Maybe you got your first cast iron skillet or you’re thinking about getting one. Congratulations! This is a big moment in your cooking journey. And this is a gift that can last you for generations…
If you know how to take care of it.
Below, is a quick guide to cleaning and caring for your cast iron pots and pans and also things you should never do with them to keep them around for a while. They may seem super durable, but neglecting them can ruin them.
First, the more you use your cast-iron skillet, the better. So, start choosing your cast iron skillet to cook more of your foods. This helps you “season” it (we’ll go over what this means).
The cast-iron skillet is seeing a revival in the kitchen, but they’ve been around since 513 B.C. In the past 30 years or so, they’ve taken a back seat to the tons of non-stick pans on the market, but cast iron is still one of the most durable and safest cooking materials you can use. See the article on Non-toxic Cookware Guide here (its not good for nonstick).
Learn how to keep your cast iron in tip-top shape so you can use your cast iron instead of buying a nonstick pan every two years. It’s one of the most sustainable pans around if you care for it.
Let’s dive into the most important points for the cast iron.
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Seasoning Your Cast Iron Skillet
If you have a cast iron skillet, you’ve probably come across this term, “seasoning.” But what is it, and do I have to worry about it?
I was in that place before too, but it’s not too complicated. At least, once you do it once, it’s no biggie.
What is “seasoning”?
Seasoning is the layer on the cast iron that is kind of a natural non-stick pan quality. The science explanation is that some fat or cooking oil is heated to a high enough temperature that it actually creates a film or “patina” that make the pan smooth and naturally nonstick.
The more you heat oils in the pan (frying and deep frying is great for cast irons) , the more the surface will become nonstick, slippery, and durable. You may even be able to cook a fried egg on it without sticking- the ultimate test.
If you scrub too hard or don’t dry your cast iron well, you can ruin this seasoning and your food will stick more and more.
The best way to create and maintain this seasoning is to follow a few tips below.
First, know that most skillets these days come with a factory seasoning- so it will appear glossy, smooth, and not sticky when you first get it.
For your first few uses, it will be probably fine, but then you need to maintain it.
How to Season You Cast Iron Cookware
You should do this a few times a year. I season after I cook something that leaves a lot of food residue and I have to scrub it a bit. You can’t really over-season your skillet. It just adds more flavor and nonstick qualities. So if you’re unsure, just do it.
To season your cast iron pot or pan, you need a vegetable oil like flaxseed, sunflower, canola, soybean or oil. (Flaxseed is the best, but I personally use grapeseed).
First- wash and dry your skillet well.
Then, you use a small amount (1-2 tsp.) oil and wipe it on the dry pan. Wipe it out really well- almost like you made a mistake putting oil in there in the first place. It should have the tiniest amount of oil in it.
Preheat the oven to 350 F and place a sheet of foil in the oven. Then, flip your pan or pot over on the foil after you oil it (oil the inside and outside to keep it from rusting).
Heat or “cook it” for 1 hour. The foil will catch any of the excess oil that drips off.
After an hour, let your pan cool entirely in the oven turned off. Usually, chefs do this overnight.
You can repeat this process for a couple days to get a really nice seasoned pans. I know chefs who have repeated this process for 7 days. They get 7 layers of nonstick, so if you can do more days than one, do it.
At the end, you should have a smooth, glossy, not sticky cast iron pan. If its sticky, you probably added too much oil. Wipe off excess and heat again.
*If you have carbon steel pans like a wok or paella pan, this process will work as well.
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5 things you should never do with a cast iron skillet (you CAN ruin it)
Avoid doing these things to ruin the beautiful seasoning on your cast iron cookware or destroy it completely.
1. Don’t leave it outside. If it gets wet it can rust and its hard to get it back to its original
2. Never put it in the dishwasher. It will ruin all the seasoning and nonstick surface you created.
3. Don’t overheat it or pour cold water into a hot pan. It will warp it inside. And let pan cool before you wash it.
4. Don’t drop it. It may seem indestructible but you can chip it or crack it entirely.
5. Don’t leave cooked-on food on it. Seasoning is a thin layer that should feel smooth like a film. Any crusty food is not seasoning, but crud. Remove it with a plastic scraper or see below for cleaning instructions.
Cleaning Your Cast Iron Skillet
There are a few key tips to keep in mind when cleaning your cast iron cookware. The first is to let it cool before you go to clean it. Not only is it safer (cast iron stays hot for a long time), but it prevents it from warping, too.
1. Clean your cast-iron after each use.
Just because you season it, doesn’t mean you never clean it. There are food scraps that you need to remove. So, be sure not to just let it sit, but clean it after each use.
Once you go to clean it, use a hard plastic scraper to remove food. Lodge sells them and they are super cheap but one of the best cleaning tools in the kitchen. Try to use this scraper before using a metal abrasive one. I find the plastic scraper works best to remove stubborn food particles.
I don’t recommend using tons of soap, but you can use a little if you like. The more soap you use, the more you will wash away that seasoned patina you worked so hard to get.
Whatever you do, don’t put it in the dishwasher. Unfortunately, this old cookware still needs to be cared for the old way- with some good old elbow grease.
When I was in culinary school, they taught us another cleaning technique that I sometimes use.
You need coarse Kosher salt ( I used Morton coarse salt). You heat the cast iron pan with the salt just until it starts popping. Then, turn it off and let the pan cool. With a paper towel, towel and sponge or tongs, scrub the salt into the pan. This will release any stubborn food particles and neutralize the pan so you can be sure no bacteria grows.
Once you rub the salt into the pan, dump the salt (or save it for another use) and rinse the pan well.
I do this when I have coarse salt on hand, and sometimes I even save the salt for 2-3 uses. I also do this for my carbon steel pans (like my paella pan).
2. Dry and Oil You Pan
Once you clean it, the VERY important step is drying your pan. If you let it dry on its own, it may rust and sometimes it gets so bad you can’t get the rust out.
These pans will rust very quickly if you just leave it to dry on its own. So, you want to make sure after you wash it that you dry it well with a towel. And, even put it in the oven to be sure it dries thoroughly. If my oven was on previously, I just turn it off and leave the pan in there.
Once it’s dry, add ½ tsp. oil. Use a neutral high-temp oil like vegetable or grapeseed oil (The best oil to use is flaxseed, sunflower, or soybean oil). You rub this on the dry cast iron pan with a paper towel. Continue to wipe the surface until no oil residue remains.
At this point, I like to preheat the oven to 350 F and place the pan in the oven for 30 minutes. Sometimes I’ll flip the pan over and put a piece of foil under it so any excess oil will drip out of it.
The oven will smoke a bit and that’s okay. Just be sure you wipe away excess oil well because the more oil there is, the more it will smoke.
Let it cool completely in the oven once you turn it off.
When you’re done, you should have a shiny, spick and span cast iron pan ready to use. It will be semi-glossy and won’t be sticky or greasy to the touch.
Troubleshooting: if it’s sticky, you probably used too much oil. Start over and use less.
The ULTIMATE TEST:
Does it pass the fried egg test?
If you use 1 Tbsp. vegetable oil in your pre-seasoned skilled to cook an egg and it doesn’t stick then good job! You now have a well-seasoned cast iron skillet.
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Don’t be discouraged if your food sticks to you on the first few times. The seasoning only gets better with each use. The best thing you can do with you pan is to use it more often. Frying especially in the beginning of getting your cast iron helps if you can afford it- healthwise.
This cookware can last you for your whole lifetime, so make some memories and your food will get better and better.
One of my favorite recipes to make in a cast iron is Dutch Baby Pancakes for brunch. Try it here.
To your happy and healthy life,
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