The little things… last night I noticed that the “season” on my cast iron skillet has become amazing. Better than teflon – so slick, so even. If you cook with cast iron regularly you start to form a relationship with it – and the fact that this is Granny’s hand-me-down skillet only makes that more powerful. Considering what this particular skillet has been through in my short time with it, the fact of this hard, solid, functional seasoning is even more significant.
Ashamed to admit this, but in the past I had allowed Granny’s skillet to be abused. This skillet went camping (for a whole year)… and cooked a good deal of vegetables over an open fire – at one point getting soot scale on the outside. A slap-dash tomato sauce then ate what little seasoning it had on it right off. That would have been approx 2004? Not sure. The skillet then sat in my previous business’s small manufacturing warehouse for a couple years before I brought it down to Orlando where it was very poorly seasoned by a well meaning roommate. Same roommate would also repeatedly scrape the surface roughly in places, utterly ruining the finish. Eventually, after I moved out (and couch-surfed for about a month) the skillet became my central piece of cooking gear. The great thing about cast iron is its ability to conduct and to hold heat – so no matter what kind of crazy weird stove you may be faced with, the skillet will buffer that… experience. It was something I could count on to be the same in the midst of a little chaos. After discovering the joy of cooking steaks in the skillet (sear both sides then put in the oven to roast for just a little bit), I bonded further with the skillet. Becoming a fan of Primal Blueprint eating and bacon further cemented this bond, and ultimately success with the skillet.
The pieces of cookwear I currently use: cast iron skillet, small stock pot, tea kettle, espresso moka pot, crock pot, cookie sheet, muffin tins, single egg mini skillet. That’s all.
The care of a cast iron skillet is an interesting thing – even though you can “cheat” and purchase one pre-seasoned (Lodge Logic), the process of doing it yourself is a good thing to know. In this era of disposable everything, microwaves, teflon, silicone, etc it seems bizarre to a lot of people that you should even bother with something that requires a little maintenance like cast iron. I don’t even know what “brand” this old skillet is – the only marking on it is the size – and the handle is not of the Lodge design. It might be older than I suspect – all I know is Nana (Grandmother on Dad’s side) had it for as long as I can remember, either she purchased it way back when, or it was given to her. When you start using a cast iron skillet daily (sometimes I will cook all three-five meals a day on it) you begin to form a relationship. Like a chia pet or a plant in a way – requiring a little maintenance, a little attention. After you cook in it – you need to clean it out – without soaps or a heavy hand (I use a bristle brush) – and put a protective thin layer of grease back on it. Don’t even think of putting it in the dishwasher. I can remember my Great Grandmother (Southern style country cook extraordinaire and source of cooking inspiration to this day) on Mom’s side of the family always cooking in cast iron, carefully rubbing it down with grease saved from previous meals. As a very young child I would come over and smell something “baking,” I’d get excited about her amazing cornbread only to find the oven was full of scorching hot carefully greased skillets.
Diligence is required to get the most out of your skillet, you must first use it regularly and you must also care for it. Over time this adds up, molecule by molecule (if you’re doing it right) into a dark, hard, slick, healthy and incredibly useful cooking surface. ONLY if you are diligent over time does this happen. So much chaos and crazy hours in my life lately that I’d just been habitually using it, maintaining it, and hadn’t taken stock of its surface. The skillet is used so much now that I don’t bother to put it away – it stays on the cooktop, greased and ready for the next meal. Sometimes, if I have baked something or broiled something I will put the cleaned and greased skillet in the hot oven (after turning it off). Even heat is not wasted in this household. Henry Rollins said “The iron doesn’t lie” and well the cast iron skillet doesn’t lie either. It will reward you for your consistency and diligence, or get nasty and rusty if you mistreat it.
To me the skillet is a powerful metaphor and reminder for the importance of daily practice, diligent training, and how small mindful habits add up in the long run. Practice proper movement, good exercise form in your kettlebell and bodyweight exercises. Continual improvement, strength, and flexibility will be your reward. Consistency leads to mastery – of the skillet and of any given skill.
Look forward to more skillet articles coming soon – including an exciting collaborative piece with an RKC from NYC.