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3 surprising benefits to cooking with cast iron, and how to restore your pans to make better tasting food

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Restoring, seasoning, maintaining and benefiting from cast iron cookware

Cleaning, seasoning and maintaining cast iron cookware is important and can save you quite a bit of money. Cooking with cast iron pans and skillets is also a great way to get a healthy dose of iron, but what are the other benefits?

Highlights

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - First thing's first. Let's get that old cast iron cookware clean! The first step is to remove encrusted buildup. This is as easy as spraying oven cleaner directly onto the pan, waiting for it to set, then washing the dish with water. It may require more than one spray and rinse, but eventually your cast iron will be spotless!

Another way to clean cast iron is to make a lye bath. To do this, you will need two plastic trashcans with lids, a third empty container for rinsing, chemical-resistant gloves and safety goggles. Lye is caustic, so be sure to wear pants and long-sleeved clothing that does not have loose or hanging material, refrain from open-toed shoes and remember to wear gloves and goggles. 

Measure one pound of lye for every five gallons of water into one of the trashcans. WARNING: Add the water BEFORE you add the lye or you can cause a chemical reaction that can be extremely dangerous!

Stir with a wooden spoon or paint stick until the lye dissolves then gently lower the pans into the bath. Make sure there is enough of your water/lye mixture to completely cover the pans. Leave them to soak anywhere from days to weeks, depending on the buildup, but refrain from checking the pans until after at least two to three days.

When you check the pans, use a soft plastic brush or sponge to wipe the pan to see how much buildup comes off. If buildup remains after a gentle wipe, re-submerge the pans for a few more days and try the soft sponge or plastic brush again. Do NOT use wire or metal brushes or scouring pads as they will scratch the pan's surface and create areas for bacteria to grow.

After the buildup comes away cleanly from the pan, fill the second trashcan halfway with clean water. Wipe all the buildup from each pan before rinsing them in the bath. Use another soft brush or sponge to rinse the pan thoroughly and neutralize remaining lye by mixing a solution of one part distilled vinegar and one part water. Completely submerge each clean pan for at least thirty minutes. If any patches of buildup remain, you can scrub the area with super-fine steel wool before re-submerging the pans for another fifteen-to-twenty minutes. Then simply rinse the pan with clean water and thoroughly dry it.

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Next is seasoning. Remember, even newly purchased cast iron cookware still requires you to season it. All you need to do is get a clean pan and season it as soon as possible to keep it from rusting. Preheat the oven to 200-degrees then get some flaxseed oil and a paper towel. Put the pan in the oven for ten minutes then carefully remove it while wearing oven mitts and use the paper towel to apply a thin coat of the oil over the entire pan, handle included. With a fresh paper towel, wipe any excess oil off to leave a thin coat.

Increase the oven to 500 degrees and place the oiled pan upside down inside. Let it bake for an hour then turn off the oven and leave the pan inside until it has cooled. Repeat this process three to five times before cooking with the pan.

To maintain the pan, never use soap. Just rinse it clean with hot water and a non-abrasive scrub sponge then immediately dry it. After repeated use, you may notice foods beginning to stick or the surface becoming dull. Simply reapply a thin layer of flaxseed oil. Do NOT attempt to re-season the pan. It is also wise to cook acidic foods quickly, since acidic items such as tomatoes can react with the iron and produce a sour flavor.

Now that you know how to clean, season, and maintain your cast iron cookware, remember to use them as often as possible. One of the many health benefits to using cast iron is that you don't need to use as much oil when cooking on them. Another is that cast iron is a chemical-free alternative to nonstick pans and they don't release any toxins.

Though it may seem obvious, many people don't know that cooking in cast iron pans fortifies your food with iron. Many people around the world are deficient in iron and cooking acidic items can increase the iron content in your food by up to twenty percent!

You are not fully prepared to own and cook with cast iron pots, pans and other forms of cookware. You also know a few of the many benefits cast iron brings to everyday meals. Go forth and cook and don't forget to leave your favorite recipe in the comments below!

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