Some battles just never end. They sometimes span generations. My father and I would commiserate over how our spouses treated iron skillets. We both felt strongly that a well-seasoned skillet should never see a drop of detergent. But my mother and my wife both felt it necessary to always use a soapy sponge to clean the pan. This also removed the seasoning. No amount of reasoning or heated argument would convince them to just wipe out the pan.
Marriage is all about learning to compromise. So, we compromised. My wife cleans the skillets with soap. I keep my mouth shut. Some battles aren't worth the fight.
Seasoning a skillet is not that simple and there is quite a bit of science involved in the process. Basically, an oil needs to bind to the iron in such a way as to keep food from sticking to the skillet. Repeatedly cooking bacon in the skillet won't do the trick. Also, some work may need to be done on the skillet itself before the seasoning process. There are detailed instructions online on how to accomplish the task, but I can contribute some experience to the process.
If your skillet is older you will most likely need to do some type of deep cleaning on the pan, including using a drill to grind down the metal to a smooth surface. Even today's new skillets are not as polished as they could be. A smooth surface allows the oil to bind to the metal more efficiently. Start with coarse grindstone and work up to a finer grade of sandpaper. Sanding the outside of the skillet is also recommended especially if you have a glass top stove. Grinding down any burrs on the bottom of the skillet will decrease the likelihood of scratching the glass.
When you wash the skillet prior to seasoning you must make sure all the water is evaporated from pan or it will keep the oil from binding. Heat the skillet for an hour at 200 degrees. This heating also expands the pores in the iron which allows the oil to enter easier.
The type of oil you use is vitally important! The best oil to use is flaxseed oil. But you must use 100 percent flaxseed oil with no additives. If you didn't buy it from the refrigerated section of the store, it won't do the job. Flaxseed oil is a "drying" oil. It is similar to linseed oil that painters use to seal in artwork with a hard, shiny finish. You will pay a pretty penny for it, but you don't need a whole lot of it. While the pan is still hot, spread a very thin layer of oil using a cloth held with tongs. Use a cloth that won't leave threads or paper towel fluff. If you use too much oil, it will clump and not polymerize to the metal properly.
Now place the skillet upside down in an oven and heat to at least 450 degrees. You want the oil to smoke and flaxseed oil takes a high temperature to produce smoke. When oil begins to smoke it produces carcinogenic free radicals, so you don't want oil to smoke while cooking. But it is these free radicals which actually do the binding to the iron. Heat for an hour and let it cool in the oven. Then repeat the oiling and heating process five more times.
Never cook acidic foods like tomatoes or lemons in a seasoned iron skillet as the acid can remove the seasoning.
Here's another handy tip: Don't buy small iron skillets. They are basically useless due to their size, get the big 12-inch pan to sear those ribeye steaks. Also, the little woman will have a much harder time using that big, heavy skillet as a weapon when you criticize her cleaning it with detergent.
-- Devin Houston is the president/CEO of Houston Enzymes. Send comments or questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. The opinions expressed are those of the author.Editorial on 08/01/2018
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