CARING FOR CAST IRON SERIES
From the Doctor
I’m a cook, not a chemist
- or so I thought……
Copyright © 2007 William
Lately I have been asked, “How do you get your Dutch oven pots so black and shiny?”
The answer is simple - True Value High Temperature Semi-gloss Black Spray Paint… just kiddin’ folks, please don’t paint your pots.
But seriously,…understanding that black shiny finish on a cast iron pot, affectionately known as seasoning, is a very interesting study in kitchen chemistry.
Seasoning, is a molecular compound made of tightly bonded carbon atoms. These carbon atoms come from cooking oils, shortening and can also come from the meat fats being cooked in the pot. The oils and fats stick to the oven’s surface. When the pot is heated, the carbon compound is left on the surface through the process of heating.
Can something as simple as carbon protect a pot and provide that non-stick surface we all strive for? The answer is – yes. The heat shield that protects the N.A.S.A. space shuttle is made of carbon. Carbon fishing rods and golf clubs are well known for their strength and durability. The hardest substance known to man, diamonds, are made from it. A principle ingredient in TEFLONTM is … you guessed it… carbon.
Imagine! Space age technology used around campfires centuries ago.
A well seasoned pot can last forever. It has an airtight slick surface that protects it from rusting and can be as easy to clean as a wipe with a damp cloth. Your grandmother’s cast iron pots had non-stick surfaces years before DuPont tried to improve on it by coating pots with TEFLONTM. I would say the jury is still out on how well DuPont accomplished that goal. After all, where are your TEFLONTM pots and pans you or your mother used in the 1960’s and 1970’s? In landfill I’m sure. I still cook in the Dutch oven my grandfather handed down to me 30 years ago. One pot I cook in regularly is 80 years old. In my opinion, the most truly dependable long lasting cook surface is the cast iron cook surface….but I digress.
Getting back to how to season your pot.
You are probably familiar with manufacturers’ seasoning recommendation, but I would like to share with you the seasoning methods I use that will give that black shiny non-stick surface.
I must first warn you that this is a very high temperature method that makes a lot of smoke. It will create dense clouds in your kitchen and will set off your smoke detectors. I use this method only on breezy days that I can leave the doors and windows open or do it outdoors in my enclosed gas grill.
This seasoning method was passed on to me from that Higher Authority – yep you got it – a sales clerk from Lodge Manufacturing. I received the communication in a vision on a pilgrimage to that Mecca for cast iron enthusiasts – one of the two Lodge Manufacturing Outlets, this one located in Kodak, Tennessee….but I digress.
Getting back to seasoning your pot.
If I start with a new unseasoned pot, I follow manufactures instruction for removing casting release and the light waxy substance that is used to protect the pot during shipping and storage. I then remove excess water with a cloth and thoroughly dry by warming the pot to between 100 and 120 degrees Fahrenheit. This is a temperature whereby I can handle the pot safely with a hot pad …BUT MUCH CARE IS TAKEN to make sure I didn’t get it hotter.
I lightly coat the surface with canola oil. Why canola oil? Canola oil has a fairly high temperature smoke point of about 440 degrees Fahrenheit while the smoke point of shortening or vegetable oil is around 320. The smoke point of corn oil is even lower and animal fats such as butter or lard lower still. The advantages of the higher temperature smoke point oils are they are thinner and have less hydrogen atoms (the kitchen chemistry lesson continues). You’ve probably heard the term “hydrogenated vegetable shortening” or “saturated fats” and have you ever wondered what the fats are saturated with? The answer is: HYDROGEN atoms.
The idea behind the seasoning process is to remove all the non-carbon components in the oil while leaving only carbon behind in such a manner that this carbon-carbon bond is formed. The non-carbon components are hydrogen and oxygen. During seasoning not all of the carbon stays on the pot. The majority of the carbon boils off the surface along with the oxygen and hydrogen, this is called “smoke” and carbon dioxide. But enough is left behind to do the job. When you start with an oil that has less of the non-carbon components, the higher the carbon density of the oil and the harder the finished carbon-carbon bond surface will become. That is why I like Canola oil.
With a dry dish towel - that my wife bought me special because I kept ruining all her other dish towels, but that’s another story – I wipe the excess oil so that there is a thin uniform coating on the entire pot and lid. I preheat the oven to 475 degrees. After the oven reaches temperature, I carefully place the pot and lid in the oven on separate racks and close the oven door. I then quickly run and open all the doors and windows to the house and turn on the exhaust fans. After 30 minutes, I turn off the oven and leave the pot in the oven until the oven, pot and lid are cool. When I remove it – it’s black. So black you would think I painted it with True Value High Temperature Semi-gloss Black Spray Paint…..but seriously folks,…..don’t paint your pots.