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Seasoning Cast Iron in the Wood Stove

Tonight I am cleaning and seasoning some cast iron skillets in my wood stove.  The stove is already up and running because it’s winter time in Michigan and we keep a fire going 24/7 as it’s our only source of heat.  And it works splendidly.  You can run your oven for hours to properly season your cast iron, or you can make sure of the fire that can serve dual purpose – heat your home and season your skillets.  You could also do a triple-whamy and cook dinner up top as well.  Speaking of cooking dinner on your wood stove – during the month that I was cooking exclusively on my wood stove (still doing it, but occasionally have to use my  oven), between that and not using the streetlight on our property our electric bill dropped 75%.  That’s actual reading, too.  I was shocked.

I like to fry bacon in my cast iron because the hot grease from bacon does a very nice job of sealing in the pores while it’s on the job.  However, sometimes you have an oopsie and accidentally let your cast iron soak overnight, or you left moisture in the skillet and it starts to rust, or you buy a new piece of cast iron that needs care.  That is when you call for a re-do and start from the beginning.  Luckily you can do that with cast iron.  Properly taken care of, you may never have to do this with your cast iron.

Anyway, I throw my cast iron on a hot fire to burn any build up gunk off there. You don’t want your cast iron to start glowing – you risk cracking or warping your skillet. Pull it out and let it cool off.  You do want it to be a fairly hot fire though – some people will put their skillet in their ovens and do an oven cleaning on it.  The idea is to get it hotter than it will ever be when using it for general cooking because you want to clean off the current coating that is on there.  Get it down to bare metal, and start over.  When it’s heated hot and long enough, pull it out and let it cool.  It may look rustier after the fire than it did before it went in.  That’s ok.

Using a scouring pad, steel wool, whatever you have to, remove any rust, gunk and whatever coating is left that you can scrub off.  Then, submerge it in a mixture of half vinegar, half water with a couple drops of dish soap.  Let it soak for an hour up to a few.  Not too long.  Definitely not overnight.  I know dish soap and soaking are huge no-no’s in the care and maintenance of your cast iron, but this isn’t general maintenance.  We are trying to remove the current seasoning, or whatever might be left of it.

Dry the obvious wet with a towel, then throw the skillet back in the fire for a little bit to get completely dry and heated up.  Once it’s hot, pull it out (CAREFULLY do you don’t get burnt – I used a tool my husband used to use on flatbeds when he drove big trucks) and begin wiping lard on it.  CAUTION: If your skillet is too hot, it will burn your oven glove too unless you have fireproof ones (Always recommended for working in the fire… however, we recently purchased a pair that burned anyway! Need to find a better brand for handling these really hot things).  I use the cookie sheet so I can take it directly form the fire and set it down with minimal handling. Then I carry the cookie sheet where it needs to go.I coated with lard over a cookie sheet outside because it steamed and stunk a little.  Use a thick towel or paper towel. Get a light coating over the whole thing, inside and out.  Then, put it over a low fire, upside down so excess lard drips out and doesn’t cause a sticky residue on the bottom of the skillet.  Keep it in there for an hour, then remove.  Let it cool a little, then rub it down with lard again.  Throw it back in, again, upside down.  Do this as many times as you want, a minimum of 3.  Then, try to cook bacon in it on  fairly regular basis to keep a nice seasoning on it.

It is fairly important to keep a close eye on your fire and damper it down if needed.  Too hot a fire will burn off the coating you worked so hard to set in, just like the original fire I put the cast iron in to burn off any gunk and whatever seasoning I could to bring the skillet back to bare metal.

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Proper care of cast iron:

  • Never soak it
  • Don’t scrub it (burn stuck on grime off)
  • Avoid cleaners and dish soap in it – usually a rinse with water is all you need.
  • Dry thoroughly after washing it.
  • Cook bacon in it regularly (like we need an excuse?)
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