Adventures in cast-iron skillet seasoning

Several months ago while my best friend was visiting for a weekend, we spent Sunday morning watching Food Network. Honestly, this is something I do every Saturday and Sunday while I sip my morning coffee. However, on this particular day when Em was in town, my girl Trisha Yearwood was demonstrating how to properly care for a cast-iron skillet and showing how versatile cast-iron skillets are by crafting recipes such as hash browns with cheesy eggs and avocado, country ham carbonara, and buttermilk strawberry skillet cake with strawberry whipped cream.

As I sat drooling at the TV, I realized I had to have a cast-iron skillet. According to Trisha, they are a staple in any Southern kitchen, and tradition states that a woman is often given her first cast-iron skillet as a gift — like a right of passage — usually by her mother. Trisha’s mom gave her, her first skillet.

Well, I am all about some traditions, but unlike Trisha, my mom isn’t here to gift me my first skillet. Hell, even if she were alive, she still wouldn’t give me a skillet. She spent as little time in the kitchen as possible; it was my dad who did 90 percent of the cooking in our house and I have never seen him use cast-iron cookware. 

That’s where my best friend steps in and saves the day once again.

To celebrate mine andimg_1371 Justin’s engagement, she gifted me not one but two really nice cast-iron skillets. Em and I became motherless daughters within months of one another  (my mom died in July 2009 and her mom passed away in October 2009). It has been nice to have someone to share this journey with. She usually is the only person who can fully grasp my emotions, and she often fills the void left by my mom’s absence.

Now that these things have sat on my kitchen counter for a month of Sundays, I have finally decided to “season” them so I can create all those yummy meals I see Ree Drummond and Trisha Yearwood make.

Are you confused on what I mean by “season?” That’s OK, I had no idea what this meant until Trisha showed me. Basically, cast-iron skillets don’t come with a non-stick surface. To achieve that shiny black patina, the pan must be coated with cooking oil and baked in the oven for a period of time.

As someone who pretends to know her way around a kitchen, I thought it would probably be best to do a few Google searches before jumping right in. Let me tell you, there are A LOT of tutorials on seasoning a cast-iron skillet and they all say something different.

That’s why I ended up back at Trisha’s guide. I did modify it slightly by using Crisco all-vegetable shortening where she calls for canola or vegetable oil. Why? Because that’s all I had in my pantry. Other tutorials noted that when using Crisco to season a cast-iron pan, you should refrain from using the butter flavor because it will leave an unpleasant taste. Makes sense.

What no one told me, however, is how bad it stinks when the pan is baking — it smelled like I was using the self-cleaning feature on my oven. I eventually had to open a few windows to let the stench air out.

How to season a cast-iron skillet:

  1. Wash pan well with warm water. I refrained from using dish soap.
  2. Dry well immediately. To prevent rusting, you should never leave any water on a cast-iron pan.
  3. Using a paper towel, coat the pan with a neutral oil like canola or vegetable oil  including the bottom and handle of the pan. I used Crisco and scooped out generous heapings of the greasy substance with my paper towel. Pro-ish tip: Rub oil on the handle last to avoid a slippery surface while handling the pan. Nobody wants to drop a cast-iron skillet on their toe, trust me.
  4. Line the bottom rack of your oven with foil to catch any oil drips. Then bake freshly greased skillet upside down in the oven at 350 degrees F for 1 hour. This will protect the surface and give it an almost non-stick quality.
  5. Turn off the oven and let the pan cool in the oven before touching.

And just like that, I am slowly but surely becoming a domestic goddess.

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