There's a reason that cast iron pans are passed from generation to generation -- they just keep getting better over time. Although, that's not quite true if you just keep them in storage. Like all good kitchen gear, cast iron kit is designed to be used. A cast iron pan that sits in your cabinet may start to rust eventually due to moisture in the air, but never fear, you can clean up that underused beauty and get it back on the stove where it belongs in no time.
All metal pans have microscopic pores -- little dips in the surface of the pan. As you cook with a pan, heat and oil cause polymerization, resulting in a smoother surface as the holes are filled in. Polymerization basically means that the heated oils form a protective layer in your pan, which is the purpose of seasoning the pan. In the case of cast iron, with frequent cooking, proper cleaning, and seasoning of the cast iron surface, the pan becomes naturally non-stick, thanks to the smoothing over of those pores. That feature makes cast iron one of the most reliable and food-safe choices in your arsenal of cookware.
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Keeping Your Cast Iron Pans In Good Shape
An unused cast iron pan could be rusty, or it could be caked with improperly heated oils on the surface, making a sticky feeling exterior. In both cases, the pan can be scrubbed thoroughly to remove the residues and reseasoned by heating it properly with a small amount of oil. It may take several rounds of seasoning to restore the non-stick surface of neglected cast iron, but once it's in shape, all you need to do is use your pan and care for it properly after cooking with a mini-seasoning step. Those continual cooking and seasoning steps are what create an effective and well-cared-for cast iron pan.
When you wash the pan after use, avoid using harsh detergents or scrubbers that can strip away the seasoned layer. Instead, use gentle cleaning methods, such as a brush or sponge with warm water. When the pan is clean, heat it on the stove for a few minutes to make sure it's fully dry, and then wipe the interior with a few drops of cooking oil on a paper towel while the pan is still hot. These regular steps will ensure your cast iron is good for a lifetime and beyond.
Read the original article on Tasting Table.