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Cast iron Cooking from the Chuckwagon, the Stove or the Grill

Chef's seem to always rave about using Cast iron cookware. Often, top chefs like Emeril Lagasse or TV food show host Paula Dean pull out a fabulous cast iron pot, skillet or dutch oven and perform a unique dish.   Perhaps, there is good reason why top chefs enjoy using cast iron over other cookware.  Cast iron can be used on the stove, fire place, outdoors on your gas or charcoal grills and like us chuckwagon cooks, we  just dig a hole in the ground and cook over an open fire.  Cast iron is known to bring out excellent quality to the flavor of foods and will last decades upon decades taking much abuse.  

Most common cast iron is in its natural state although several manufactures have finished with enamel coatings.  This makes a piece look elegant amongst kitchen decor and even some pieces have been ceramic coated both exterior and the interior. Ceramic coat cast iron does not require seasoning and is design for baking. It also is not use with outdoor cooking so we will not discuss this type of cook ware.

You don't have to own a chuck wagon to cook some savoring heart warming dishes just as cookie did during the trail drives right in your own backyard or during a campout.

So why Cast iron? It conducts heat very well. The heat is even and consistent. While cast iron takes longer to heat up than a copper pan, it holds heat longer. Another important reason, cast iron when properly season acts much like a quality non-stick Teflon cookware, plus it will take more abuse than any other cookware you will ever own.  It virtually will out last its owners. 

Another likeness of cast iron is it can be used in low heat or extreme heat and when it gets a little rustic, is cleans back up for more use.

Our objective here, is to provide information about Cast Iron and receive your inputs as our readers. We listen and answer questions too. However, if I don't know, I'll research or find someone who can answer the question. So with that in mind, here is what we will cover:

Seasoning cast iron
Cleaning cast iron
Cooking with cast iron
Caring for your cast iron cookware
How to buy cast iron Cookware
Cooking like you own a chuck wagon from the ground outdoors
How to restore old, rusty pieces 

Cast iron cookware is simple to use and is my favorite indoors and out. So let's get started: 


This is perhaps the most important thing you do with your cast iron cookware. Regardless of which piece, a Dutch oven, Skillet, Bean Pot, Waffle Iron) you season them all the same way. What is seasoning? It's carbons seared onto the cookware through the heating cooking oils. As the oil bakes past the smoke points, it leaves a black patina finish that coats the cookware. Many manufactures preseason cookware but with use, the coating only gets better. 
  • It starts with a clean piece of cookware. I'll talk about cleaning in the cleaning section.
  • Preheat the item in an oven to 225 degrees (f) Fahrenheit. An outdoor grill can be used also, but keep in mind, we want to start with a low temperature.
  • Take the cast iron cookware piece and rub with Lard or bacon grease over the entire piece. Note: Some desire to use vegetable oil which is an acceptable choice and others desire olive oil. However, olive oil will leave your item sticky so we recommend using lard when seasoning. You can always use the other oils for cooking. Caution: I do not recommend using peanut oil as many folks are allergic to it which you may entertain cooking for them and it can seep into a dish you prepare. Nor the use of FLAX oil despite what some critics state. Flax is costly and I personally desire oils with smoke points at or above 350 degrees (F).  Below is a link on smoke points:
  •  After covering the cast iron piece in oil, place into the oven for approximately 15 minutes to heat the grease deep into the pores of the cast iron.
  • Increase heat to 500 degrees (f) and allow piece to continue baking for additional 45 minutes.
  • Caution: Always keep an oven mitt, pot holder or leather glove on hand when handling cookware after heating. This will protect you from being burn. Now that you have your mitts
  • Remove the item from the oven and allow it too air cool. Once the cookware has cooled, the seasoning is ready for cooking with and while some items come preseasoned, I still perform this step once, twice with non-seasoned cookware. 
  • Note:  On new preseasoned cast iron cookware, this step can be avoided, although I still do it at least once before use and we do want to clean any item first before ever using....When seasoned correctly, the finish should be hard, smooth and not sticky. If the pan comes out of the oven sticky, the cause is one of several reasons, You used to much oil, as this needs to be merely a thin coat, your oven temperature was too low or your baking time was too short. Should this occur, simply wipe clean, place back into the oven until the cookware is not tacky.
Imagine what you would think if I said, NEVER WASH YOUR CAST IRON. Well, true, I said it. Before use, you want to always make sure the cookware is clean and free of rust. However, one should never wash cast iron unless you plan on seasoning. Although, a mild soap, quick rinse and fast dry on the stove or camp fire is acceptable. This is a realistic way to clean providing you do not remove the seasoning of the cast iron. Just don't place it in the dishwasher or use heavy detergents which may strip the quality of seasoning from the cookware. If for some reason it becomes necessary to clean removing the old seasoning, then you will have too season again.
  • Before use: Just wipe with a damp cloth and then allow the cookware to warm up on the stove or near the fire pit to dry out any moister. Lightly oil after about 5 minutes and continue to heat known as preheat. This prevents stick and allows the metal to slowly expand.
  • After use, rinse with warm water
  • Use a stiff nylon brush to remove any food that has stuck to the surface. I use salt on tough areas to clean since I do period cooking long before nylon was available. Nevertheless, the salt works today just as well as anything else. I also use a rope brush that often was used on chuck wagons. You can also use a wood spatula to assist removing any food which may be sticking to the cookware. Although well season items rarely will have anything stick to it unless one failed to pay attention during cooking and burned something in the cookware.
  • After a rinse is completed, dry over low heat and as it dries wipe with light coating of oil.  Again 225 degrees until dry. Let cool to room temperature.
  • Storing:  If the cookware has a lid, place paper inside the bottom of the item and use paper or some non metal surface item to prop the lid to allow air so that it will not develop future moister building inside. When storing cast iron, I recommend any place that is cool and dry. 
  • NOTE: (Never put any hot Cookware into cold water. This causes thermal shock which can occur causing the metal to warp, crack and even break). 
Once the cast iron cookware has been cleaned and seasoned, it is ready to use. However,  seasoning each time will not be necessary. When removing that cookware from storage, whether this being in the kitchen cabinet or the boot box of a chuck wagon, it never hurts to wipe clean and inspect before use. 
  • Always oil cast iron before cooking. Simply wipe the oil smooth around all surfaces and preheat on 225 degrees (f) for about 5 minutes. 
  • Remove the cast iron an add all ingredients of your recipe.
  • WARNING: Cast iron holds heat long after cooking. Always handle with gloves or oven mitts. Never touch the surface with your bare hand. Additionally, never place the cookware on anything that will become damaged by heat. Recommending the use of Cast Iron Trivets for setting cookware on when hot. Always start your heat out low and increase to the higher temperature slowly.
  • Never place cold food into the cast iron cookware as this promotes sticking. Food can safely be placed at room temperature and when cooked at 180 degrees or more will kill any germs so your safe to allow the items to sit out after being refrigerated to cook once reaching room temperature. The same holds true with frozen foods as they need to thaw completely.  
Caring for your cast iron is a very simple process. Remember the little tips and notes shared here. Furthermore, keep the cast iron stored in a dry cool place. Never stack other metal cookware on top or under cast iron unless the item is cast iron too. This can cause corrosion. Finally, always allow lids to be propped open to prevent building of moisture. Paper towels will absorb moisture too, so after the item has been stove dried, let cool, line with paper and store. 

One can find great deals walking around flea markets, garage or rummage sales. Additionally, auctions are a good source of vintage items. Should you decide to buy cast iron, do some research to know what the item new cost and the quality. A good source for purchasing new is on-line using the internet. However, cast iron is heavy. Often a great price of the item may have a nasty shipping charge. While I'm a fan shopping on EBay, check out or QVC. Recently, we found a nice Dutch oven at Harbor freight but it was one, unseason and two, a less quality of cast iron made in china. So remember, research first.  Also, review shipping charges if purchasing on line. Since the items are heavy, individual sellers charge higher shipping charges where a good deal on EBAY may seem great but after shipping cost, you could have purchased a brand new item from manufactures like Lodge Cast Iron.

Something else to note is where are you going to use the cookware. If outdoors, I do not recommend buying enamel coated cast iron or using items with glass lids. This works great indoors, but outdoors, look for dutch ovens with flat lids that will allow for coals to be placed on top. Skillets come in different sizes and I like to have several to use. Small 6" inch works great to make a single meal or sauces for large meal preparations. However, if you desire to fry chicken fried steak outdoors, a skillet of about 12" inches or more and at least 3 1/2 inch deep is needed.  Having a lid for this skillet in nice too for several reasons. First, to cover and speed the cooking time, but second, grease can catch fire, the easiest way to put a grease fire out, is cover it so it can not breath.  

Antique Cast iron manufactured by several businesses  such as Griswold or Wagner were manufactured in the United States. They are of excellent quality. Additionally, Lodge Cast Iron has been made in the USA over 100 years. Today,  American Culinary purchased the trade name of Wagner who purchased Griswold. Today's Wagner Ware is different from the past. I wrote Peter Pike, owner of American Culinary and he has failed to reply.  Dunns and Bradstreet indicate the company in the USA has ten employees which leads me to believe his items are made likely in China. Lodge continues to make their items in the USA and are for superior to many cast iron cookware items found at discount stores made in China. The Chinese products are with rougher castings and seem to be sold with deep wax coating. This will take some serious cleaning before seasoning. Another thing to keep in mind. Machine polishing is great for a sauce pan. Although, like painting a metal surface, seasoning needs to be adhered to a scorn surface and becomes smoother through use. If any individual tells you otherwise, they need to take a course in chemistry....If you don't know what to buy, think outdoors, buy Lodge. Indoors, Lodge makes some nice indoor cookware too.

Even the rusty impossible can once more be used to cook with. Surely you have heard never cook on a rusty piece of cookware, just throw it out. Well, if you desire to throw money away, please mail your cast iron to me. However, you will have to remove any rust to restore, before cooking on so start at this step.
  • There are many different ways to remove rust. If the piece is highly valuable and heavily rusted, I recommend  commercial sandblasting. I would do this on any piece that show signs of excessive pitting. However, most often this is not necessary and can be done in your own home using a heavy wire brush and some light sandpaper. The idea is to remove the rust only and not the surface of the cookware. If the item is mildly rusty, use salt, baking soda and water and rub well until it is removed.
  • NOTE:  If it shows signs of cracking, likely it should just become a decorative piece. However, all is not lost. The cracks often can be welded and re-smoothed if the piece is either an heirloom or holds actual value.  Welding should be done by someone with the skills to perform the repair. Cracks in cast iron will require a small hole drilled at each end of the crack to stop further spreading. Then to properly weld cast iron, the item must be heated to 500 degrees (F) in order for the weld to adhere. When properly done, the weld should be finished and sanded smooth, then reseasoning applied. After several times of use, a good weld will not be noticeable. 
  • Chemicals can be purchased to use for restoring. I have use stove cleaners before with great success. Also, Lye can be used mix in a plastic pail covering with water. However, it takes days sometimes weeks for the lye to be effective. Plus lye is highly dangerous to work with. I do not recommend this but read about it often because it does work. The best chemical is all natural (VINEGAR) mixed about 1 part to 10 parts water. Place the cast iron cookware into a bucket covered in the solution after the heavy rusty has been removed by sanding, wire brush or using an electric wire wheel (DREMEL-Tool) or drill attachment. The vinegar will kill all oxidation which is the rustication. 
  • Once the items has been cleaned of rust, clean in hot water with household dish soap. Wash well removing any chemicals or rust particles. 
  • Once washed, begin seasoning process again. 

The cast iron will be  likely a light to dark gray color. As you continue to season, the cast iron turns black, and if done well and often used, very glossy black from the built up protection of bacon grease or lard. You will enjoy many years of using this cookware. The draw back is it does weight much more than many cookware items made today. However, studies show that cast iron is one of our greatest tools whether cooking in the kitchen or the great outdoors. Finally, I welcome suggestions, advice or comments you may have. We hope this helps you first with getting your cookware as there are so many recipes to make. Speaking of recipes, I feel hungry and think I'll head out and fire up some mesquite.

Prior to being restored  Cast Iron Bean Pot
Restored Cast Iron 5 quart Bean Pot
cowboy cooking