Are you wondering what is involved with cast iron skillet care? Are you unsure of how to take care of a cast iron skillet or how to take care of cast iron cookware?
If you properly take care of it, your cast iron skillet will last for generations. You’ll be able to pass it on to your children and their children. Seriously, people use cast iron skillets that are almost 100 years old all of the time!
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Cleaning Cast Iron
Cleaning cast iron skillets is pretty simple. Cast iron is pretty indestructible and when taken care of, is extremely nonstick and easy to clean.
After cooking in your cast iron, remove the food and rinse it out with hot water right after cooking. The food should come out pretty easily. Wipe the skillet down with a paper towel and put a small amount of oil back onto the pan before you put it away.
If your pan doesn’t wipe right out and has bit of food stuck on, you can use a pan scraper. I run into this occasionally when I fry chicken or pork in my skillet. I have a plastic scraper that I got several years ago with one of my Pampered Chef pizza stones. That scraper works great to remove the stuck on bits of food.
Sometimes there is a little bit of food left that the scraper left behind. You can scour your cast iron skillet with a coarse sea salt and paper towel or bristle brush. Don’t use steel wool to scour it unless you plan on seasoning the pan right after.
For really tough bits of food, add water to the skillet and put it on the stove. Boil the water in the pan to loosen the cooked on food. This works especially well with sugary, sticky foods like caramel.
Never, ever use soap to clean your skillet.
The seasoning of the pan is created by a thin layer of polymerized oil. Soap will destroy this oil layer and make your pan more susceptible to food sticking and rusting.
You can purchase cast iron skillets new, or you can find them cheap in thrift stores or yard sales. I’ve found two really nice skillets for a really good price at thrift stores. I have a big 13″ skillet that I found for $7. Its was a little rusty, but that’s easily fixed.
Save me for later!
This is the ONE time that it’s ok to use soap in your skillet. Use a steel wool pad with a little bit of soap to scour the rust out. It’s ok to use soap because you’re going to season it. Make sure that all of the rust is off of the pan, including the handle and the bottom of the pan.
Rinse all of the soap off completely. Dry the pan and it’s ready to be seasoned.
Seasoning cast iron skillets and cookware
As I mentioned earlier, the ‘seasoning’ of the cast iron is created by a thin layer of polymerized oil. Basically, a thin layer of oil is baked onto the pan to create a nonstick surface. If you notice food sticking more than normal in your pan, then it’s probably due for another seasoning.
You want to have a good clean pan to season. Remove any rust or cooked on bits of food.
Preheat your oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. On the bottom rack, lay down a large piece of aluminum foil. This will catch any drippings from your pan as it bakes.
Use a lint free cloth or paper towel and coat your cast iron with vegetable oil. You can also use canola oil. I wouldn’t use anything with a strong flavor, like oil or coconut oil. You don’t want all of your foods to have a weird twang because of the seasoning of the pan.
You want to completely coat the pan, but you don’t want oil pooling up on it either. Just do a nice thin coat all over the pan. Don’t forget about the bottom and handle. Coat the entire skillet.
Put it upside down in the oven and leave it in there for an hour. Turn the oven off and let it cool in the oven. Once it’s cooled enough to handle, take it out and look over it. It should look glossy all over. If it doesn’t, add oil and season it again.
I know when you buy new cast iron that many of them come pre-seasoned. I season mine again anyways. You can’t over-season a pan, so better safe than sorry.
Tips for cast iron care and maintenance
Use your cast iron frequently. The more you use it, the better it resists rust and sticking. Plus, it fortifies your food with iron and doesn’t leach chemicals into your food.
You can use any type of utensils in cast iron. I prefer to use my wooden cooking utensils in mine if I can. Read about taking care of wooden cooking utensils.
Don’t use soap on your cast iron unless you’re intending on immediately re-seasoning it. Don’t let your cast iron soak in water. This also breaks down the polymerization of the oil and can make your pan rust. (I’ve been guilty of this, so if you do, make sure that you clean it really well and oil it after to prevent rusting.)
Old cast iron can be salvaged! Use soap and a steel wool pad to scrub any rust out. If soap and steel wool won’t get the rust out, it’s not too far gone. As a last resort, you can take it to a machine shop where they can sand blast it to remove the rust. Just make sure that you immediately season it (maybe more than once) to prevent the rust from coming back.
If you take care of your cast iron skillets and cast iron cookware, they will seriously last you forever.
Do you cook with cast iron? How do you use it? Leave me a comment below, I’d love to know!
Gaye Tidwell says
Really enjoyed this post! Most helpful. My husband and I disagreed on how to care for our iron skillets and this will now be our guide! Thanks Shelby
LOL, glad I could help solve your debate!
Seasoned mine plenty of times and still dulls with no sheen. Tied vegetable crisco,flaxseed and grapeseedoils
I have one that I bought new that tends to dull on me. I have an old one that I restored and seasoned it very heavily when I first started using it. Most of the things that I cook in it are oily or have fat and it keeps a nice shine. It’s not a smooth shine when you look at it close but it definitely shines more than some others that I have. I tend to use them for frying or sauteing, but I’ve seen that if you cook something acidic (like a recipe with tomatoes in it) that it can cut through your seasoning just like soap would. Because of that, I try to stay away from putting acidic foods into my cast iron.
Donald Gray says
Yes they can definitely be saved ! I’ve got a 10″, and 2 – 6″ or 8″ that I saved from a scrapyard ! Talk about sad looking . I had to help them. Now they are the pride of my kitchen.
Lorraine Lotti Wagner says
I appreciate the cleaning and care advice you provided here. I just picked up a new cast iron pan because I want to start learning how to cook and grill with it. I am in the process of getting rid of all my Teflon cookware – replacing each piece with either cast iron or steel so the Teflon frying pan was the first to go. A long time ago an Aunt left me a cast iron skillet that she had for years but I killed it because I did not know how to care for it. She said she never introduced it to either soap or water. She only wiped it with a piece of bread and kept cooking, so I was surprised that you said it was alright to use water to clean it.
I will season my pan with your instructions today and start cooking on it tonight.
Still not sure what to purchase when it comes to sauce pots, etc. so any thoughts on that would also be appreciated.
I’m surprised to hear that she cleaned it out with a piece of bread and kept cooking! I guess she was cleaning up all of the excess grease with the bread?
I don’t personally have cast iron sauce pans but I have used as cast iron soup pot before. They are great if you’re making a soup or stew with meat in it. You can brown the meat really well on the bottom and then when you add the rest of the soup/stew ingredients into the pot you’ve got all of the flavorful tidbits of browned meat on the bottom. I recently got a cast iron bread loaf pan that I have yet to try. I’m curious to see how differently the bread cooks in it, but I guess I will find out!
I recently bought a Logde grill pan and used it once and I started seeing signs of rust on it. I am going to try this to see if I can restore it.
Judy cox says
I have built up grease on the outside of my cast iron. Any comments on how to remove them. It cooks great and the insides are OK but the outside has a lot of built up grease,
If you have a scouring pad, you can try scrubbing it off of the outside of the pan. My father in law restores cast iron cookware frequently and he actually recommends building a really hot fire and putting the cast iron pan directly onto the fire and letting it heat up and get really hot. He says this burns off any old grease or debris, even rust. Then you can coat the warm pan with a thin layer of oil to season it.
I don’t know what just happened. I guess I’ll just start over. ….I have restored and used cast iron for many years. Must of my many pieces were found at yard sales and swap meets and were in pretty bad shape. I used the same method as your father in law and it never let me down. In all the methods of cleaning I have seen no one seems to use or even know about doing it this way. I have not been happy with any of them I’ve tried. Tell your father In law he and I do it the cowboy way and why change something that works.
I will definitely tell him, he will be thrilled that he’s not the only one that cleans his cast iron this way!
I bought a scrubber from amazon and love it for cast iron and clay pots. https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B01FFGOWI4/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_asin_title_o03_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
Molly Hillstrom says
When we go camping I use my 10″ skillet over the fire. I don’t own a cast iron Dutch oven so I improvise one. If I’m making biscuits I put foil over them and scoop coals onto the foil. They always come out browned on both sides this way.
Great idea Molly!
Sandy Terp says
I use cast iron for all my cooking. My adult son is stating to learn to cook and he now uses the cast iron also. I’m glad to see that you are promoting this.
Jenean Fraley says
Whenever I dry my pan the paper towel is black. I sautéed mushrooms in butter and they ended up with a black cast to them. Is this normal? I don’t use soap and dry my pan stovetop with a few minutes of hear.
It sounds like there is some leftover butter in the pan. I would try giving it a good scrub down with a soap-free sponge and some rough sea salt.
Paloma Rossiter says
Hello!!!! Thanks for the info.
By any chance can a season the Skillet only in the stove? My oven is eléctric and i think it doesnt reach the temperature needed, besides i’ll be spending to much electricity.
I was so excited when i bought my first cast iron skillet..i did everything I’ve seen online.. read all the advice.. but everything still sticks to it.. ive seasoned it so many times I’ve lost count.. ive never cleaned it with soap after the first time..i store it in the oven.. its never rusted and i only have tried cooking meat like sausage and bacon in it.. how do I make it non stick? Please help
I hate that you’re having trouble with your skillet. Meat does tend to stick some, especially if you’re cooking it pretty hot. I would recommend maybe cooking some fried foods in the skillet for a while. After you finish cooking, pour the excess oil out. Rinse the skillet with hot water, leaving some of the oil in the pan. Use a lint free cloth and rub the oil around. That may help create a strong seasoning layer on your skillet.
We have quite a few cast iron utensil.using most of the time
2 Frying pans
1 large Dutch Oven for baking Sourdough Bread
3 cooking pots different sizes
1 Large wok for cooking dry curry
1 Medium wok for Deep Frying.
1 Dosa Pan
1 Chapatti Pan
1 Paratha Pan
They work wonders cooks evenly every time
We wet clean them with water and lightly oil every time.
Bake them in the Oven every 6 months
Never have had much problem with them.
Very pleased very good investment using them for the over 8 years now.
Useful Tips given above
Use cast iron most days
Madhavi Bharat Gajria says
Have seen last two generations use these for cooking, literally anything from curries, to sweets, , to pancakes, and breads, and what not. I have about 5 to 7 woks, and about 6 to 7 pans – both flat and concave.
Been having these at my own home since about two decades, and can’t imagine life without these..
Care is very simple, just that we try to wash these with water and a mild detergent once the mealtime is over, wipe them dry, and put them back onto their shelf.
Yes, these are almost in regular usage. And, they all exist happily, giving me a perineal joy
marie mclaren says
What kind of oil is the best to use to season the pans with? can you use Kosher salt instead of rough sea salt?
I prefer a mild oil that doesn’t have a strong flavor. i.e. avoid oils like olive oil or coconut oil and instead go for something like vegetable oil.
I read where you can spray easy off oven cleaner on the outside of your pans if they’re in bad shape. Have you ever tried this? I inherited a really nice cast iron Dutch oven but the outside has grease build up on it. Thanks for the tips.
I have not tried that. I’d be interested to see how that works. I would just use it on the outsides, though, and not the inside of the pan. My father-in-law collects cast iron pieces and he swears by cleaning them in a fire. He will build a really hot fire in his wood stove and then set the pan directly into the fire. It burns off any debris, old grease, or dust. After it cools down and you take it out, you can wipe it down and put oil on it.
Joe Rodriguez says
I did home inspections for realtors when the homes where for sale,and came across some pots and pans left outside to be thrown out. So I ask if I could take one that was cast iron before they where tossed out. The cast iron pan had some bake on grease on the outside. The way I cleaned it was to put it in my electric oven on self clean with aluminum foil under the pan to catch the bake off grease this work great, after that i washed it with soap and steel wool, dry it by putting on the hot stove and then seasoned it . Looks like new and works like a charm