At the recent chuck wagon cook-off in Hondo, I sat down with a couple of campfire cooks, Gerry Self and Sandra Julian of the Rafter TS Wagon catering company in Lampasas, who were more than willing to share a couple of secrets on how to season your cast-iron and put it to use again.
The first process is if the rust is on the outside of the pan.
First, take a steel wool and scrub off all the rust that’s there, Self said.
If you’re seasoning a Dutch oven, then fill it with about 3 inches of water and “boil the piss out of it” over an open flame or on top of your oven, he said. Obviously, you would fill a skillet less full but with enough water to make give it a good boil.
Once you’ve done that, take a knife and paper towel to clean it out, scraping the sides and drying it thoroughly. Then put the pot back over the fire to dry out any moisture that might be there, he said.
If you don’t have a backyard pit, you may want to use either a gas oven or a gas grill, which works better than an electric oven to dry the skillet.
While the pan is hot, dry “and its pores are open,” spray the inside and the outside with a little Pam or other cooking spray, said Julian, who also owns the celebrated Yumm Factory restaurant in Lampasas. Wipe it off with a paper towel once it’s cool enough to handle.
Your pan is now seasoned and ready to use.
If there’s rust inside the pan, the procedure is similar, but you have to take a couple of preliminary steps. First, boil a mixture of half water and half vinegar in the pan, again for a lengthy time, Self said. “The rust just pops off,” he added.
Once the pan is cool again, submerge it in another mixture of water and vinegar, wipe it off and begin the process as listed above, Self said. (Do not pour cold liquid in a hot cast-iron pan, because it could crack.)
Julian and Self were both partial to using cooking spray rather than the lard, shortening or oil used in olden days, because it was less likely to get rancid if any traces were left in the pan.
Unless you use your pan on a daily basis, clean it with a little soapy water before rinsing and drying it thoroughly. This will prevent any leftover oil from becoming rancid.
It may take several hours to season your cast-iron pans, but the effort is well worth it. Cast-iron cookware heats evenly and consistently. You can cook with it on top of the stove or inside the stove. Once your pan is seasoned, it will serve you and your family into future generations. And without problems.
Nothing sticks to cast-iron, if it’s properly seasoned. As Self said, “It’s the original Teflon.”