Have you read the long drawn out methods for "seasoning" your cast iron cookware?
I have and it's just overkill.
I read all the time where people post this long drawn out method for seasoning cast iron cookware. Ya know, the one that says lather your cookware with oil and bake it in the oven at some temperature for over and hour then let it cool and wala!
Really? I have had cast iron pans for all my life. Sure, I had a while that I tried the nonstick cookware and it was really nice but it wore off and if it can ware off then I think I must be eating it in my food. Yuck. So I don't buy any kind of nonstick cookware.
In fact my cast iron is pretty much nonstick and it stays that way very easily. So, my intention of this post is to share my methods for maintaining my cast iron pans.
First there are a few rules like knowing what kind of foods and recipes tend to be reactive to the metal. I probably would not make a dish like a spaghetti sauce with tomatoes that are very acidic and have it simmering all day in cast iron. For that just break out the stainless steel sauce pan and let it simmer to your hearts content. Reactive metals such as aluminum, copper, iron, and steel (not stainless), are all reactive metals. If you are cooking food that is high acid or alkaline, the food may take on the taste of the metal but that is for another post.
All cast iron that you buy these days has already been "seasoned". In fact just to let you know all you really need to do is just clean the pan with some soapy water to get the industrial gunk off. That is the only time that I absolutely insist you use soapy water to clean the cast iron. You want to make sure you clean the industrial oils off the outside of the pan. Then apply a nice think coating of a good oil or lard and heat it up right on the stove to sizzling hot. Once the pan has cooled then use my salt method to clean the pan and start cooking. Cast iron is a very porous metal and the best way to "season" it is to just use it. The key to having great cast iron cookware is how you care for it.
It is not a good idea to use soap. The only reason to not use soap is because it is difficult to get the soap completely off the pan. Once in a while does not cause any harm as long as you coat the pan with a fresh coat of oil for storing. My favorite way of cleaning my cast iron is with good old salt and a paper towel. In my 10 inch pan I put about 1/2 tablespoon to 1 tablespoon of salt in the pan and using a paper towel I scrub the pan with the salt. The salt will scrub the surface to shinny clean. Just dispose of the salt when you are done. The advantage of using salt is that it has antiseptic properties and will keep the pan fresh and you probably won't need to oil the surface before storing.
If you have a situation where you just left that food in there too long and it burned to the bottom, all you have to do is while the pan is hot, remove the food or what is left of it and turn off the burner then add some water to the pan to deglaze the bottom. The "deglaze" from the burned food you probably won't want to keep. NOTE: Do not do this if you have standing hot oil in the pan.
Ok, here is my disclaimer. Be careful when putting water in a hot pan. No standing hot oil can be in the pan just the burned on food the you want to remove. Some oil coating the surface is OK. Do not stand too close and make sure that children and pets are not in close proximity. When you put water in a hot pan there is lots of steam and splattering. In fact if you can place the pan in the sink and then turn on the water over it that is a little less messy and a little safer. If there is a lot of oil in the pan then you will have to wait for the pan to cool down remove the oil and discard it. Then heat the pan and do the water cleaning thing.
Finally, if the deglazing method does not remove the food from the pan then you can still use the water cleaning method but this time you are going to put about 1 inch of water in the pan and literally cook the food off. This cleaning would require oiling the pan before storing.
So that's how I treat my cast iron. Be sure to read my yearly conditioning that I do to keep them good as new.