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Nash: It requires some elbow grease, but cast-iron cookware has its merits

It doesn't surprise me when I decide I prefer to do something the old-fashioned way.

As a rule, I'm slow to embrace change, regardless of the progress it represents. Generally, my children are the opposite. So I'm amazed when one of my children in this case, my son-in-law opts for "last century" over "latest technology." But this time, I saw it with my own eyes, so I know it's true.

I was in Georgia visiting my new grandson when I walked into the kitchen and saw my son-in-law cooking with a cast-iron skillet. Two things surprised me. The first was that he was cooking. The only reference to his culinary skills I had ever heard involved opening cans of Chef Boyardee ravioli. (Not that I think that's a bad thing. In fact, it's one of the things I like about him.) But now, not only was he standing in front of a stove frying meat, he was using a cooking utensil that many households abandoned years ago in favor of Teflon-coated pans.

He told me he used it all the time. And I thought, well, if he can, so can I. We had used some cast-iron frying pans decades ago, but found they were too much trouble to care for with two little kids demanding our attention. Besides, with two more mouths to feed, we couldn't afford meat, hence the fondness for Chef Boyardee, and Teflon.

I searched around and finally located our cast-iron pans. I would have found them much faster if I had just asked my wife because she knew right where they were, and I would never have looked there. But finding the pans was just the start of my adventure.

What I found wasn't so much a pile of cast-iron pans as much as it was a rust collection. Suddenly, my new project didn't seem like as much fun. I sorted through the pans and selected the one with the least amount of rust. Along the way, I wondered why we had so many of the doggone things. We must have a hundred pounds of cast iron that we don't use. Maybe they multiply, I don't know. But they sure do rust.

This meant the first order of business was rust removal. That involved a lot more elbow grease than I had intended to expend. But, after significant scrubbing, I finally got down to cast iron. On the plus side, the pan was a little lighter. The next step was "seasoning" the pan.

I did a Google search and there are literally hundreds of ways to season a cast-iron pan. Some involve lard, vegetable oil or shortening. None of them involve elbow grease, which is a good thing since I was out of it after cleaning off the rust. I opted for vegetable (canola) oil because it was the easiest, my normal course of action. After oiling the pan and baking it for an hour, my pan had passed the first stage of seasoning.

The second stage was frying a pound of bacon. That seasoned the heck out of it. The bacon tasted a little rusty, but the pan was at least usable at that point. The challenge now is to see if I'm willing to keep up the maintenance.

I suspect I will for a while. My wife has let me know in no uncertain terms that the cast-iron frying pan is my responsibility. So my fascination with cast-iron cooking will probably last just as long as I am willing to clean the pan and keep it seasoned. I give it two weeks.

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