Cast iron kitchen utensils have been a popular choice of frying pans, skillets and grills for decades. Cast iron cookware is famous for its heat retention that keeps the food sizzling even when it’s off the heat. It is used by being seasoned before cooking. Different kinds of grease can be used but seasoning cast iron with bacon grease makes it much more durable.
Types of Cast Iron Cookware
Bare Cast Iron
Due to its ability to withstand high heat and temperatures, cast iron cookware is used mostly for searing and frying. Commonly cast iron pans and pots are made from a single piece of metal including its handle. This way the cast iron can be used on the stove as we as in the oven.
Numerous recipes are cooked on cast irons because they can be fried or seared on the stove and then be baked later in the oven. This dual-purpose cookware has been a chef’s favorite and recommendation for many years.
Bare cast iron cookware is known to increase the level of iron in the food being cooked. The amount of iron absorbed varies from ingredient to ingredient. Those suffering from iron deficiencies or are anemic can highly benefit from this. Yet people who have high iron should stay clear from cast irons as it may effect them in a negative way.
Enameled Cast Iron
These cast iron cookware have a porcelain enamel glaze on them. The enamel glaze tends to bring out various colors that a bare cast iron does not. It enables thorough cleaning, prevents rusting and does not require the need to be seasoned.
Due to its enamel effect, this cookware is higher priced even though it does not fulfill the purpose of retaining heat as the bare cast iron does. It also does not stand the intense heat and does not have the ability to resist sticking.
Enameled cast iron cookware does help limit the amount of leaching of iron on the food that’s being cooked. It poses another threat of chipped enamel coating affecting the food during the cooking process and afterward.
What is Cast Iron Seasoning?
No, we’re not talking about your regular salt and spice. Cast iron cookware requires a thick layer of fat to be cooked on it to become a hard, protective layer. That layer is formed by putting thin coats of fat, such as oil, on the cast iron. As the cast iron heats up, it melts the layers of fat together to form a layer of plastic. The seasoning is known for its non-stick properties, making even frying eggs an easy task.
Types of Seasoning
It is up to the cook to decide what kind of seasoning he decides on. The idea is to coat a layer of fat onto the cookware. There are two kinds of fats: saturated and unsaturated fats.
Saturated fats are most commonly found in animals. Its made from two kinds of smaller molecules: glycerol and fatty acids. They tend to have a higher melting point than the unsaturated fats thus require more heat to melt.
Saturated fats and unsaturated fats are both present in food items but vary in quantity. Food high in saturated fats are cream, cheese, fatty meats, whole milk dairy products, coconut oil.
Unsaturated fats are considered to be the ‘healthier’ fat. It is also found in saturated fats. It has a lower melting point thus it melts easily at room temperature. Unsaturated fats are commonly found in high quantities in avocados, nuts, vegetable oils such as canola, sunflower, and olive.
What is Bacon Grease?
Bacon fat, when heated, turns into bacon drippings. As it cools and gets firm, it turns to lard if the fat came from uncured bacon or rendered bacon fat if the meat was cured.
Uses of Bacon Grease
Bacon grease is commonly saved in Britain and the South U.S. It is used in cooking, flavoring or greasing different cuisines. Everything from salads to gravy and cornbread, bacon grease is used as a base.
One teaspoon of bacon grease consists of 38 calories and is roughly 40% unsaturated fat. With all its health risk factors, bacon grease is still popular in the American cuisine.
How to Render Bacon Grease
To render bacon grease you will need some bacon strips. Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Once the skillet is hot, lay out the bacon strips and let them cook for about 15 minutes. When you see that the strips have become brown and crisp, take them out and place them on a plate on paper towels to absorb excess oil.
Pour the remaining fat in the skillet into a jar and refrigerate. You will notice that the grease would turn into a whitish colored paste. When you cook bacon again, repeat the same steps and keep adding the remaining fat into the jar. Whenever you need to cook or flavor your dish, simply scoop out a spoon or two and add into it.
How to Season Cast Iron with Bacon Grease?
Now that we’ve established the kinds of seasoning there are, it’s time to season our cast iron. Firstly, you would need to thoroughly clean the cast iron with soap and water. Let it dry on the stove or use tissues to wipe the cast iron dry. There are two methods of seasoning cast iron: on the stove or in the oven.
Stovetop Method of Seasoning
Make sure you’re seasoning your cast iron in a well-ventilated area as the process will have some smoke. Put your cast iron cookware on the stove on high heat and allow it to get really hot. Keep in mind, cast iron takes a little time in thoroughly getting hot.
Remove the pan from the heat. Rub a thin layer of bacon grease all over the cookware. You can use a paper towel to evenly smear the lard or use the help of tongs to maneuver the paper towel over it. Now heat the cookware on medium heat for about 10 minutes. Wipe off the excess fat after removing the cast iron from the stove.
Repeat lathering the bacon grease on the cast iron cookware and heating it till you can see a nice, dark sheen develop over it. It takes about 4 times to repeat the process until the cookware is properly seasoned and ready to be used.
Oven Method of Seasoning
The oven method of seasoning cast iron cookware may seem simpler and appealing. Clean the cookware thoroughly with soap and water. Lather a generous, thick amount of bacon grease to the sides and surface of the cookware.
Take a baking sheet and put in in the oven. Place the cast iron on top of the baking sheet inside the oven to catch any kind of dripping or excess. Bake the cookware for about an hour.
Let it cool and then wipe off the extra grease and you have a bacon grease seasoned cast iron.
Caution and Care
Avoid using oils or cooking sprays when using your seasoned cast iron cookware as it builds up on the seasoning. Use solid fats as much as possible.
Don’t use soap to wash your seasoned cast iron and avoid putting it in the dishwasher. Only use very hot water and scrub the cookware with a stiff brush. If you find that there are food particles stuck on the cast iron, use a little salt and a little piece of newspaper to scrub it off.
Once you’ve dried your cleaned seasoned cast iron on the stove, spread a thin layer of bacon grease and let it remain on the stove on low heat.
Cookware has improved and advanced over the years as non-stick and enamel based cookware was introduced. Still, the classic cast iron will remain as a chef’s favorite. Though you may need to prepare and care more for cast iron cookware, the resulting cooked food will always be the prize.
Use whichever seasoning you prefer but bacon grease is a durable, long-lasting and dependable one to use. Due to its thick viscosity, it is easily seasoned onto the cookware and gives amazing results. Protect your cast iron cookware and it will serve you for generations to come.
Image credits via Flickr creative commons: Amanda Nan Dilion
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