Cast Iron Skillet Care is serious business. Learn how to season a cast iron skillet, how to clean cast iron, how to properly use and store cast iron, and some recipes that you can cook in your cast iron skillet.
Cast Iron Skillet Care
Taking care of your cast iron skillet is an important part of owning this special piece of cookware. Every home cook should own one of these, or maybe a few. They cook food beautifully, you can make so many different recipes in them, and they inevitably become everyone’s favorite thing to cook in.
Whether you’re a long-time cast iron user, or you just got your very first cast iron skillet, this guide will tell you all you need to know about using it, cleaning it, and taking care of it.
Why is cast iron better?
If you’ve ever heard anyone talk about cast iron, you’ve probably heard RAVE reviews about how AMAZING it is…and you’re just supposed to believe that it’s the best thing for cooking, but maybe you’re not sure WHY. But I’m here to tell you exactly why cast iron is better for cooking.
I’ll go into more detail later, but to keep my answer brief, here’s why you should be cooking with cast iron:
- Cast iron holds heat well, which means your pan will stay HOT throughout cooking.
- Some foods will even cook faster, and meats will brown perfectly
- Seasoning your cast iron skillet makes it non-stick, so no more sticky stubborn food making it hard to clean your dishes.
- Taking proper care of your skillet (what this whole guide is about!) means it will last for years, even decades, and can be passed down through the family.
- You can use it for so many different recipes and types of cooking. You can even use it in the oven!
What’s Covered in this guide:
- How to Season a Cast Iron Skillet
- How to Clean a Cast Iron Skillet
- How to Store a Cast Iron Skillet
- How to Use a Cast Iron Skillet
- Easy Cast Iron Recipes
How to Season a Cast Iron Skillet
Let’s start by talking about seasoning. Seasoning is a very important part of using and taking care of your skillet. It’s basically just a thin layer of polymerized oil or fat that completely covers the surface of the pan. This is done by repeatedly covering the pan with oil and heating it in the oven.
Why does a cast iron skillet need to be seasoned?
The “seasoning” of the pan is what creates the non-stick surface, and it also protects the pan over time (especially from rusting).
How often do you need to season cast iron?
Once your pan has been seasoned, it shouldn’t need to be done again very often. Cooking in your pan regularly, using oils (as you cook), and cleaning it properly will keep the seasoning in tact.
If you find that the surface starts to look dull and is losing its shiny finish, or food starts to stick to the surface, that means it’s a good time to reseason it.
What should I use to season a cast iron pan?
You can use any type of oil or fat to season your pan. Vegetable oil, canola oil, and melted shortening are often recommended as the best options.
Do you have to season a cast iron skillet before the first use?
Some skillets will come pre-seasoned, so there’s no need to go through the whole process on your own (the label will tell you clearly if it is a pre-seasoned pan).
Otherwise, you will definitely need to season your cast iron before the first use!
Do I have to season cast iron after every use?
No, this is not something you’ll need to do very often. As long as you follow proper cleaning instructions and keep your skillet in good shape, you will not need to season it every time you use it (especially if you use it regularly).
You can rub a small amount of oil over the surface of the pan after each use (not always necessary), but the full seasoning process is a rare occurrence.
How to Season Cast Iron:
- Start by thoroughly cleaning your skillet (especially if you are re-seasoning it) and fully dry it.
- Apply a small amount of oil or shortening to your skillet (don’t use too much or it will become sticky).
- Use a paper towel to spread the oil evenly over the surface of the entire skillet (including the outside).
- Place the skillet UPSIDE DOWN on the middle rack of the oven. Place a sheet of aluminum foil on the bottom rack to catch any oil that drips off.
- Set your oven to 375°F and let the cast iron bake for about 1 hour.
- After an hour, turn off the oven and let the skillet cool completely in the oven.
- Repeat the process a couple of times if desired, and any time you need to re-season.
How to Clean a Cast Iron Skillet
Can you wash a cast iron skillet?
Washing cast iron with soap is one of the big things you’re not supposed to do.
While it’s true that strong dish soaps and harsh scrubbing can break down the seasoning, a bit of mild soap will not ruin your skillet.
The seasoning process creates a strong layer of coating over the iron, so it’s not quite as fragile as you might think. That oil is BAKED IN, so soap alone won’t remove the seasoning. If you cook something strong and smelly in it, it might actually be a good idea to use a small amount of mild soap.
That being said, you’re better off avoiding soap for regular cleanings. Wiping your skillet clean, reapplying oil, and a bit of water when needed will do the trick.
And you absolutely should NEVER put your cast iron in the dishwasher.
Can you soak cast iron?
Soaking is the true DON’T when it comes to taking care of your cast iron pan. Because it is iron (a metal), it is prone to rusting. The seasoning that makes it non-stick also protects it from rusting, but only so much. Letting the metal pan soak in water, or even letting it sit wet for a short time, can lead to rust.
So be sure you don’t get your pan wet until you’re ready to clean and dry it immediately. No soaking!
If your pan is well-seasoned, then you shouldn’t have problems with food sticking on, so you shouldn’t need to soak it anyways.
Best Way to Clean a Cast Iron Skillet
For regular cleaning of your skillet after cooking, follow these tips:
- Clean your skillet while it’s still warm. This will make it easier to get food off.
- If there isn’t much food left behind in the skillet, you can gently rub a paper towel with oil over the surface until all food scraps have been removed.
- Use a stiff brush to remove any food from the pan while running it under water.
- For stubborn sticky food, pour a bit of kosher salt into the skillet and scrub with dish brush to help remove it. (Note: if food is really sticking, it might be time to re-season your skillet.)
- To keep your seasoning in tact, apply a small amount of oil after each cleaning. You can pour a bit onto a paper towel and rub it onto the surface. This is best done while the pan is still warm.
- If you cook something particularly fragrant and you don’t want it to transfer into the next dish you cook, use a small amount of mild dish soap (it’s okay!).
- If you feel like you need to do a deep clean on your skillet, go ahead and give it a good cleaning with hot soapy water. But it’s best to re-season it before using it again.
- Always dry your cast iron immediately after washing. Don’t soak it. Don’t let it sit while wet. Don’t let it air dry on a dish rack. Use a cloth to dry it as soon as you’ve washed it.
- To really make sure your pan is dry, heat it on the stove for a few minutes. This is also a good way to warm it up before applying more oil.
How to Restore a Rusty Cast Iron Skillet
When your cast iron starts to get rusty (this will happen if too much moisture sits on it), don’t worry. You can save it! Rusty cast iron is a sure sign that you need to re-season it, so start by removing rust and cleaning it.
Here’s how to bring a rusty cast iron skillet back to life:
- Use steel wool or a firm dish brush to scrub away the rust. Really get in there and get that rust out. You want to get your skillet back to a gray/black surface.
- Give your cast iron a deep cleaning. Use hot soapy water to clean it thoroughly.
- Then you’ll need to re-season your cast iron (just follow the steps I shared above).
How to Store a Cast Iron Skillet
Cast iron is pretty rough and tough, so you shouldn’t have to worry too much about damaging the surface. That seasoning creates an extra layer of protection too! Here are a few tips to make sure your pan is stored properly and taken care of:
- Store cast iron in a DRY spot. Like I mentioned earlier, water will cause it to rust. So a dry cabinet is a good place to store it.
- Speaking of dry, it’s important to fully dry your pan after cleaning and before putting it away.
- If you have multiple cast iron pans, nest them and store them together for easy and quick storage.
- Placing a layer of paper towels between your pans will help to protect the surface and soak up any moisture that may have been left behind after using.
- A well-seasoned pan is the best way to protect the surface from scratching and rusting, no matter how you store it.
- You can also store your skillet on the stove, in the oven, or hang it up on a secure hook. Cast iron pans can be so beautiful, so it’s nice to be able to see them, even when you’re not using them.
- Dust will not ruin the pan, just wipe it off before cooking. That layer of paper towels can also stop dust from accumulating directly on the surface.
- That being said, if dust is collecting on your pan, show it some love and start using it more often! There are so many great uses for it.
How to Use a Cast Iron Skillet
What should I use my cast iron skillet for?
Cast iron pans have so many uses, and they work for a lot of different types of recipes. They are particularly good for the following:
- Searing and browning meats
- Making one-pan meals (you can use it on the stove and then transfer it to the oven)
- Pan-frying, searing, roasting, baking, sauteing
- High-temperature cooking
What should I NOT cook in cast iron?
You can cook most foods just fine in a cast iron pan, but there are a few things you should be careful with.
- Acidic foods: if these foods come into contact with the bare, unseasoned surface of the pan (maybe a spot was missed while seasoning, or was removed with prolonged use), it can cause leaching. This leads to a metallic taste in your food. Example: tomatoes and citrus.
- Aromatic foods: this is a nice way of saying foods that smell. Since you won’t be washing your pan in the traditional sense, the smells and flavors from strong foods might be transferred into the foods you cook the next time you use the skillet. Example: garlic and fish.
- Fish: besides the strong smell, some fish (like salmon) is fine to cook in cast iron. But more delicate fish that needs to be cooked on low heat won’t hold up well in these pans.
- Sticky foods: if you want to cook eggs and other foods that tend to stick, wait until you’ve been using your skillet for a while. That way the seasoning has time to build up and create a truly non-stick surface.
All that being said, these are not super strict rules. Tomatoes might break down seasoning on your pan, and garlic might leave extra smells and flavors behind, but these things generally won’t ruin your pan.
One things to keep in mind: you definitely don’t want to cook salmon and garlic in your pan one day, then use it to make a sweet dessert the next day–the flavor will not be the best! Give it a few uses, or buy another pan for different types of recipes.
Easy Cast Iron Skillet Recipes
Maybe you just got a new cast iron skillet, or maybe you have one that’s been sitting unused for a while. Either way, these recipes are a good place to start with cast iron cooking. These simple recipes are perfect for your skillet!
- Skillet BLT Chicken and Rice
- Chicken Enchilada Skillet Pie
- Chorizo Queso Blanco
- Restaurant Steak with Cilantro Butter
- Skillet Carrot Cake
- Fried Apples
- Pan Fried Pork Chops
- Easy Tandoori Chicken
- One Pan BLT Frittata
- Pumpkin Pie Skillet Brownie
Best Cast Iron Skillets
If you’re looking to buy a cast iron skillet, they’re easy to find and definitely affordable! It’s one of the best cookware pieces to have in your kitchen.
Some of the top cast iron brands are:
- Le Creuset
You can find all kinds of cast iron skillets to choose from HERE. (affiliate link)
Besides skillets, you can also get dutch ovens, grill pans, griddles, and other cookware in cast iron. The same tips, cleaning and seasoning processes apply to all cast iron pieces.
Now go grab that skillet, season it, and start cooking!
Be sure to watch the video for full details on How to Season a Cast Iron Skillet.
The post Cast Iron Skillet Care (How to Clean, Use, and Season a Cast Iron Skillet) appeared first on The Cookie Rookie®.