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How to season and care for a cast-iron pan

When you buy a cast-iron pan, clean it with steel wool if necessary to remove any light rust, particularly if it's second-hand. Rinse the pan and dry it, then brush a film of vegetable oil inside and out with a paper towel. Finish the process on the barbecue if you have one; crank the heat, put the pan on the grate, upside down, and leave it for an hour or so. (You can also use a 250-degree oven, leaving the pan in for at least a couple hours; be prepared for a bit of smoke.)

To maintain the pan, don't use soap unless absolutely necessary; scrub it with hot water and a stiff brush or copper scrubbing pad. Dry once it's clean, and then rub with a thin film of vegetable oil. High-acid foods such as lemon juice and tomatoes are best left to stainless; the acid will pull out some of cast iron's seasoning.

For delicate foods such as pancakes, use a lower setting than you're used to (cast iron retains a lot of heat) and give the pan time to heat evenly. But for meat, burgers and greens such as sautéed rapini, let 'er rip.

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After you put your meat in the hot pan, go pour a drink or something: It needs a little alone time to sear. Then it will "release" from the pan's surface, and you'll be able to turn it without sticking.

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Chris More

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