Doug vs. the interweb

Journal #496
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February 13th, 2012 10:12 PM
Cast iron blues

Alright, so last entry was a bit down, but at least the water bill has been sorted out. I've come to be a bit pessimistic about these sorts of utilities issues, given my previous experiences. The realtor told me they've taken care of things, but I certainly was watching to make sure the water still flowed after the shutoff date. And still it flows, so perhaps I can stop worrying.

Anyway, I have been collecting various cast iron pots and pans over the years, and trying various methods of seasoning them. I've got three kinds of skillets and two dutch ovens, one enameled. I love the way things cook on them -- you heat it up, throw a slab of meat on there, and it browns it like no other pan material is able to. However! I have never been satisfied with the seasoning on the pans that I have gotten, discounting the enameled one, of course. Two of the store bought ones came with a seasoning that didn't seem to behave like a seasoning, with everything sticking to it and it being really uneven. The other ones I got used and were in pretty bad shape. So I have attempted to re-season all of them, some of them multiple times.

First, I tried the really basic method of just rubbing a little canola on them and throwing them in a hot oven for a couple hours. That seasoning didn't seem right, and no wonder -- I put no thought into it. So I decided to try again, this time with science!

I found this site, and read through some related entries. I resolved to season my pans correctly! I bought some flaxseed oil and then... got around to it about six months later.

Turns out, even refrigerated, flaxseed oil goes bad pretty quickly, but never having had it before, I couldn't really tell the difference. It had a strange oily smell (no kidding!), and was a light green. I went ahead with the seasoning anyway, because that friggin bottle was like $10 and I wanted to use it. I stripped the seasoning off the pans, and proceeded to apply successive, ultra-thin coats of rancid flaxseed, with an hour in a 500 degree oven each time.

I tried cooking some zucchini in one of the skillets. It cooked fine, but when I went to clean it by throwing a little hot water in and scraping with a wooden spatula, the black seasoning simply dissolved. I wiped the pan dry with a paper towel; the towel came out dark grey, and the pan's iron was now sort of visible where the seasoning once was. Obviously something went wrong! I figured the oil must've just gone bad, and having gone bad, wasn't suitable for seasoning anymore.

Looking through the extensive comments on the article I linked, I found that some folks were saying that it was still possible to season with rancid flaxseed oil, but I figured maybe they were crazy; I had followed the directions thoroughly, from stripping the seasoning to applying each coat. Maybe if I just buy some more oil and use it immediately, things will go differently!

Nope!

Except this time, I had all the aforementioned pans included (the first time, I only had two skillets). That's four pieces of iron (five if you count one's lid). That was a lot of work, stripping off the seasoning by leaving them with oven cleaner overnight then scrubbing them clean meticulously the next morning (twice), drying them off immediately and then starting the seasoning process of coating each pan with the merest hint of oil, putting them in the oven, heating to 500 degrees, leaving it at that temperature for an hour, and then letting them cool completely in the closed oven. Then, repeat that last part until you've got about six or so coats of the stuff on there.

I figured I'd take the extra precaution of only cooking really oily things in it at first. I fried a bunch of bacon, a bunch of sausage, some beef, and some chicken. It seemed to be fine, though even after rinsing clean, paper towels did still seem to come away a little grayish. Nothing would stick whatsoever to the pan, at least. But I could tell that sometimes after using it, and throwing some water in the hot pan to clean it, I could see that something wasn't quite right. The middle of the pan had a black, entirely non-reflective finish to it, while the sides showed a mottled gray, where it really appeared that the raw iron was showing through.

Tonight, I cooked a bunch of vegetables in it, peppers, onions, broccoli. After cleaning it, dark flecks kept coming off while drying. I figured a quick wash with a sponge might do it some good, in case some of what was on there is just carbonized food. Now it's pretty apparent: the edges have bits of gray iron showing directly through; the center, where it touches the burner directly, may possibly have the starting of a seasoning, but the surface of the iron is so bump that the slight peaks are, like the edges, showing bare iron. Mixed in with this is some carbonized gunk that really isn't seasoning and I probably shouldn't be letting get into my food.

This whole enterprise is really annoying me, as I've put a lot of effort and thought into this, but it's just not working. It may be partially due to using an electric stove instead of gas, but that's hardly something I have control over. I almost want to just blame the pans themselves, like they are just crappy modern cast iron, whereas if I had some good cast iron pots back from when people knew how to still make cookware, I would have none of these problems.

And I'd certainly believe that! I know it's stupid to get nostalgic for I time that even my parents weren't a part of, but if you want to have a perfect example at how badly people have regressed when it comes to cookware, go into a store that has cookware (even an asian market), and try to find a wok that isn't coated in something like teflon. Did you know you shouldn't cooke teflon above, say, 400 degrees? And what is a wok typically used for? Cooking above or around 400 degrees. Why the heck do teflon woks exist, and why can I find nothing but them everywhere I go? That's not progress!

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