Kinda surprising actually that I haven’t written on this topic yet, but here goes…
If you’ve been thinking about investing in a cast iron cookware collection, your new pans and griddles need a small collection of tools to live their best life with you.
As with many hobbies, there are expensive and cheap versions of available care accessories. Many companies will happily sell you branded tools, purpose-made implements, and specially crafted concoctions. Most of these items are important to care for your iron, but the pricy version of it is not. Cheap or free alternatives often exist. After all, cast iron cookware has been common for hundreds of years, but imported organic flaxseed oil probably has not.
Ten of the tools I keep handy to maintain my cast iron collection are:
Seasoning Oil – Personally, I lean heavily on canola oil for a post-cleanup wipe-down because we always have it in quantity and handy, but I also keep a bit of shortening or leftover bacon grease in the house for my purpose-seasoning efforts. There are numerous products on the market that are labeled as cast iron seasoning products (and I intend to buy some and try them) and many people online swear by flaxseed oil (but it is expensive). Whatever your oil of choice, this tool is a must for ongoing maintenance of your pans.
Heavy Duty Paper Towels – If I’m feeling flush, and I happen to be near a hardware store there is a brand of blue, commercial grade paper towels that are just about perfect for cast iron clean up. If I don’t have these around, plain old paper towels are a must for our supply closet.
Coarse Salt – The first time I tried it I was amazed by how much basic post-cooking cast iron cleanup could be accomplished with a quarter cup of water and a tablespoon of coarse salt. A few minutes of simple soaking usually means that with only salt and elbow grease I can clean up almost any pan. For anyone new to cast iron who is skeptical about the no-soap approach, try a salt scrub and your uncertainty will be alleviated.
Stiff Bristle Brush – To help with the salt scrub (as above) a good brush is also a must. We use our Lodge-brand brush so much it rarely even makes it back into the drawer.
Plastic Scraper – For slightly tougher clean-up jobs, I keep a couple of these in my collection. They are also invaluable for scraping out bits of set fat or other pan leftovers that don’t make it onto your plate, either by design or because you’re just too full to eat it.
Chainmail Scrubber – An optional big gun in your arsenal in the war on pan clean up is a heavy-duty scrub pad. I rarely use this personally but for those deeply stubborn bits (or when I’ve let my daughter cook and there are bits of burnt food clinging to the pan) a coarse, seasoning-safe scrubber is worth investing in eventually.
Heavy Duty Oven Mitt – It probably goes without saying, but the best way to use and care for your cast iron is to make it hot. Over a flame, from the oven, or atop a burner, you can neither use it nor care for it if you can’t touch it. Get yourself some serious mitts that will allow you to hold, lift, move, and carry a hot pan without grilling your digits.
Storage Rack – Sure, you could stack your pans one on top of each other — like an animal! Or you could invest in an elegant way to give those pans a way to stack or hang in style. There is probably something to be said about preserving seasoning and preventing damage this way, but the simpler reason is that if you can access them, you can use them.
Self-Cleaning Oven – A dual-purpose tool, a hot oven is vital for seasoning new pans or touching up the ongoing effort to keep your season even and strong. Additionally, a self-cleaning oven can get hot enough on the clean cycle to obliterate all the seasoning layers on a pan that needs a refresh. This is controversial and you shouldn’t do this with antiques or anything you can’t easily replace. Whenever we run the self-clean on our oven, I always toss in a pan or two that are starting to chip or build up seasoning in weird ways. This strips them clean and allows for start a fresh on bare iron.
Fire – Heat is heat, but nothing beats cooking over real fire. Plus, if your pans could talk, they would thank you for the chance to touch some real flames. Not everyone has access to daily fire in the form of a gas stove or barbecue, but taking your pan to a campout or picnic with some burning wood is what your cast iron cookware was made for.