
- Don’t store nested with others to prevent rusting/scratching
More tips from the KS community:
rinse and salt…
I have cooked with iron pots for years. After they are well seasoned just rinse out and apply a little salt while keeping it on warm on your stove -then shut it off and it will be like new again.
cold water immediately…
Run cold water in it the minute you take out the eggs and they should be more removable when you get to it.
hot water immediately…
I’ve been cooking with cast iron for over 40 years and have never experienced the difficulty you’re having.
You simply need to add water to the hot pan, place it back on the stove, eat your meal & then clean up.
The heated water loosens everything in the pan. Also, use a heated pan to cook. I use butter to cook eggs. I found that olive oil (which I prefer) will always make the eggs stick. Sometimes I mix both. When you clean the skillet, never use anything except soap & water. Place the wet pan on the stove and reheat to dry.
You may need to oil the pan to season it before you use it again.
i’ve never, ever had pancakes stick, and i’m surprised to hear you say yours do! i don’t even use that much butter. hmm. they just always slide right out of the pan for us.
so first, a good seasoning should DEFINITELY help, and second, maybe try not to use water unless you have to? even when i saute things like peppers, onions, garlic, or after pancakes, etc… i just remove the crumbs (usually just with my fingers but a towel or paper towel would work, too) and then leave the pan on the stovetop ready for its next use. no water!
I LOVE my cast iron pans. I own 3 skillets–small, medium and large. The first two are hand-me-downs from my grandmother, who had used them for 50 years prior to me getting them (and I’ve had them for 16+ years). My care methods may not be perfect for everyone, but I’m happy to share what I do:
1) They don’t always need washed. Grilled cheese, pancakes, fried eggs, etc, can be wiped out and put away for later. Strong flavored foods, such as onions and garlic will flavor the next thing cooked unless washed.
2) If food is stuck, such as scrambled eggs, once you’ve scraped out what you can, while the pan is still hot, pour in a little water (warm water better). Scrape, let sit while you eat, then come back, finish scraping out.
3) I DO use dish soap when needed. Dry immediately afterward with a papertowel as some black marks may stain dish towel. If pan is dull and gray, wipe it down with some oil before storing it away.
4) Cast iron is great for baking in the oven too. Be sure to oil the pan well before you put the bread dough/batter in!
5) I store my pans in the oven. Sometimes I forget to pull them out before turning the oven on, but it isn’t a problem.
A cast iron pan isn’t that expensive. Target sells a Lodge Logic Cast Iron 12″ skillet for less than $20. Take care of it and pass it down to your grandchildren. That is cheaper than buying and replacing Teflon-type pans.
hot pan, cold water…
The best trick I’ve found for cleaning when my cast iron has stuck on items (like fried potatoes or squash) – I heat the pan hot, then stick under cold water and scrub quickly with a scrub brush. That gets anything off.
Except sauces – I make sauces regularly in my cast iron too, which pull off the coating somewhat (I really should use my stainless, but I like cooking everything in one pan.) So for sauces I have to run hot water on the pan, scrub and voila.
A brand new “pre-seasoned” cast iron skillet is a miserable thing though. It took a lot of work to get my skillet to a useable form.
I’m glad you found something that works better for you, but it doesn’t seem that you’re giving cast iron a fair chance here. I use mine multiple times a day and rarely have to scrub it.
My husband bought our set of cast iron pans for our first anniversary when I was struggling with anemia (not romantic, but I loved it!). Since then, I’ve sailed through five pregnancies with the doctor grumbling that my iron level was better than his.
I believe it’s really worth the work to get used to using cast iron.
I wrote: Need help with cast iron care – can I use a green scrubby? Do you clean by boiling water in pan? Do u heat to dry on the stove, then grease?
I use a pampered chef scraper + hot water on mine, towel dry & then rub a couple drops of olive oil inside. It works just fine.
Yes to scrubby, don’t boil water in it, just rinse with hot water and scrub gently. Dry on med heat for about 1 min then oil.
Wipe it clean. If the food is caked on, heat the pan so the food comes off easily. Rinse with hot water. Hope this helps.
I scrape off any gunk with a plastic scraper (like for my pizza stone) and wipe dry with a paper towel. Keeps it well seasoned.
Hot water and a stainless steel scrubby, then put on the stove over low heat to dry, add a little coconut oil if needed.
As you can see, as long you either never use soap or just use soap, never use water or use hot or cold water, reseason with oil every time or leave it alone, and either dry it on the stove hot or don’t dry it at all…you’re taking good care of your cast iron.
Apparently there are as many right ways to care for cast iron as there are wrong ways! (I think I’ve probably done all the wrong ways and some of the right ways…)
And One Important Reminder:
Also from a reader:
I can’t remember where I heard it from, but someone mentioned that cast iron from China is known to have lead in it. So be sure that your thrift store cast iron is made in the US.
Cast iron is largely considered completely safe and some say it’s actually good for you to get iron in your system.
Others say the iron is not bio-available and that if your body can’t get rid of it, it could cause problems. In some ways, it seems crazy to filter heavy metals out of my water with my Berkey and then end up with them right back in my soup because of the pot I’m using. ??? (Win $125 credit to LPC Survival, authorized Berkey sellers, through Friday night!)
But…it’s definitely something that has been used for cooking for a long, long time – since before stoves, in fact (500 B.C. in China, preceded by brass). God made iron, God made fat…and those are the two parts of the game when cooking with cast iron. Plus, it looks so rustic on the stove! I’m a fan…especially if I can get mine to act more like these ladies’ do!
Note: I’m doing a fun LIVE teaching class for FREE on Sunday evening at 9 p.m. EST. I’m demonstrating a recipe from my upcoming book, Better Than a Box, and two ways to make a white sauce to reverse engineer all those "cream of" soup recipes and casseroles you might not make anymore since you don’t want to use processed cans.
Maybe I’ll even use my cast iron! Mwah!
You can register HERE and also can see the class after the fact if you can’t make it live (I know that’s dinner hour on the West Coast) – but you have to register in order to view!