Deep Frying Enhances Cast Iron Cooking

Cast iron cookware is the workhorse of any kitchen — nearly any recipe can be cooked in the metal vessels, from a quick scramble to fried chicken. So, if your air fryer has taken over cooking all the crispy foods at your house, it might be time to rethink that. You might have heard cooks say that cast iron gets better the more you cook in it. The basis for that observation is that with each successive cooking, a microscopic layer of carbon builds up on the metal, filling in the pores of the surface and making the pan nearly nonstick.

The build-up, which is also called seasoning, happens as oil is heated. Some of the bonds in the long fat chains break and combine into shorter, sticky polymers that bond to the iron of the pan and act like a pore filler. Almost every time you cook with oil in the pan, you add to the super thin layers of seasoning that eventually create a perfectly slick finish. But, there’s a fast track you could take to simulate years of cooking, too — you guessed it — frying up one of your favorite foods from time to time.

Frying is like a deep conditioner for cast iron

Donuts frying in a cast iron pan

Many cast iron companies recommend building up seasoning by baking a pan with a light coat of oil for an hour. But why not use that same lengthy heat exposure to cook up a tasty deep-fried treat instead? Your pan will get the same benefits of the longer, steady heat by deep frying (or shallow frying if you want to try this with a skillet!). The metal will have time to heat evenly and completely, and the oil can really soak into the pores for deep conditioning. And, although suggestions for what oil to season your pan with abound, any oil that you like to fry with will produce a nice layer of even seasoning. 

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Frying in cast iron is not only great for the pan, but also a pleasure for the cook because the metal retains heat so well. The oil temperature won’t drop drastically as you add food to the pot, so your food cooks properly. It is important not to overfill a pan with oil when frying — the oil can boil over, creating a messy safety hazard. Don’t worry that all the iron isn’t getting an oily bath just because the pan’s not full to the brim either. The bit of oil that bubbles up into contact with the pot will be plenty to help season the metal to perfection. 

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