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If this sounds like a ridiculously neurotic question, that's because it is. That said, and discussion aside, according to Par[e]ve kitchen certifications and ordinances around the world (and especially in the United States), how can a seasoned cast iron skillet that browned a flank steak one night, be redeemed to serve an observant vegan or strict kosher meal the next?

What are ideal steps/rituals/best practices for rendering it compliant with:

  • Practical, reasonable steps to assure cross-contamination does not occur (i.e. should I take any special steps beyond a salt scrub?)
  • Any general religious observance could conscientiously be observed (an answer here would simply rely on advertising, and any regulation upon it based on health inspections or public safety departments)
  • Any strict religious observances

This is not a question about how to clean a cast iron skillet. I just don't want to have to bury mine in the yard in some odd ritual, but I want to know where people would stand based on any additional cleaning/sanitizing/sanctifying measures I might take.

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...having a kosher cast iron skillet just won't have you set up for cooking kosher. Really, it won't. –  sq33G Feb 19 '12 at 21:31
    
@sq33G I think you may be misunderstanding the point of the question. The point is not necessarily to specifically kasher the pan for Jewry; I was looking for answers that would cover both a practical and a symbolic cleansing (happened to revolve around Kosher) to make for a pan that a Vegan would eat from. If you read the answers, rfuska gives a good explanation of the Kosher guidelines, and sam does well hitting the generalities and problems behind answering the question. –  mfg Feb 21 '12 at 20:07
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2 Answers

up vote 6 down vote accepted

There are a few aspects to consider, but will always boil down to "you have to ask the individual".

Making a piece of cookware "safe" for a given person involves two components:

  1. Removing the contaminant in question in a manner that will prevent accidental ingestion of said contaminant.
  2. Making the item seem un-contaminated. At first glance this is similar to the first part, but has less to do with the physical molecules, and more to do with people's perception of cleanliness, as seen through their cultural lens. If a toothbrush falls on the bathroom floor, many people will throw it away because of the persistant sensation of uncleanliness, even if a dishwasher cycle would be more than enough to satisfy point 1. "Is it clean?" is as much about physics as it is about perception and intent.

For vegans and vegetarians, there are no guidelines of any kind. Individuals who are vegan or vegetarian for primarily environmental or health reasons will probably be satisfied with any simple cleaning to meet condition 1, and are probably unconcerned with item 2, as it applies to meat. Vegans and vegetarians who are primarily motivated by ethics will be more impacted by item 2, and may prefer not to eat off the pan. While some may be satisfied by various "rituals", there is no standard for such rituals.

For people who keep Kosher, some sects of Judaism allow for "kashering", which is the process of making something previously un-Kosher into something Kosher. Kashering is partially about item 1, but is primarily about item 2 - in some cases the cleaning is highly ritualized. Note that while there are some common themes to kashering, different sects will see the acts very differently, and may or may not "allow" certain methods for their followers.

For some appliances the process is fairly easy - a stainless steel sink can be Kashered with boiling water. Porcelain is seen as porous, and in many cases cannot be kashered (exceptions can be made for valuable old items, but they must remain unused for over a year). Ovens and oven-safe cooking items can be put through a self-cleaning cycle (around 800F), and must be thoroughly cleaned of all debris. Cast iron pans and other fry pans must have their entire seasoned coating removed, abrasively and/or through extremely high heat. The bare pan may then be re-seasoned in a proper way. Many consider that to be too extreme to be worth the time, and simple replacement of the cast iron cookware is advised.

Some examples of Kashering processes, though various sub-communities will see these items differently:

Ultimately, everyone will fall into a different place on the Item 1/Item 2 scale, and their habits or religion alone may not allow you to easily predict their reaction. In some cases, Jews determine that being an ungrateful guest is a greater sin than eating from a non-Kosher pan. Some vegans may find the pan forever unclean, but many will also take a more practical attitude when eating with friends than they would with their own cookware.

The best you can do is to take a good guess at whether someone is an Item 1 or and Item 2 prioritizer, and act accordingly. People who highly prioritize Item 2 will probably never be OK with your cast iron pan. People who prioritize Item 1 will probably be satisfied with any solid cleaning such as a heavy salt scrub with very hot water, and a re-oiled surface with an acceptable variety of oil.

In a world where wider groups of cultures are finding themselves in the same place, and individuals are thinking more about their own diets and making a broader range of food choices, it is becoming more acceptable to just ask. You should be able to ask someone, "Would you mind if this pan had been used to prepare meat in the past?" and not have them be offended, or yourself be offended at their answer (if they say "yes, I do mind"). I have so many friends with different dietary choices and traditions that I'm used to asking in dinner invites, "What is everyone's dietary situation right now?" No one is offended by the question, and their honest answers make it easy (and fun) to put together a meal that everyone will enjoy.

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Doesn't your answer also say "you have to ask the individual" ? –  rfusca Feb 17 '12 at 3:58
    
Could you edit this a bit I think I'm not seeing your answer for all the answering. If you could structure it more like the layout in the question (practical, social, religious practices to cleanse a pan) it would go a long way. While I know I may have some hang up about my pan, it does not keep me from using it. Likewise, all of the vegans I associate with are reasonable, practical people who may not want their vegetables fried in hamburger grease, but also they don't boycott restaurants with only one flat top unless there is rampant cross contamination. –  mfg Feb 17 '12 at 4:57
    
I'll take another stab at it. Part of the problem is that the "answer" doesn't really exist, though you may be able to aim at a few generalities. –  Sam Ley Feb 17 '12 at 5:06
    
Let me know what you think about it now - hopefully more specific? –  Sam Ley Feb 17 '12 at 5:23
    
Thanks, that is a really thoughtful explanation. You did a great job exploring the generalities in a practical way –  mfg Feb 21 '12 at 20:11
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Your issue revolves around 2 things:

  1. Some (not all by any means) vegans have a tendency to be a bit fanatical. Whatever cleaning you may do is strictly based on whether or not they want to 'accept' it. There's no 'official' guidelines, especially considering the different types of veganism. If you're worried about cross-contamination of fatty oils (which is the only thing I can think of that would be be an issue), then a very light wash with soap is your best bet. A salt scrub won't take care of the oils. If your pan is well seasoned and the coating is solid, a light wash definitely won't hurt it.

  2. The kosher part is going to be trouble. Koshering is a very specific religious thing and effects all parts of the food prep from pans, utensils, even storage containers* on the way to and from the plant. Compliance with cooking fully kosher is quite difficult to achieve if you are not set up for it. The process is pretty specific and changes depending on different things in the kitchen. It appears to take at least 24 hours as well. Some other sources seem to imply that you can't, but on further inspection, you can. It's just if you kosher an item, it must be kept with other kosher items.

* For my job, we even monitor and help with the rabbi that comes out and inspects the rail cars shipping the product to make sure that they're kosher.

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In my experience most vegans are fine eating off the same plate or pan as long as it won't get them sick. With due respect to the fanaticism comment as those persons are more noisome, could you respond to the first segment of the question; what are some practical, reasonable steps to assure cross-contamination does not occur (i.e. should I take any additional steps beyond a salt scrub)? –  mfg Feb 16 '12 at 17:57
    
@mfg - updated. –  rfusca Feb 16 '12 at 18:02
    
From my limited reading, it sounds like Kashering can be used to cleanse pots and pans that have become treif; could you explain your experience more on when pots and pans can and can't be purged? Am I misunderstanding the scope of treif kitchen equipment? –  mfg Feb 16 '12 at 18:18
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@mfg - I think my few sources just had it wrong, I'm going to change my answer. It seems you can chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/82672/jewish/… –  rfusca Feb 16 '12 at 18:31
    
@mfg Vegans fine aslong as they won't be sick? None of the vegans I know get sick from having meat physically, though some of they might get sick for psychological reasons. With the miniscule amount of molecules left from a brushed and washed pan, I'd say medical reasons don't apply... What I'm trying to say is that all the vegans I know wouldn't count a meal as alright if they didn't get sick - it's more of an arbitrary personal limit. –  Max Feb 17 '12 at 8:14
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