My Simple Cast Iron Care Routine

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Written by Shannon, Contributing Writer

For so long I avoided cast iron because I was intimidated by the seasoning and care process that I had read about. Then my husband came home and surprised me one day with a cast iron skillet. Of course I swooned – who needs flowers when you have Ma Ingalls-style cookware?

Still I procrastinated on putting it to use in my kitchen. When I finally did break down and prepare the pan for cooking I couldn’t believe how easy it was. Now I use this pan most days of the week and love to fry eggs, make frittatas, and bake skillet breads with this non-stick wonder. All you have to do is keep it simple and you’ll have a pan that cooks like a dream and will last a lifetime.

Why Cast-Iron?

Most of us know by now that teflon is a toxic form of cookware. When I ditched my teflon I opted for stainless steel cookware – which I love for sauces and soups. But I still believe cast-iron is superior for so many reasons:

  1. Inexpensive – the average skillet runs $15-$20.
  2. Non-stick for everything from eggs to fish to pancakes to bread.
  3. Once seasoned properly it is really easy to clean.
  4. So heavy duty it will last a lifetime.
  5. Suitable in all conditions – from the top of the line kitchen to the open fire pit.
  6. Holds heat extremely well and therefore makes a superior steak or stir-fried vegetable.
5120682245 acd5c3a8a6Photo by buchmanphoto

Purchasing Your Cast-Iron

Walk into any hardware store and you’ll probably find a Lodge cast iron skillet just like mine. A lot of them come “pre-seasoned” which according to their website means:

The cast iron is sprayed with a soy-based vegetable oil and then baked on at a very high temperature.

If you’re like me and avoid soy because it is not a health food, then you’ll want to scrub this off with hot soapy water. Then place it on your stove over low heat and allow it to dry completely.

Seasoning Cast-Iron

Cast-iron pans are only non-stick when they are properly seasoned. Seasoning a pan involves coating the pan with a heat-tolerant fat and then allowing it to bake into the iron, creating a slick surface.

Cast-iron pans are often used for high heat cooking, whether you’re frying an egg or baking corn bread. For that reason I prefer to use a saturated fat, which is more stable over high heat, for seasoning. Good choices include:

Once your pan is clean and dry, and still warm from your stove top, add just enough fat to coat the pan bottom and sides. I then use an old cloth napkin to distribute the oil all over and soak up any extra. Then put your pan in a 250 degree oven for a few hours. You now have your initial layer of seasoning. You can repeat this process anytime you find that your initial seasoning isn’t holding up.

3245975605 262864cfc7Photo by naotakem

Washing Cast-Iron

The first thing to know when washing your pan is do not use soap. Soap will remove the layer of seasoning you just added. So, this is how I clean my skillet:

  1. Take a soap-free dish rag and wipe out the pan while running under hot water. Get everything out, but don’t be too rough.
  2. Once the pan looks clean place it on a burner over medium-low heat until all of the liquid has evaporated from the pan and it has gotten fairly hot.
  3. At this point you can store your skillet in a dry place or do a seasoning upkeep by placing a dab of fat in the hot pan, swirling, and wiping as you did when you initially seasoned it.

That’s it! It sounds a bit more complicated than the care of your stainless steel pans, but really it is just a different process and no more difficult. I highly recommend cast iron cookware, and a simple care routine to keep it healthy.

How do you care for your cast-iron?

Disclosure: This post includes affiliate links.

About Shannon

Shannon is a mama to two hungry little boys and wife to her favorite recipe tester. While her background is in chemistry, she has studied sustainable living since the birth of her first child. She spends much of her time growing, seeking out, and preparing nourishing local foods. Between the laundry, dishes, and snuggles she writes about it all at Nourishing Days.

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Comments

  1. How do u get the back crusty stuff off?

  2. How do you clean the clothe you use to wipe it down? Do you wash it after every time you use it on your pan? I was using a towel (tea towel type) to wipe my pan down, but I guess I should have washed it more often as it is now very oily.

    Also, what do you do after you cook meat? Mine doesn’t have a great seasoning on it and I’m never sure what to do with the fat/oil in the pan and bits of chared meat (like after you cook bacon).

  3. If you are trying to avoid bad chemicals in your food, cooking sprays like Pam contain bad ingredients. Add oil to a spray bottle or get an oil mister instead.

    Soaking cast iron in water is bad for it, but soap isn’t as long as the pan is properly seasoned. This myth comes from soap makers who discovered their seasoning had been removed when they made soap in cast iron. The lye used to make soap is what removed the seasoning. Once soap has been made, the lye is no longer active. I prefer not to use soap most of the time, but I have used a sponge with soap residue with no problem. If I feel the pan needs a bit of soap I don’t hesitate to use it.

  4. If anyone in your home drinks coffee, you can use the coffee grounds to scrub your cast iron. Just knock them into the pot when you are cleaning the coffee maker; you can let them sit for a while if you’re not ready to scrub the pot right away. Then add a little water and scrub. We usually scrub with our hands to avoid getting coffee grounds into the dishcloth or sponge (because they’re difficult to get out again) but if that hurts your hand, you could wear rubber gloves.

    After scrubbing and rinsing, we dry the pan with a black towel (so there’s no worry about stains from the cast iron or the coffee) and set it on a back burner of our old gas stove. The heat from the pilot light helps it dry thoroughly. We use the pans often enough that we just keep them on the stove most of the time!

    About every 3rd or 4th washing, or if the surface looks dull, we rub in a little oil. This is a great use for those last drops of cooking oil remaining in a bottle that aren’t enough for a recipe–stand the bottle upside down in the pan, come back a few minutes later and chuck the bottle in the recycling and rub the oil into the pan. I use my fingertips and then moisturize my cuticles afterward. :-)

  5. This is probably heresy, but apart from keeping my cast iron dry and greased, I really don’t worry about them. I use them on my ceramic stove (very gently) and use them on the outdoor grill until they glow. I had one even catch on fire outside one time. Have I torched the seasoning? Many times. Have I found rust on some of the less used pans? Or course. The greatest thing about cast iron is that you can start over from scratch with a can of oven cleaner. Concerning the post about Lodge pans not being quality or prone to rust – I disagree. Admittedly, my older cast iron I picked up at various garage sales and Goodwill are higher quality and smoother; however, I have a fair amount of Lodge pans too that always get the job done. I recommend getting the old ones if that is an option – as long as they aren’t warped or too corroded. Try to stay away from the really cheap generic pans -

  6. Soooo…I am reading around online that you could and even should store them in your oven. IT seems like a big fuss to store them in the oven and then take them out every time you use the oven for something, can you tell me if you can just leave them in there when cooking something else? Thanks!

    • That’s where I store mine, and I just leave it in there while cooking other things. I like to oil it after I’ve used the oven though, while they’re still hot. It seems to help the seasoning process.

    • The reason it is suggested to store them in the oven is purely for the assumption you will leave them in while cooking other items. The heat will help maintain your seasoning.

  7. Cast Iron Momma says:

    I’ve had I don’t know how many ‘non-stick’ pans over the years that ended up being scratched up and then having alot of the metal pan showing through the teflon. (Did we eat all that teflon?) Finally, I asked my hubby for a cast iron pan for my birthday, and he graciously gave me one. I will never go back to non-stick! My kids have nicknamed me ‘Cast-iron momma’ cause toting my cast iron around gave me muscles to help me beat them in bowling :o)

  8. I have heard that you can’t use them on a ceramic stovetop. Does anyone know if this is true? We currently rent so I can’t change the stovetop out. Would love to have a gas burner stove one day …..

    • Dawn,

      I have a ceramic stovetop and I use cast iron cookware. If you look on the back of the wrapping, you will see everything that it can be used on. I have Lodge which pretty much can be used on everything from open fire to induction.

      Hope this helps,
      PJ

    • I have both the cast iron and the ceramic stovetop and have no problem with using them on it. Yes I would love to have a gas stove also.

  9. Another way to clean a cast iron skillet with out water is to pour some salt (regular, table salt; not course salt) in the pan then scour with a rag or paper towel until clean. The salt will absorb the excess oils, if there are any, and scour anything else. Wipe out the salt and put away! Great when camping, too.

  10. Thanks for this post! We just started using a cast iron wok…How long did it take for yours to become non-stick? The main thing I plan to use it for is fried rice…any suggestions? We’ve been using oil, keeping it dry, doing frying in it. It is getting better! We’ve been able to scramble eggs without too much sticking and the rice is getting better but a bit oily…maybe I should just use less oil for the cooking of that?
    Blessings to you!
    Amy

    • spray it with non stick oil spray everytime you use it and it will get better over time you can still add other oil to the cooking, but the spray gets into all the pores of the cast iron good. no soap to clean it, just hot water and heat it back up on the stove

  11. I love my cast iron skillets!!! I use salt to get mine clean (http://groovy-mom.com/2009/04/cleaning-iron-skillet-with-salt/). Usually I use a paper towel with the salt. Cheap, simple, effective.

  12. Bosth of my grandmothers always used bacon fat/lard to season their pans. They would do it in an oven or over a camp fire. They would have the shiniest most beautiful coating on them. I’m not sure who got my grandmother’s pots, but I would have LOVED to have them in my small but growing collection of cast iron cookware. I have always hated teflon coated cookware. I couldn’t stand the flavor they gave off and even the smell. So going the extra mile of seasoning these pans are so worth it. In the long run, the teflon would cost sooo much more than CI sets.

  13. Another really great bonus to using cast iron is that it actually adds iron to whatever you cook in it!! This is great for anemics (or borderline anemics) who don’t want to take iron supplements.

  14. I have a cast-iron skillet that was a wedding present for my mom and dad’s wedding from the mid-40′s. I still use it regularly and there is no rust. I resurrected in when my mom died — rusty etc. I remove the rust that had accumulated from neglect as mom got older.

    I re-cured the pan and it’s one of my favorites. However, besides not using soap to wash it, all I do is to soak it for a while it the hottest tap water I can get from the tap — remove all the fond from whatever i have cooked — usually it dosen’t stick anyway — rinse — then wipe it dry and hang it back up on the wall with my other pans until I need it again. Once in awhile I give it a light coating of cooking oil and wipe off any excess. No muss — no fuss and I have the deep pleasure of using a family heirloom that my dad used to prepare a lot of Sunday dinners.

    Hope my formula for caring for cast iron makes things easier for everyone.

  15. I’m really sad that two cast iron pans I have get rusty. They’re lodge. I figured it’s because they aren’t the “high end” cast iron?

    I was taught to add water and boil it than pour out and scrub with a sponge and than let dry or heat it up over a flame. Never soap.

    • Carolyn F.P. says:

      For a rusted pan… I would soak the pan in a solution of half white vinegar and half water to remove accumulated rust.
      Completely submerge it into the solution. Let it soak for 1-4 hours, but not longer.
      If the rust doesn’t dissolve completely, a plastic scrub brush will loosen stubborn areas.
      Make sure you do not leave pan in the vinegar for too long, the acid will start to dissolve the pan and damage it. check the condition of the pan off & on while soaking. The rustier, the longer it will need to soak.
      When the rust is gone, remove the pan from the vinegar solution and rinse thoroughly under running water. Use rubber gloves for this
      Dry with a towel, then put the pan into an oven set at a low temperature; for a few minutes so the pan is completely dried.
      There may be a faint bit of rust color on pan, just use fine sandpaper to remove the light rust, wipe with a soft rag to remove dust from sanding.
      Using a paper towel, immediately cover the pan with a thin coating of vegetable oil or shortening to prevent rust from returning.
      I have had my cast iron skillets for 50 years and use them all the time. I also found a very rusted one at the city dump in the small town we lived near….it was like new except for the rust. So I cleaned it up and still using it.

    • If they are severely rusted you can use steel wool (brillo) on them and then season with coconut oil. Each time you use it, put it on the burner to dry after washing and while it is hot, smear coconut oil all over it. I stack my skillets (3 sizes) with a sheet of paper towel between them. It absorbs the excess oil. It is my understanding that “Lodge” is the top of the line. I have a dutch oven as in the picture with a wire handle and I love it. The only downside is I have arthritis in my hands and wrists and it is quite heavy.

  16. I have three pans but it doesn’t matter what I do to them they are sticky. Any suggestions? I usually have them in the oven for an hour at 350. Not long enough? Not hot enough?

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