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How to Season and Care for Cast Iron Cookware

When cast iron is well-cared for it easily becomes your trusty standby that you wouldn’t dream of cooking without. The more you use it, the more the finish builds up and becomes part of the pan. Before long you will be slipping a fried egg out of it faster than any non-stick pan out there.

seasoning cast iron

As the finish builds up so does the flavor! The oils that you cook with and the fats from your food are what bond with the pan to create that non-stick coating. Many people have concerns over using Teflon to cook with because of concerns over chemicals leaching from nicks or scrapes in the finish. Cast iron is the perfect solution to that problem. A well-developed finish is nearly indestructible and if for some reason rust develops you can always re-season the pan.

What does it mean to season cast iron?

Cast iron cookware is made of raw metal without any coating on it which means that if exposed to water it will rust. That is why it needs to be seasoned. Seasoning your cast iron cookware is a process of heating oil beyond the smoke point to create a smooth, durable finish.

vintage cast iron

How to season a new pan!

You will want to season your pan when it is new, if it has rusted, or anytime the finish has been compromised. It is a very simple process. You will need about a tablespoon of oil. Flax seed oil is considered one of the best oils for creating a durable finish. I really like avocado oil too.

Dribble a little oil into the pan and then use a clean, lint-free rag or a paper towel to wipe the oil all over the pan. Now take an additional rag or paper towel and wipe off any excess oil. Leaving a thick layer of oil on the pan will cause the finish to build up too quickly and leave a sticky residue. The finish that you create with thick coats of oil does not bond to the pan, so they easily flake off while you are cooking.

old cast iron skillets

Now take the pan with all excess oil removed and place it in the oven face down and then heat your oven to 400 F degrees. Once the oven has reached 400 F degrees, continue cooking for ten minutes. You want your pan to get hot enough that it begins to smoke a little bit. That is how you know the oil has reached a high enough temperature to bond to the pan.

Turn the oven off and allow the pan to cool down in the oven. Do not pull the pan out of the oven and do not submerse it in water when it is hot.

How to clean cast iron cookware

cleaning cast iron

It is ok to submerge the pan and to use soap. Just make sure you do not leave the pan in the sink to soak. Rust will develop, and then you will have to season it again. I use a stainless steel scrubby on my cast iron. It doesn’t absorb the oil and seems to preserve the finish on the pan better than anything else.

Now that you have a great finish on your pan how do you clean it up? Start by scraping any food bits out of the pan. It is ok to submerse your pan in water while you are washing it, but you don’t want to soak it at all, or it will rust. Heating water in the pan is how I deal with food that gets stuck to the pan.

season cast iron skillet

How to maintain the finish.

Once the pan is all cleaned up again, it is important to add to the finish of the pan and seal it again. However this time it is a simplified version. Pour a little oil into the pan, wipe off all of the excesses, and then heat on the stove top. You want to heat just until you see little wisps of smoke then promptly remove from the heat. Set it aside and let it cool. There really isn’t much you can do to mess it up, just make sure that you wipe off all of the excess oil so that you don’t end up with a gummy build up.

Don’t be overwhelmed by any of this. I am sure it seems a bit foreign if you didn’t grow up with cast iron cookware but it is tough to mess it up. Even better, if something does get messed up, you can just scrub the pan really well and start again.

cast iron finish

 

Your Turn

  • What do you remember your grandma cooking in her cast iron pan?
  • How do you season your cast iron pans?
1 Comment
  1. Lard is the traditional finish. I use coconut and olive in my day to day cooking and though not as hard ithey build too.
    All meat and fish cook great in an iron skillet. If you cook eggs in iron it will require more butter/ oil than other materials. I prefer not to cook eggs in iron.
    I do not use soap unless I just have to. Cheap table salt scrubs off stubborn bits and rust spots. Cleaning and killing weeds is about aIl table salt is good for. Don’t waste you nutritional salt. Rust is no reason to reject iron.
    I have old family cast iron and new. Love it!
    I put a few tablespoons of water in the pan after cooking. Absorb water and fats into paper, wipe out.
    Really hot running water and a soaples stainless steel scrub ball work great for cleaning up stuck bits.
    Heat pan to dry if you can on top of stove, near a fire or in leftover heat of the oven . Wipe dry if you are conserving power.
    Get the stainless steel scrub balls at Dollar Tree. They last for years. Mine divide themselves into smaller balls. I just use one and store the others dry in a plastic bag. Rinse scrubber in hot water. Soap cleaning of the scrubber is just fine.

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