Friday, September 7, 2012

Chalk One Up for the Internet (Cast Iron)

I'm sure the internet was feeling just TERRIBLE after the way I besmirched it in my last post. I implied (or honestly, said flat out) that the internet causes us to do things we ordinarily wouldn't do. No, not porn or online gambling; I'm talking about crafts.

 Last summer a surge of posts popped up in my Google Reader about seasoning cast iron skillets, and because (all evidence to the contrary) I like to think of myself as a good cook, I was intrigued. I'd had a cast iron skillet once, and the danged thing got rusty and gross almost before I got it home from the store. But people who use and love cast iron are liked reformed smokers: After talking to one of these evangelists for a few minutes you find yourself wanting to take up smoking just so you can quit. I can DO THAT, you think.

So when I saw a set of three old cast iron skillets for sale in our local buy/sell/trade site (for TEN DOLLARS! Ten dollars, folks!) I snapped them up.

They were old and obviously hadn't seen much use in the past few weeks. Or years, or decades. But I found a bookmarked site (which, unfortunately, I cannot now relocate) that explained how to clean them off.

First you take pictures of the "before" because some day you might want to blog about it, even if it's months and months later. (See pics above.) Then you cover that sucker with oven cleaner. The "how to" will remind you to wear a mask. They are not kidding. It turns out to be hugely inconvenient to try to hold your breath the entire time you do this, putting the pan down and running to the end of the block every time you want to replenish oxygen flow to your brain.

Next, slide the spray-covered pans into trash bags and leave them in burning heat of a Kansas July for two or three days. If possible, arrange to do this in an especially lovely section of the yard, where the drought has decimated the grass. It gives a certain je ne sais quois to the landscaping, kind of a poor man's substitute if you can't afford a junked car to put up on blocks in your yard.

(True story: We already had friends living here when we moved to Small Town 25 years ago. "The first thing you have to know about Small Town," one of them told us, "is that there is a slum on every block. Once you get used to that, you'll be fine." He was correct in his assessment, and over the years we've wondered if we are now That Slum.)

After the pans have marinated in oven cleaner for a few days, remove them from the bags and clean off the slime with paper towels. Unlike me, document this step photographically.

Repeat. Repeat. See what I did there? I compressed eight days of marination into two words, and now the accumulated years of dirt, rust, and baked-on grease are almost gone.

Now scrub-scrub-scrub the pans with a wire brush, or a grill cleaner if that's what you happen to have on hand. You will have reached bare cast iron and it's beginning to look something you'd be willing to put actual food in.

Here I obviously was bored by the whole process because I quite taking pictures, but you'll need to season the pans. This process is thoroughly documented on the evil internet, in so many places I don't even want to choose a single link, but I used something like this method. Preheat oven to a gabillion degrees, coat pans with cooking oil, put in oven for 45 minutes or until the smoke detectors are making you crazy, turn off oven, go to bed. Repeat the next day.

When you've baked that oil on a couple of times your cast iron will look like this:


Now, in addition to the original $10 investment you have spent $8.50 for oven cleaner, a few cents for trash bags, $12 in batteries for the smoke alarms, and approximately $50,000 worth of time (assuming you bill out at $5,000 per hour). But you have a fantastic set of cast iron cookware, and you can make this:
Fried chicken and cornbread for July 4.
Worth it.

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