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The Cast Iron Chronicles: Part 6

I want to begin this post with an anecdote. My specialty, if you will. One school break (winter, I think), I was at my parent’s house making myself breakfast. As I was heating up the pan to fry an egg (my breakfast of choice since as long as I had a choice) I was chatting with my dad and he started to tell me a story about his father. According to the story, his father had been very particular about the appropriate way to fry an egg, and had often taken over as my dad attempted to fry eggs, telling him he was doing it wrong.  Almost immediately after he told me this story we chuckled, then he looked over at me and said ELENA YOU’RE DOING IT WRONG. He pushed me out of the way and fried my egg for me as I fell onto the floor laughing.

Follow up question– how do you fry an egg the WRONG WAY?

Anyhoo, welcome to the last post in The Cast Iron Chronicles. It’s bittersweet, I’ll admit. On one hand, I’m immensely proud of myself for successfully salvaging a wonderful cast iron pan while also managing not to burn the house down or drive Dan crazy with the noise produced while trying to sand and watch Criminal Minds at the same time.  On the other, this series has been a lot of fun and the response has been incredible, so I’ll be sad for it to be over.

After giving the pan it’s final sanding and a good scrub it was time to gently season it. For those who have just received new pans (or old pans that need to be reseasoned) this is where you pick up the story. As with everything, how to properly season cast iron is hotly debated on the internets. I’ll tell you what I did, but feel free to consult anyone else who probably knows better than me. I’ve always been taught that to season a pan you coat it in animal or vegetable fat (or a combination), and put it in a warm oven for an hour. Then you let it cool, rinse, and repeat.

That was pretty much what happened here.  I alternated between olive oil, shortening, and bacon drippings, giving the pan a thorough coating and then letting it cook in a 200 degree oven for an hour.  Then I would let it cool completely, wipe it out, and start all over.  I’ve been doing this once or twice a night for about a week, probably a total of 10 times.  Once the pan looked more charcoal than pewter, I decided to try and cook something in it (the real test).

I had intended to christen the pan with bacon, but on Saturday Dan was making taquitos and it just seemed like the pan was the perfect size for four giant taquitos at a time. So, we broke her in with what is essentially a fried taco (yum).  The next morning she got her proper porky christening when we made bacon and eggs.  Since then she hasn’t left my stove, and my other cast iron pan is starting to feel jealous. And yes, I’m using female pronouns, because cast iron pans are vessels just like boats.

So far, she has been amazing. With each thing that I cook in her she gets a little darker, and I’ve been careful to recoat her with oil after each use because she’s still fragile.  This process has been so much fun, I really appreciate you reading along- your support and feedback have been incredible!  What has been most exciting for me is the feedback that so many of you feel empowered to try and salvage/reseason your own cast iron. I would love to follow along as you do this, so please send me links to pictures!

Part 1 Part 2 / Part 3 / Part 4 / Part 5

p.s. Real money says that after I post this I’ll get an email from my dad that explains the ways I’m frying an egg wrong in that top photo.

p.p.s. He did email me, but to say that I exaggerated and the story never happened. When I pointed out he had witnesses (my stepmom) he said her memory wasn’t credible. Clearly.

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The Cast Iron Chronicles: Part 5

Okay, so after our last super exciting installment I’m back with another boring me-sanding-in-my-living-room-watching-Criminal Minds post. After setting the pan on fire (on purpose), I had two things left to accomplish- I needed to make sure the last of the rust/carbon residue was scrubbed out, and I needed to clean the rust off the bottom of the pan (an area I’d mostly been ignoring). So I sat down with my sanding paper (coarse first, then fine) and set to work.

After about an hour of admiring Dr. Spencer Reed’s new haircut (circa Season 4), the pan was looking pretty incredible.  By this point all of the visible rust was gone and it looked like a raw but useable piece of cast iron equipment. It took me a few minutes to accept it, seeing as how I’ve been cracking at this beast for weeks I didn’t think I’d ever get to the point where I’d be ready to fry an egg in it.

And fry an egg I will, after a few additional steps. I rinsed out what had been sanded off and took to the pan with very hot water and a lot of soap. I know I always preach that soap and your cast iron are mortal enemies, and that is VERY TRUE, with one exception. Right before you reseason a pan a gentle soap can be a great help in ensuring that your pan is ready to use with food. I took a good long crack at the pan in the sink, scrubbing it until the cloth wiped clean.  The next step is to season it gently, which will be our next (and final) installment. And then the bacon, naturally.

Part 1 / Part 2 / Part 3 / Part 4

 

p.s., It’s weird that I didn’t get a lecture from anyone about using the wrong amount of oil in the last post. I get nasty emails about so much less (coughgrammarcough). You guys have gotten soft.

p.p.s. That wasn’t an invitation to send me a lecture, thankskbye.

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The Cast Iron Chronicles: Part 4

Okay, so I’m going to start this post with two statements.  The first is aimed both at my parents and my landlord- I promise that when we did this portion of the restoration we had a fire extinguisher on hand and that the pan was not close to anything that could catch on fire.  The second is aimed at my father and everyone who knows better than me- I know I used too much oil.  I mean, I didn’t know that at the time, but have since realized that I did not need to use that much oil.  Thankfully Dan is an Eagle Scout so all the necessary precautions were taken.

Now for the light-on-fire installment of our series. As you’ll recall from part 3, the next step was to coat it with oil and “burn the bejesus” out of the pan.  So on Saturday we hauled out our large burner, threw some oil in the pan, and sat around until it caught on fire (extinguisher in hand).  The Capt’n’s advice was to only put the fire out “when it got a little crazy,” so I was expecting for this to get interesting.

We added a 1/4″ of oil to the pan, which I take it is too much.  The Lodge website suggested “a thin layer” and my dad (later) told me to put oil in the pan, spread it around, and then dump the excess oil out.  Somewhere in the middle is probably best.  From what I gather after reading about the process is that by bringing oil past its burning point in an iron pan you release free radicals that help to restore the iron.  Something about polymerization. Remind me to ask my chemist father-in-law about it the next time we see him.  I don’t totally know why it works, but I do know people have been doing it for centuries, and that’s good enough for me.  The internet is also full of arguments about what kind of oil to use, vegetable oil versus lard, etc.  I’m not going to get into that because I really can’t speak to what is best. I used canola oil and it worked just fine.

As the oil heated up Dan’s comfort level shifted from “this is really cool” to “this is making me nervous” quickly.  As soon as it started smoking a lot we cut the heat, and at that exact moment it burst into flames.  Following my dad’s advice I used baking soda to extinguish the flames, which worked like a charm.  The flames when out and then the oil-carbon-rust-baking soda combination formed these really gross/awesome bubbles.  Once it had cooled down I brought it inside and scooped out this gunk that was completely fascinating and disgusting.

After I got all the excess oil residue out I used a combination of steel wool and hot water to really scrub at the pan until it was rubbing clean and totally rinsed out.  This took approximately fifteen minutes.  After drying it off it looked like a brand new pan, it was amazing.

Even though it’s looking worlds better than it was a few weeks ago, I’m going to do one more round of sanding to really make sure I get the last of the carbon and rust out.  Then there will be two more steps- a gentle oven seasoning and its bacon christening.  I am so impressed by how (relatively) easy this whole process has been.  Time consuming, yes, but since I’ve been working slowly it’s been so much fun.  I can’t wait to pick up more cast iron to work on!

Part 1/ Part 2/ Part 3

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