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Okay, as promised, what I've been taught about cast iron. First, some extolling of virtues:
- the absolute CHEAPEST non stick cookware you can buy that is actually WORTH anything (don't get me started on TFAL)
- Just as easy to care for as other pots and pans, trust me
- for vegetarians, the absolute simplest way to add trace iron to your cooking, and since you generally deal with non-heme iron, abundance is a neccessity.
- Useful for home defense or marital spats. (oh, just joking!)

So, you go to your local cookstore (I hope not), or outlet mall (even better, once saw a set of cast iron skillets, three in 8", 12" and 14" (I think) at a chicago cutlery outlet mall near me for 15 dollars! Three kickin' skillets for 15 bucks!), or yard sale (don't count on it, but remember, short of neuro toxins (yes, I had to throw one of my precious pans out because the then beloved sprayed roach spray all over it in order to kill a roach, why he didn't just use the pan to splat the sucker, I'll never know) ANYTHING can pretty much be cleaned out of a good cast iron pan, even if it means a lot of smoke (500 degree oven for several hours takes care of most stuff, especially if you leave a layer of salt in there) but I digress.

Once you have aquired your dull, supremely heavy and stolid looking pan, immediatly proceed to the kitchen sink. You are going to give your pan a nice once over in hot soapy water. Rinse it well and towel dry it, please don't leave it to air dry, iron rusts. Keep in mind this should be the *only* time you use soap on it. Soap does not disinfect dishes (read the labels, even disinfectant soaps are on your hands), it just helps remove stuck dried on food particles. There wont be any stuck on food particles on your pan. Trust me. <evil grin>. So don't freak out. Pour a good 1/4 inch of oil into your now squeaky clean and dried pan. Lard is best, but as a vegetarian I can't recommend it. Besides, you don't need to go out and buy lard to season your skillet. Soybean oil works just as well. Soybean/corn oil is okay (if you don't know what you have and it say "vegetable oil" ten to one says its soybean.) do not use your olive oil, especially not your fourty dollars a bottle olive oil, you'll just break my heart. Besides, it's smoke tempertaure is way too low for what we're doing.

So, you've got your oil in your pan, now, two options, one, turn the stove on under it (once again, better with gas, but everything is), maybe medium. You're trying to get it very hot, but boiling oil right off the bat is bad for your skin. Bring it up slowly, and as it gets near boiling, lower the temp. Keep this going for as long as you can stand it, occasionally stirring to make sure the sides and everything are coated. (please do not slop oil over the sides, it burns really really well, and the whole pan will go up and then you have to start all over again once you've rebuilt your kitchen). Pour out the oil (preferably into a coffee can and not down the drain, especially if you have plastic pipes) and wipe down the pan with a paper towel once it has cooled. Ta da! You have a seasoned skillet.

alternativly, do the heating in an oven, start off at 400 degrees, and be sure to pull it out and stir now and again, make sure it's not boiling and spattering up your oven.

Now, you have a seasoned skillet! Wasn't so hard or scary, eh? <chuckle> Told ya to trust me. But, I hear you say (I hope it's you, hate to think I'm talking to myself) how do I take care of it? What was up with the no soap gig earlier? True. Think about it. Soap is usually detergent, which is molecularly predisposed to attaching itself to grease molecules. Put soap in that pan and all the oil you've just gone to all that trouble to force into the iron pan will come out, and you are back to regular old pain in the butt non seasoned iron. After you've cooked with your pan rinse it out in VERY hot water. We're talking hot enough that you don't really want to get your hands in it. This is what's sterilizing your pan, wipe it off with a dish rag ( oh okay you wimp, turn the temperature down if you must) to loosen all the food bits and rinse again in that hottest water you can stand. Towel dry if you can stand it (since iron rusts), hang it back up again, and its ready to go for next time. I've learned that my cast iron stuff never has time to sit for long, I use it for everything. And as long as you're adding a little oil whenever you cook, you reseason as you go. These pans will be handed down to your great grandchildren without much trouble, and they'll probably love them too.

A few caveats. Cast iron really was intended for open woodfire cooking, so it's really durable. However, it is iron, so it is relatively reactive. I've heard people say to never cook acid foods, like tomatos in cast iron, since the acid will eat through the pan. I scoff at that with one warning. Feel free to cook tomatos, just wash your pan as immediatly as possible afterwards. No, I don't mean start scrubbing (which you shouldn't have to do if it's seasoned) when your honey is waiting for the romatic pasta dinner you just cooked up, I mean rinse it off well and at least let the hot water soak there until you can get to it later that night. Other stuff isn't so bad to leave sitting, but anything acid, you're taking you chances.

A further note, if someone you know has given up on their cast iron pan because of tomato damage and you're feeling explotive, take it off their hands, buy yourself some steel wool and disregard all I said about scrubbing. Iron is soft enough that you can literally scrub a new surface onto it if you want. Just keep scrubbing and rinsing until it looks smooth and even, then reseason as above. Tell everyone you found it at a yard sale for 20 cents or something. Better yet, tell them you paid 200 dollars for it, but you can get them one for 150... <grin>
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