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Cast Iron Cookoff, Part 2

It puts the eggs in the panA few of you might remember my article from back in April about me finding my Great-Grandmother’s cast iron pan that I reconditioned and brought back to life. Well, finally I got around to using it and here’s what happened.

Just to bring you all back up to speed. I’ve never used cast iron cookware before other than in the Boy Scouts which, well that was never really cooking, but more tossing meat on heated metal until it was safe to eat. We never took proper care of the pans because they were cast iron. In actuality we treated them a lot worse than you’re supposed to, but because they’re cast iron they held up. Since getting married, Wife and I have had non-stick pots and pans. Wife doesn’t really like non-stick and I didn’t really know any better. Luckily Wife didn’t like the idea of me cooking in pan that was made back in 1903 [maybe she though it would turn us into zombies or something] so I got the pan and the kitchen all to myself.

The pan, because it’s really old has a certain quality to it. If you go to a store and rub your fingers over the bottom of a cast iron pan it’s a little rough. This one because of the way they used to make them was smooth and I mean silky smooth. I had re-seasoned the pan and had it all ready to use. Turned the heat on medium and let it warm up with a beat 3 eggs with a couple of teaspoons of water [this is called French eggs I was told by a friend of mine]. I tossed a bit of butter in the pan and swirled it around before tossing the eggs in and once I added the eggs the magic happened.

small amount of sticking, but it easily scraped away

Non-stick pans become, well, sticky after awhile and the true test is whether or not you can cook a liquified high protein material like eggs without it sticking. Cheese is another good one, but I like to eat eggs more than a fried handful of cheese. Our scrambled eggs from a non-stick pan always looked awful. They bound together in clumps and were nothing like the omelets I used to be able to toss out when Wife and I were first married. Well I quickly noticed a difference.

The eggs didn’t stick at all. As a matter of fact I would have had to work hard to break them up as after a minute I noticed the eggs had set and were actually cooking a bit too quickly. Next time I’m going to try a medium low heat. I tried to break the egg mass up, but it stayed together so I tossed a handful of cheese in the center to add more difficulty to the test. The edges flipped over nicely and effortlessly to give me in the end an omelet when I was just trying to make scrambled eggs.

The taste? Awesome. Wife and I liked to go out for breakfast and I have to say that these were better than what we got when we went out, easier to make than the scrambled glop and the clean up was pretty easy as well.

The finished productAfter all the omelet had left the pan I let it sit while I ate. I came back and the pan had cooled a bit, but was still pretty warm. I ran some hot water in the pan, no soap then hand dried the pan and put it back on the stove and heated it up to get rid of any left over moisture. After about five minutes I took a napkin and put some corn oil on it and rubbed it all over the pan and let it finish cooling. Cast iron is kind of like a car. You have to wax it and several thin coats of wax is better than one thick coat. After it was completely cooled down I picked it up and put it away.

While my execution could have been better, it was my first time with cast iron and I really didn’t know what to expect. I was pleasantly surprised at how well it worked and I’m definitely going to be on the lookout for a smaller one in the future. To duplicate my recipe you just do the following:

3 eggs
1 teaspoon of water per egg
pinch of kosher salt
dash of pepper
beat it like hell with a wisk.

Today food in San Francisco is all about gourmet, artisan, etc. words that are usually tossed around more to raise the price than improve the taste. I do have to say though that while it’s a little more work to take care of a cast iron pan it sure beats having to replace it ever couple of years to get the same results. You also don’t have any toxic fumes from the non-stick coating to deal with and you get the addition of iron to your diet. I suspect this pan will just get better and better over time and I hope it keeps getting handed down throughout my family for many years to come.

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Cast Iron Cookoff

When my Mom died we had an awful task on our hands. We had to go through all the junk she had collected over the years that was useless to us now. We happened to save a few things that we weren’t sure why until I came across a piece that struck me as something I had to play around with. My Mom’s old cast iron pan.

This pan was a Wagner #10 pan and my experience with cast iron only had been in the Boy Scouts when we were camping and from what I know now they didn’t teach us how to handled the cast iron pots and pans very well. My Mom’s old skillet had seen better days and I wish I took a before picture just to give you an idea what it looked like before I started reconditioning it. I did find a couple of pictures below which are pretty close to what it looked like before I started, but it was actually worse than this.

I started searching google for different ways to recondition a cast iron pan and found a lot of information, but most of the techniques were minor variations on the same thing.

1. Coat the pan with an oven cleaner and leave it for up to a week spraying more on every few days
2. Wash it with soap and water
3. Use fine #000 steel wool to remove any of the left over bits that haven’t come off
4. Re-season the pan

photo from black iron dude's blogThat’s all pretty easy stuff to do so I started off to work on it. I sprayed it down and had it bagged up in my basement where I’d re-spray it every few days and then one day when I was looking at some info I found on cast iron pans I found the following information, The Wagner Sidney, OH plant was closed in 1903. Uh, wait a sec, WHAT?! I started looking up pictures and found an exact match for my Mom’s pan and it turns out that I had a cast iron pan sitting in a caustic solution for close to a week that turns out she got from her Mom who got it from her Mom. I had my Great Grandmother’s pan from the late 1800’s to beginning of the 20th century sitting in a death bath of evil chemicals.

I yanked it out of the bag and started washing it off to make sure I hadn’t ruined it. I had forgotten something, it’s cast iron. The pan was fine, but still had a few spots of over a hundred year old seasoning left on it so I put it back and sprayed it some more. When I was finished I added another step that the Black Iron Dude suggested of soaking it in two parts water to one part white vinegar to counter act the lye in the oven cleaner.

Now it was time to re-season the pan. This is where people differ in their views. Some like it hot others like it not so hot. I chose the not so hot since some people seem to like this first and then move up to the hotter seasoning plus I’m not sure our pot holders would help me with a red hot 550° skillet. I put it in the oven after washing it off set to around 150° for about 15 minutes to make sure it was completely dry. I pulled it out and turned the oven up to 350° and started rubbing some coconut oil all over the inside and outside of the pan. It then goes back into the oven for about an hour and then when you let it cool down it’s seasoned. I’m going to do this a total of three times so I’m not finished yet, but you can see how far it’s come from the picture. After the first seasoning you can see that the pan is a little spotty, but it’s still smooth as glass on the inside.

I’ll start off Sunday by cooking eggs in it. On a side note the inside of this pan is a smooth as glass even before I started to restore it. That’s a sign that it’s an old pan. Looking at this pan taught me something in that when I got married 16 years ago we were given a lot of pots and pans, almost all non-stick. Most of those aren’t what you would call non-stick today. The teflon wears down and just doesn’t exactly do what it’s supposed to after awhile while friends of mine who swear by a good seasoned cast iron pan say it never sticks. Here I’ve got a pan that lasted over 100 years and was pretty easy to bring it back to looking better than new. I’m hoping to get another 100 years out of the pan now. If this works out like I hope it will our non-stick pans will be going away very soon and I’ll be adding more antique cast iron [hint, it’s usually cheaper than new non-stick if you want to do the work].

Stay tuned for more info.