When it comes to cookware, few construction materials evoke as much passion as cast iron. Experienced cooks agree that cast iron creates a better finished product—from perfectly seared proteins to crispy pizzas and gooey casseroles. However, though cast iron delivers delicious results, it does require some extra care and maintenance. That’s where our cast iron tips and tricks come in.
This tutorial will teach you all the basics of cast iron care, including how to clean and season cast iron skillets, as well as how to remove rust and properly store it. With these handy cast iron tips, your skillets and pans could last for generations! After all, who doesn’t want their great-great-grandchildren to have the best cast iron steak possible?
How to Season Cast Iron
You just bought a beautiful cast iron dutch oven or skillet. But there’s one thing you need to do before whipping up any mouthwatering materpieces: season it. Seasoning is the protective layer of cooked-on oil that coats the pan, making it nonstick and preventing the metal from rusting and corroding. Most cast iron cookware comes pre-seasoned nowadays. However, it’s still a good idea to add an extra layer before engaging in any hardcore cookery. Here are the steps to follow:
1. Place the cast iron pan in a preheated 450º to 500º oven. Remove the pan after 5 to 10 minutes.
2.Use a clean cloth or paper towel to rub a small amount of oil over the entire surface of the pan, including the bottom and handle. A neutral oil like canola, soybean, or sunflower will yield the best results.
3. Wipe off any excess oil with a separate clean cloth. Place the cast iron skillet back in your preheated oven for about one hour. Then, turn off the oven and let the skillet cool completely. Note: this process can cause a bit of smoke, so make sure to open a window or turn on your range hood for ventilation.
4. Repeat these steps as many times as necessary until you get sufficient layers of seasoning and the skillet is nonstick.
Cast Iron Tip: Looking for the best oil to season cast iron? Choose a neutral oil, such as canola, grapeseed, soybean, or sunflower. These vegetable oils have a mild flavor and high smoke point that will help you achieve the best results possible.
How to Clean Cast Iron
In order to preserve the integrity of your new cast iron seasoning, it’s important to clean the skillet properly. Of course, there are varying degrees of crud that can build up on a cast iron skillet, so we’ve broken down the cleaning process into three distinct types.
How to Clean Cast Iron After Cooking
Cleaning cast iron is actually quite simple. After each use, grab a non-abrasive sponge and gently scrub the skillet with hot water. A very mild dish soap can be used sparingly, as well. Dry the cast iron pan thoroughly with a clean towel afterwards, since leftover moisture can cause rust. Finally, apply a thin layer of neutral oil with a paper towel to replace any seasoning that might have worn off during the cooking and cleaning processes.
Though cleaning cast iron is easy, keep in mind that this material is still fairly temperamental. As such, it’s crucial to avoid the following:
- Putting cast iron in the dishwasher or leaving it to soak in the sink, since these actions promote rust
- Shocking a hot pan with cold water, which can lead to cracking and breaking
- Using steel pads or other harsh scrubbers and brushes that might create scratches
How to Remove Burnt Food from Cast Iron
It happenes to every cook: you’re at the stove, you get distracted, you burn dinner. Luckily, it’s not impossible to banish burnt-on food from your cast iron skillet—it just takes a bit of extra muscle and know-how. Here are two different methods that can bring your cast iron back from the brink:
1. While the cast iron is still warm from cooking (not hot), add a couple tablespoons of kosher salt and a splash of water to the pan. Gently scrub the surface using a non-abrasive sponge until the food softens and lifts off.
2. Add a couple cups of water to the cast iron skillet, and bring it to a boil. The boiling water should begin to loosen and lift the burnt-on particles after a couple minutes. Gently scrape the food up with a wooden spoon or spatula to speed up the process.
How to Remove Rust from Cast Iron Pans
Most rust can be removed with elbow grease and a non-abrasive sponge. However, if there’s significant rust accumulation—typically from putting cast iron away wet or soaking the pan—more forceful methods must be considered.
Upgraded Sponges: The majority of cast iron cleaning should be done with a non-abrasive sponge, but excessive rust calls for tougher alternatives. Opt for a mildly abrasive sponge or even steel wool to remove large rust spots. Combine this scrubber with warm water and mild dish soap. Make sure to thoroughly dry the cast iron once the rust is gone, and then re-season it.
Vinegar Soak: Make a solution of equal parts water and white vinegar. Submerge the rusty cast iron into this vinegar bath, and make sure to monitor its progress. Remove the pan as soon as the rust is gone, making sure not to leave it in any longer than necessary since vinegar can harm cast iron. Once removed, diligently clean, dry, and re-season the skillet.
How to Store Cast Iron Pans
There’s one final step to master before calling yourself a cast iron expert: storage. Once you’ve learned how to clean and season cast iron, this last piece is relatively easy. Simply follow these three rules of thumb for properly storing cast iron skillets and pans:
1. Dry it first. Never put your cast iron pan away when it’s wet, damp, moist, or dewy. To avoid rust growth, only put cast iron back on the shelf or rack when it’s 100% dry.
2. Avoid improper stacking. If you have multiple pans and skillets and minimal shelf space, it might be necessary to stack or nest your cookware. If that’s the case, make sure to insert a barrier between pans. This can be a towel, potholder, or any other effective, relatively soft buffer. By doing this, you’ll avoid metal-on-metal interactions that can lead to scratches.
3. Don’t let it sit too long. Forgotten cast iron skillets quickly become victims of rust, dust, and other unwanted foes. The best thing you can do to maintain the integrity of your cast iron is to use it often. With frequent use, cast iron gets more and more seasoning that improves its nonstick qualitites—and your cooking!
Adriane works as a Content Specialist at Central Restaurant Products. She has more than a decade of experience as a copywriter and e-commerce strategist, with most of that time spent focusing on the restaurant industry. When she’s not writing about foodservice, Adriane enjoys cooking, hiking, traveling, and hanging out with her dog.