The question I get asked most is probably “How do I maintain or care for my cast iron grill?”
Being made of cast iron it is actually not very far away from how you would maintain any other piece of cast iron in your collection. There are just a few differences because how we store our grill is different than the cast iron skillet used for cooking in your kitchen.
If you don’t have a collection or the experience and skills for cast iron maintenance, this article will help describe and show you, in the attached #teachaman2fish video, the simple process of keeping your cast iron grill looking and performing the way you want it to for decades.
Maintaining your grill is a function of how the grill is stored and treating the exterior surfaces with oil and the seasoning process.
Why Cast Iron?
One of the reasons we enjoy cast iron so much is the unique flavor and cast iron cooking process that you just can’t get in other cooking platforms. The unique cooking experience doesn’t necessary come as easily to us as our modern convenience copper/ceramic/Silverstone/enamel/Teflon ”nonstick” surfaces that make our lives so much easier and consumer worry free.
However, there are advantages of using cast iron to cook.
If you find yourself arriving at the doorstep of “cast iron cooking” as an option in your culinary tool kit you probably arrived here by one of a few routes.
- You grew up watching your elders using cast iron and either returned to the fold or never left it.
- You didn’t grow up watching cast iron used in the kitchen but knew it was out there and have “rediscovered” this method of cooking and the strengths it brings to your cooking processes. (By the way, this is where I fall in. I grew up in the 70s & 80s during the Teflon nonstick revolution and I didn’t even know the strengths of cast iron cooking until my 30s)
- You’ve realized or discovered that there are health benefits and understand that all the chemicals in our lives and ingesting in our food all those nonstick chemicals might not be as good or safe as getting a little more iron in your diet from your cooking pan.
- Finally, you may just be sick and tired of your nonstick pan failing you every two years or having to be OCD over the kids using a fork in the pan to flip their bacon. “HOW MANY TIMES HAVE I TOLD YOU, NO METAL UTENSILS IN THE NONSTICK PANS!??!” You’ve come to realize modern pans serve their purposes but they aren’t as good as the tried and true cast iron cookware.
- Everything taste better when cooked on cast iron.
Fortunately, in order to reap those benefits you have to go the extra mile to maintain it. You may wonder why I say “fortunately”. I am firm believer in knowing that anything that takes a little extra effort and investment is usually worth doing, the payoff is in the quality end product.
Cast iron is no different. For the reasons mentioned above I have to go the extra mile and don’t get caught up in the “modern convenience” that the consumer culture screams at us to join at every turn.
This is most likely one of the most critical parts of maintaining your grill. My primary go-to-grill, also called a hibachi, is my Lodge Sportsman’s Grill.
Like most cast iron owners, I take great pleasure in the process of keeping and maintaining that classic black seasoned coating on the outside surfaces of my cast iron grill. I do believe it ads in just that extra flavor that will cause someone to wonder and appreciate that your cooking tastes better on that piece of cast iron.
Your cast iron grill isn’t really like other grills you have owned in the past. It does require that extra care if you want to keep the grill ready to go at a moment’s notice. You can’t keep it stored outside for weeks at a time. It does require additional care and maintenance, but the rewards are plenty.
Storage is the number one issue. The best location to store you grill is in a stable temperature controlled area such as a garage. A garage may not be as controlled of a location as inside your home, but it is still better than in the shed or sitting out in the elements on your porch. Even under a protecting awning or covered porch is preferable to sitting in the rain.
When cast iron is cycling up and down in temperature with the ambient changes, if the temperature rises rapidly (like in the morning as the sun heats up the air) it can cause your cast iron to be cooler than the air. This lagging behind in temperature can cause a temperature variance that can be great enough that dew point is reached and the moisture in the air condenses out onto all of the surfaces of the cast iron. Moisture causes rust in cast iron, even a well-seasoned cast iron surface will show signs of rusting in this circumstance.
In fact, even with all your efforts your grill will occasionally show small amounts of rust. If your cast iron grill does get those few rust spots it is OK. Just follow the process well talk about in the next section and you will get back to that flat black coating that is admirable with cast iron.
Applying Oil & Seasoning
I will let you in on a little secret, don’t buy the expensive Lodge or boutique spray seasoning oils. 9 times out of time, you are paying a premium price for what is only normal canola oil. You can get the same effect while spending ½ the price and get the standard store brand canola oil.
Seasoning is the process referred to by cast iron cooking users where oil is applied and heated on cast iron.
The seasoning process is a function of polymerizing the oil and basically drying it out until it is a coating very similar to a paint or other protective coating. Different oils have different characteristics regarding how well they hold up to heat before burning off. This is called the “smoke point”. The higher the smoke point in temperature the better the oil will hold up to the heat of your grill without burning off. Canola is a great oil based on smoke point while considering cost. You could buy grape seed oil, which has a slightly higher smoke point temperature, but your gain to cost just isn’t worth it in my opinion. Save the money, buy cheap canola oil spray in the store brand.
That being said, there is lots of debate surrounding what types of oil to use on your cooking surface. The options range from homemade bacon grease, to lard to exotic oils such as flax seed oil.
I can fully understand why that debate occurs for cooking surfaces on your dutch oven or favorite bacon & eggs skillet. That is certainly a critical element driven by personal experience and performance. That isn’t the case with maintenance of the exterior parts of your cast iron grill.
I am recommending a simple process of spraying down the exterior of your cast iron grill when it is still cold before you have started the coals. Coat all surfaces with a thin coating of spray canola oil and let that oil polymerize during the cooking process while the heat from the coals turns that thin coat into that classic deep rich black coating we all love.
As can be seen in the attached video, it is possible to apply the oil while the hibachi grill is hot. You should know that there really is no bad or wrong time to apply a thin coat of oil to your grill. Just be careful when applying spray oil to a hot grill, it could burn and cause injury or out of control fires. Safety First!
Damage & Repair
If you happen to have a very hot cook while using the grill it will burn that polymerized coating of oil, or seasoning off during the grilling process. Once that layer of dried oil is burned off you have exposed bare cast iron, that is the perfect recipe for rust to return with a vengeance on you cast iron grill.
Instead of leaving bare cast iron, it is certainly better to apply a coat of spray oil to the entire hibachi cast iron grill when you are putting it into storage rather than leave that bare cast iron exposed to the moisture in the air. While that layer of unheated oil may become dry and sticky while sitting in storage, it will turn into blackened seasoning during your next cook and will help preventing rusting while in storage.
If you left your grill out in the elements and it has become a rust laden mess, not to worry. Just pull the grill out of the elements and apply a coating of oil while you wait for you next cook. You can then start the season process over again and you will just pick up where you left off.
If you are performing a very salty cook on your grill, such as a piece of meat with dry rub containing more salt than normal, it is wise to give the grill grates a rinse when the cooking is complete. Salt attracts moisture in the air while storage and also increase corrosion potential while sitting in storage. Just make certain after washing off the salt crusted on the grates that you place the grates back over the die coals to warm up and dry off. If you think of it, applying a coat of oil to the dry warm grates is good for putting into storage.
Many grill manufacturers also make covers for storing your grill. This cover works well for aiding in storing and preventing both hibachi grill odors or rubbing off of oil and grease onto other items you may have in storage. However, I do not recommend that you consider this cover as an adequate way to store your grill out in the open elements. You certainly can store you grill in this manner, but you will have a greater battle against rust if you are the type of grill master who wants to fight the rust.
I know there are some who don’t worry about the rusting on the exterior of the grill body. Your cast iron grill is tough and while it may be unsightly to some it will still hold up to decades of use even in those conditions.
Your cast iron grill is a work horse. It will take any amount of abuse you throw at it (as long as you don’t drop it) and keep providing you and your guest with fantastic grilling and eating experiences.
If you are the type of grill master who likes the look and aesthetics of a good cast iron grill and cook, the methods shown above will give you decades of cooking on your grill.
Also, don’t worry too much about a little rust appearing on the grill. Your grill is designed to enjoy, with a small amount of effort in your next cook that rust will disappear and be a distant memory.
If I know I am going to be placing my grill into storage for a longer period of time I will put a VERY thin coat of oil on the grill when the cast iron grill is cold and that will perform even better than the seasoning at preventing rust on the cast iron grill.
There are collector’s item cast iron grills that have been floating around out there for the better part of ½ a century. Your grill could be passed on to your kid’s kids if you raise them right and teach them beauty of cast iron cooking.
In closing, I give you one last thought. How many other grills have you owned that are as good as the day you bought it 5? 10? 20+?!?! years.
ENJOY YOUR CAST IRON GRILLING EXPERIENCE