Do you have an ugly, rusty, or not-so-well-seasoned cast iron skillet? No worries, it’s easier than you think to get that pan back to all its cooking glory. Caring for cast iron the right way will help these pans last a lifetime. And knowing that you can pass along well-cared-for cast iron to future generations is a rewarding in and of itself in time where producing less waste and minimizing toxins has become a top priority. We’re here to give you the DOs and DON’Ts of caring for cast iron, along with dispelling some myths about how to properly clean the pans.
First off, seasoning is the term used to describe the multiple layers of oil baked into skillet pores, giving it a natural, rust-resilient, easy-release finish. Cast iron is porous, so the more it’s used and finished with a bit of oil after cleaning (more on that in a moment), it will continue to provide a protective–non-stick–barrier that keeps food from sticking. It will never be as non-stick as ‘non-stick’ pans go, but it runs a close second. And perhaps more importantly, doesn’t come with the toxicity that old-school teflon pans are known for. To season your pans, follow these 3 steps:
1. Get Rid of Rust, Residue, and Debris
Before you can season your pan, you need to clean it. Add half a cup of coarse salt to your skillet and scrub with a pan brush or scrubber (a balled-up paper towel will do in a pinch). Once the flaky residue is off, rinse it in the sink until the water runs clear.
2. Dry It Well
Wipe the pan down with a towel and place it on the stovetop over medium high heat for several minutes until completely dry. Alternatively, stick it in the oven at 350° for 10 minutes.
3. Add Oil
Using a cloth, paper towel, or your hands (if the pan has cooled slightly), lightly coat the pan, including the bottom and the handle, with a high smoke point oil. Vegetable, avocado, and flaxseed oils are good options for finishing your pan. Start with a teaspoon or two and rub the oil into all surfaces of the pan. Place it in the oven at 400°F for 1-2 hours. Depending on how ‘raw’ your pan is, you might need to do this a few times to get the result you’re looking for. Simply repeat the oiling and heating steps, allowing the pan to cool in between each application. The more times you do this, the better it will be.
Now your pan is seasoned and ready to use.
When it comes to putting that now gorgeous cast iron pan to use cooking up something delicious, here’s a pro tip: Make sure you heat it over medium-high heat for several minutes before starting the cooking process. This allows the pan to heat up evenly and contributes to keeping the surface stick-free.
Clean the pan after each use and while it’s still warm. Thoroughly rinse with hot water and scrub with a kitchen brush, discarding any gunk or debris as you go. If more effort it needed, you can wash it with a mild soap and hot water. YES, you can clean your pan with soap! Avoiding soap is a commonly held myth. While this once was true, soaps of today aren’t as harsh as they use to be. To avoid a soap buildup, use it only when it’s really needed. For example, you’ve cooked something with strong flavours or it just needs an extra good clean.
Never Let it Stay Wet
Repeat after me, “I will never, ever, ever leave my cast iron pan in the sink. And I will never, ever, ever let my cast iron pan stay wet.” Wetness leads to rust, which quickly leads to dissolution of your pan. Early death is completely avoidable if you follow these tips: Once it’s clean, dry immediately (and well!) in the oven or on stovetop, then season with oil as above.
Cast Iron Cooking Inspiration
Wondering what you can cook in your beautiful cast iron? Check out these delicious links:
There’s nothing better than a fruit-loaded dutch baby coming right out of the oven.
Perhaps you’re into gifting some homemade skillet cornbread?
Weeknight dinner idea: skillet chicken with bacon and white wine sauce
To finish off with a little sweetness, how about this gooey chocolate peanut butter brownie skillet
If you have any other tips on caring for cast iron, please share them in the comments. We’d love to hear them!