A cast iron skillet is a must for any kitchen, and a small galley is no exception.
I have to go on record here: I already own the best cast iron skillet for a small galley. It’s an heirloom that’s been in the family for about 50 years. I use it every single day.
I inherited this skillet from my husband’s grandmother, a farm wife from the plains of Eastern Washington. It cooked bacon and fried egg breakfasts, fresh caught trout and farm raised pork chops. I’m sure Grandma never envisioned that it would one day live on a boat and be used to make risotto, pilaf and lamb burgers. She never imagined that arugula – a word that would have sounded like science-fiction to her – would come anywhere near it.
Grandma was not into shopping and did not have the choices we do today. I like to think this skillet was originally purchased at a small town general store, from a stack of many exactly like it. The only markings on the skillet are “Made in USA” and “10 5/8.” It has one shortish handle and fits perfectly in my cupboard. And because it was made in the days before everything was branded, I cannot even recommend you buy from the same manufacturer.
Buying the best cast iron skillet for a small galley
But while you cannot have my skillet, you can get one similar to mine that will cook well for 50 years for your seafaring family. Start a tradition.
This 9-inch Lodge Cast Iron Skillet is a good size for the small galley. It also has just one short handle like mine. If my skillet were ever to wear out or break (highly unlikely, these things never wear out) or if it were ever to fall overboard (much more likely) this is the one I’d get to replace it.
If you’ve got more space, there are some other beautiful options out there. The larger, and more stylish, double handled Calphalon Cast Iron Skillet for example. And the Le Creuset Cast Iron Skillet. The latter even comes in cheery enamel colors, red, blue, green or yellow, which will make using your skillet even more appealing.
Caring for your Cast Iron Skillet
Most new cast iron pans are pre-seasoned, and don’t require seasoning before use. If yours is not, or if, like me, you don’t know its history, use these steps before cooking your first meal.
From the care section of the Lodge Cast Iron Cookbook. By Pam Hoenig, Exmoor House 2012
Caring for Cast Iron
1. Rinse your cast iron cookware with hot water. If there is any stuck on food, use a stiff brush to remove it. Do not use soap. As any type of detergent will break down the oil-based seasoning.
2. After rinsing, dry the cookware immediately inside and out. If water remains on the surface, rusting can occur, even with a seasoned piece.
3. While the piece is still warm from being washed, use cooking spray or a paper towel soaked with melted vegetable shortening to give the interior and exterior surfaces of the pan (including the underside of the lid if the piece has one) a slight coating of oil.
4. Store in a cool, dry place. If the piece has a lid, folded paper towels should be placed between the lid and bot to allow air to circulate.
When you need to re-season a pan
It happens sometimes – a friend helpfully puts your cast iron skillet in the dishwasher without you knowing it, or takes a Brillo pad to it, stripping the seasoning from its surface. Or you inherit or acquire an older piece of cast iron that needs refurbishing. Here’s how you do it.
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. I you have three racks in the oven, remove one and move the others so they are in the two lost positions.
2. Prepare the piece for re-seasoning by washing it in hot, soapy water, using a stiff brush to remove any stuck on food. If the pan has surface rust, remove it using fine steel wool or an abrasive soap pad such as Brillo or S.O.S. (If the piece is severely rusted you’ll need to take it to a local machine shop to have it sandblasted. It will then need to be re-seasoned IMMEDIATELY.) Rinse and towel-dry the pan immediately and thoroughly.
3. Coat the piece with oil as instructed in step 3 above, making sure to also include the handle.
4. Place a large sheet of aluminum foil on the lowest over race. Set the pan upside down on the rack above it. Bake for 1 hour.
5. If the piece has a lid, set it beside the pan. Close the oven door, turn off the oven, and leave the pieces cool off, and leave until the pieces cool off. Store as directed above.
A Further Note on Cast Iron Skillet Care for Boaters
The instructions above are basically how I care for my old beauty. But – there’s one further consideration aboard a boat, especially in warm areas.
Any food left out – even a little cooking oil on a pan – can attract certain pests. No boater wants to deal with those. So I do use soap on my cast iron skillet. Usually a light soap and water rinse, just enough to remove the oils. Then I heat the pan, wipe on a light coating of vegetable or coconut oil and let it cool. If I have to do a real scrubbing – a rare occurance – then I’ll do the whole re-seasoning routine.