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Preserve cast iron cookware for future generations

Take care when cleaning cast iron cookware.
Take care when cleaning cast iron cookware. MCT

In recent years, I have noticed a resurgence of interest in cast iron cookware. Somehow I can taste the prior years of tasty fried chicken, hot cornbread and gravy that was created in a cast iron pan.

I also feel the connection with my family’s history. In most families, cast iron is passed down through generations and my family is no different. I inherited four pieces of my family’s cast iron collection from my granny and great-aunt.

I also have made common mistakes when caring for the pieces. Thankfully, I learned from the error of my ways and now all the pieces are in excellent condition. Cast iron cookware can last forever with proper care.

Cleaning cast iron is easy. While the cast iron is still warm, rinse it with hot running water. You can scrape off remaining food with a wooden spoon. Use a towel to wipe it clean. Occasionally, I get foods that are really stuck on, or as my 6-year-old informs me, burnt.

When this happens, I cover the food with warm water and let the pan sit during dinner. If it’s a really tough job, I use a salt paste made of salt and water (kosher salt works best) as an abrasive in the warm pan, then wipe it clean and dry it.

You may have noticed I haven’t mentioned dish detergent to clean the cast iron. If you feel more comfortable using dish detergent, use a small amount of a mild dish detergent to clean it. Ensure you rinse it well. You want to avoid stripping the seasoning from your cast iron and strong dish detergent and scrub pads will do just that.

Proper cleaning is essential for cast iron, but how you dry it comes in a close second. Never let your cast iron cookware air dry. The moisture tends to rust the iron surface. Instead, dry it with a towel or paper towel. You can also place it in a warm oven to completely dry.

Seasoning your cast iron is also important. Seasoning is oil that, over time, is absorbed into the cast iron that seals it to produce a nonstick surface. To keep it nonstick and gleaming, place a quarter-sized amount of any food grade oil (e.g. coconut, canola, flaxseed or lard) in the bottom of your cookware and spread it around to make a thin coating. Place a few paper towels in the pan to absorb any extra oil. If your cast iron is sticky to the touch, you may have used too much oil. This can be remedied by wiping out any excess oil, heating the pan on the stovetop and wiping clean with a towel.

There are a few things that you should never do to your cast iron cookware:

▪ Never put hot cast iron cookware in water, which could cause it to crack.

▪ Never let your cast iron cookware air dry; the moisture could cause rusting.

▪ Never cook tomatoes or deglaze with wine or vinegar in cast iron. The acidity from these foods may react with the cast iron and create a metallic taste in your dishes. It also could cause a breakdown of the protective seasoning of your pan.

▪ Never let your cast iron sit submerged in water or with water in it for an extended period of time.

Cast iron cookware can last a lifetime — or two or three. It only needs proper care and cleaning. Whether you are making Grandma June’s famous peach cobbler or Uncle Leroy’s salmon croquets, preserve your cast iron cookware as you would any piece of your family’s history.

Contact county Extension agent Keishon J. Thomas at 478-751-6338 or thomaskj@uga.edu.

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