I’ll just come right out and say it: while I adore cooking with my cast iron pans, caring for your cast iron pan is kinda the worst. At least, I’d always thought of it as the worst, because up until recently I followed a lot of bad information about how to care for my cast iron pans and skillets. So much so that I had all this weird kitchen anxiety about maintaining their upkeep, and had all but banned my husband from attempting to clean them because God forbid he do it wrong and make the pans lose their precious seasoning.
The thing was, they kept losing their seasoning anyway because I was doing it wrong all along. I couldn’t figure out why my pans kept getting rust spots, and were hardly ever non-stick anymore, and how in the heck are you supposed to clean these guys if you can’t wash them with soap?
So I started reading up on caring for my cast iron and hey, guess what? Cast iron pans and skillets are actually pretty easy to maintain if you don’t buy into all the bad advice. After all, there’s a reason the same cast irons our grandmothers cooked with are still banging around cupboards today.
Cast iron pans are fabulous for cooking and are made to last. And by following just a few simple tips (and ignoring the rest of the bad advice), you can make sure your cast iron pans and skillets stay in tip top condition, too. I even put together a little guide for you: it’s all right there, after the jump!
Check out this handy guide, then read the more detailed instructions below!
First, let’s talk seasoning your pan. Cast iron is known for its non-stick properties, which only comes after layers upon layers of an oil or melted fat is “baked” into the pan’s surface; these layers are called the seasoning.
Some people swear you must never! ever! use olive oil or mineral oil, but it doesn’t actually matter which type of oil you use to season, as long as it’s an oil that is appropriate for cooking. If it’s an animal based fat, like lard or tallow, then you’re keeping it old school like Grandma did, but my favorite way to season my pan is with peanut oil, so going vegetarian works fine, too.
To season, start with a clean, dry pan. It doesn’t matter how it was used before this point; picked up rusty from an antique store, washed with soap (the horror!), or banged up beyond recognition. Give it a good scrub, using soap and steel wool if you need to. It’s ok to use soap and a wire brush or steel wool here since we’re about to season the pan, but you don’t want to use soap after this; more on why not in a minute.
Dry the pan well with a towel and then drop on about a tablespoon of oil. You want to use just enough oil to create a sheen; not so much that the pan is sticky to the touch.
Using an old towel – you just want something nice and soft, really – rub the oil all over the pan. I like to go inside and out, since sometimes wet ingredients, like eggs, may drip and stick to the outside of the pan during cooking. These drips are easier to clean off if the pan has been seasoned on the outside.
Next, line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and place on the bottom rack in a hot oven, set to about 375*F/190*C. Place your oiled cast iron pan on the rack above the foil lined baking sheet. The baking sheet is there to catch any wayward drips from the pan, so they don’t burn on the bottom of the oven.
“Bake” the pan for about 45 minutes to an hour, then remove from the oven and let cool. Once the pan is cool to the touch, it’s seasoned and ready to use!
Tips to Remember
From this point on, you just have two important things to remember, if you want to keep your pan in tip top shape:
- NO soap used on the pan! this means no soap to clean off stuck-on food. And for the love of god, do not put your pan in the dishwasher.
- NO steel wool or wire brushes used to clean your pan!
If your pan has bits of stuck-on food and you feel the urge to scrub with soap and a steel wool or a wire brush, don’t! Use kosher salt and a bit of oil instead. The kosher salt flakes are nice and big, just abrasive enough to remove food but won’t remove any of your layers of seasoning. Scrub with your oldest, softest kitchen towel.
That’s it! If you have any questions about your cast iron pan, drop me a note on social media; my profile links are in the upper left-hand corner of this page. Enjoy your pan!