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. Thanks for the post! Looks like your covered cooker might be the same brand as my pan (Lodge Logic). I have had that 10″ skillet for about 3-4 months and what I don’t get is how the bottom is bumpy-ish. My other cast iron pan, my grandma’s 60 year old 7-8 in. skillet is nice and smooth on the bottom cooking surface. My new pan is getting better and better at being non-stick but I don’t understand if they ALL come textured like that and my grandma’s pan used to have that or if this is supposed to be the seasoning.

    I usually wipe my pan down with a butter wrapper when I’m done washing it in hot water. I’ve fried in canola oil, browned hamburger and sausages in it, and that’s about the extent of the fats I’ve used in it. I’ll have to try the cocunut oil. Does it leave a coconut-y taste?

    Oh, and I use a glass-topped stove. I’m very careful setting the pan down on it. I’m not terribly concerned about scratching the stovetop (small price to pay for using a cast-iron pan!) but I also have a basic stove. It’s taken me a while to remember I don’t need to use a nylon spatula on it and it’s ok if it gets super hot :) I think I’ve had way too many years of brain damage from the scary teflon stuff, hehe – which I can’t seem to think of any good reason to even use anymore! I just wish we could get campfire-cookers (pie-irons) that didn’t have non-stick coating in them. That seems just plain reckless!

  2. Thanks for this post. I got 2 cast iron pans for wedding from my husbands uncle and had no clue how to take care of them. This really helped me with my fear of destroying them. Hopefully now I will use them more often.

  3. Jenn White says:

    Soil oil (or anything else) baked on at high temps cannot be scrubbed off with soap and water!

    • @Jenn White, This is true. I read somewhere to just scrub it off with soap and water and then season, but my pans were never quite non-stick. They were sort of a pain to clean sometimes and I found myself avoiding them more and more. I finally got up the gumption to re-season and I started by scrubbing HARD with brillo and hot water then I seasoned at 500 rather than 200 and they are better than teflon! it is amazing!! I just wrote a blog about this as well, so I was excited to read this post :D

    • @Jenn White, This is true! when I first got my pans I read to wash with soap and water b/f seasoning and followed all the instructions, but they were never quite non-stick and were quite a pain to clean sometimes. I found myself avoiding them more. I finally got up the gumption to reseason them and wrote a blog about it, b/c they are so wonderful now that I’ve done it right. Scrubbed HARD with steel wool and HOT water, then dried on stove, rubbed in coconut oil, seasoned 3X at 500 rather than 200 = amazing. They are better than teflon!! :D

  4. I love my cast iron pans. I’ll admit I don’t season them, and never have. I even occasionally soap them.

    However, they’re not rusty, or badly treated. My griddle, which I use a lot, gets quickly washed (not every time I use it, just when it’s got something scudgy on it like baked-on cheese) and immediately towel dried. Then I wipe a bit of oil on top and bottom, and put it on the stove. The heat gets rid of any remaining moisture, and the oil seems to seal on pretty well. My other one is a frying pan, and it’s used for…well…frying. A quick rinse under hot water and a wipe of oil on the bottom, onto the stove for a dry and it’s good to go back on the rack.

    Not saying this will work for everyone, but it does work for me.

  5. I love my cast iron pans! I found all of mine at a flea market and purchased all three for less than the price of one brand new. I find all they need after use is a little scrub under hot water. I dry them with a cloth I keep for that purpose and then store them. I have never dried them on the stove and haven’t had a problem. I have never had to reseason them until last week when my husband burnt BBQ sauce in one of them (it was bad….the pan was smoking). Wish I had known Suzanne’s tip about the salt and lemon!

  6. Hi Shannon,

    I have a little cast iron pan I’ve never used and would really like to, now. But, I just looked at it, and it has a few little spots of rust – what do I do??

    Thanks so much for this info!

    ShannonM

  7. I use my cast iron pan almost every day, and use lots of butter, ghee, coconut oil, lard or tallow in it. To ‘season’ it I just cook bacon in it once every week or two, pour off the excess fat, and wipe gently with a clean cloth. So far no problems!

  8. Thanks for that. I needed these post badly. I have two cast irons pans but know that I haven’t been “treating” them as I should.

  9. After much trial and error, I also now love my cast iron pans. I would like to encourage those who have never used cast iron that it is fairly different than using nonstick. I think different discourages many people from trying. But once you get into your cast iron groove, the pans are awesome!

    I also wrote a post about how my journey using cast iron pans: http://haphazardhomemaking.blogspot.com/2010/10/loving-my-cast-iron.html

    Another piece of advice: do not procrastinate in cleaning your cast iron pans after a meal! I tend to be rather lazy and, ahem, had to reseason my pans a few times when I first got them because I was not in the cast iron routine yet. (You don’t need to stress too much. After making dinner, just make sure to clean them sometime before bed.)

  10. I use cast iron, too, and only recently picked up a stainless skillet for certain items.

    Cast iron is my go-to pan and has always been. :) I bake chicken and pork tenderloin, i saute and pan fry, i bake cornbread, nearly everything except pancakes. I never liked my pancakes in a cast iron. The ones I own are older than the hills and I even have a huge one that was my grandparents when they first got married. I rarely use anything else.

    Since I use mine daily I don’t ever need to season it. A good scrubber and hot water and mine are good to go.

  11. That’s funny, I wrote an article on this same topic awhile back!
    http://hubpages.com/hub/How-to-Care-for-Your-Cast-Iron-Cookware

    I have two thoughts on using soap to clean it, though. If you use it often, then no soap is really needed. But if you only use your pan occasionally, the oil that seasons the pan can actually go rancid. In this case it might be better to wash with a bit of soap.

  12. I grew up with my Mom using cast iron. She always treated it so lovingly. All her pieces have little stories too. She “rescued” one from the ashes of a house fire, brought one back to life that had been rusting on the back porch of a friend’s house, and the others belonged to my Great Grandma & her Momma (that’s some OLD cookwear!).

  13. Kathryn Richards says:

    This was very informative! I didn’t know you could use cast iron on a glass=top stove. My sister-in-law quit using hers because she got a glass-top stove. I’ll let her know what you’ve said. Also, I wanted to use cast iron but thought it was very complicated to care for and my hands are not strong enough to lift those pans very well. I did find some lighter weight enameled cast iron that I love!

  14. Christine. says:

    I love my cast iron pan, but our glass top stove doesn’t like it (we rent). I’m excited to get a enamel/ceramic covered cast iron set over time, but they are very pricy. I’ve seen some on ebay affordably. I’d like to at least have a skillet as we can’t cook eggs or fish without using the “non-stick” pan.

  15. I enjoyed this post quite a bit. I love my cast iron pan and use the same method to clean it. My pan belonged to my great-grandmother and is about 120 years old.

    • @Jodi Anderson, That’s so neat – the best source for good pans!

    • JennErin@Moody says:

      @Jodi Anderson, so awesome!
      My pans belonged to my Great Grandma too. Hers came with her from the reservation in Oklahoma to Michigan just after World War II. I make a silly little ritural out of it each month on the first.

      As for my other cookwear… I have some of my husbands Oma’s Betty Crocker Stainless Steel from the 50′s and its great! But I am still hooked on non-stick teflon for eggs, I guess my schooling in hard to break.

  16. I never thought about new pans that are pre-seasoned being coated in soy oil! I will definately scrub that off the next time I get something new. I love my cast iron pans and use them for everything except acidic foods, like fruits or tomatoes.

  17. I only use stainless steel and cast iron. Cast iron is awesome for eggs!
    If your cast iron pan gets really dirty or you have caked on gook, clean it with salt and oil or lemon. Pour a little salt (kosher or a larger grain sea salt) into the pan and add some oil. Use a dry washcloth to scrub it around the pan. When you’re done just rinse the pan and let dry on the stove. An alternative is to sprinkle in the salt and scrub with a cut lemon. This works every time and won’t ruin your seasoning.

    • @Suzanne, Yes – eggs are great out of cast iron.

    • @Suzanne, I’ve been trying out two methods on separate pans out of curiosity. The first is the salt method, which I really like, but sometimes it just isn’t quite enough (really stuck on stuff that hasn’t scraped or boiled out, like sometimes happens with heavy duty searing). The other is just washing in plain hot water, drying on the stove, and rubbing with oil. It works beautifully–I was worried about stripping away the seasoning, but honestly the pan I treat with this method looks nicer and has a better nonstick effect.

  18. A couple of my pans desperately need re-seasoned. Maybe I’ll stop procrastinating and do it today!

  19. Completely and totally in love with my cast irons! I particularly love my Dutch Oven. I can heat it and sear the meat then make the whole stew right in it getting all that yummy droppings. After the seasoning is done these are my easiest to clean pans!

    God bless
    Heather Laurie
    http://www.specialneedshomeschooling.com

  20. Thanks for this primer. We use a cast iron skillet but I don’t think I’ve ever seasoned it correctly. I have to season it after each use. Maybe I was using the wrong kind of oil. I used it this morning for pancakes so after I wash it I think I’ll follow your directions.

    I also have a glass top stove and follow Beth’s guidelines – no problems.

  21. Thanks for the info! I just stuck my skillet in the oven with some beef tallow!

  22. Can cast iron be used on flat, glass-topped stoves? I know teflon is bad, but I currently use them for eggs and stuff like that because I can’t find a safe alternative. I’ve never really looked in to cast iron, but it looks like I need to, if the cookware can be used in flat, glass-topped stoves.

    • @Jill, I use cast-iron skillets on my flat glass-top stove all.the.time. It works beautifully :) I think the owners manuals say you’re not supposed to… but you’re not supposed to can on them either, and many, many people do (including myself) without any problems.

  23. I have one skillet that I always use for baking cornbread and it’s great~seasoned well. I have another skillet that I’ve reseasoned several times, but it just doesn’t seem to stay seasoned and things always stick. I can’t figure out what I’m doing wrong. Any thoughts?

    • Jenny in CG says:

      @Lora @ my blessed life,
      What have you used to season? Lard or beef tallow, I have found, works the best. I have also found that some cast iron needs a thicker seasoning to start (I don’t know why but it just seems to be so). I do the grease-heat in oven process about 4 times in a row. Then, I fry something like taco shells, egg rolls or dough dabs – anything that will need deep oil and is generally known for not sticking. Then, I let the fat cool to still-liquid-but-pourable consistency. Once it is empty, I wipe it out and let it season in the oven for about an hour on 200*. At the end of an hour, I turn off the stove and let it cool down with the pan still in there. This has redeemed a pan or two that just wasn’t keeping the seasoning.

      Also, I never boil water or cook high acid foods in my cast iron. That always strips the seasoning (but Hub insists on cooking his ramen in the frying pan so I have to repeat the above process now and then).

      Hope this helps.

  24. Thanks for the tutorial. I’ve been wanting cast iron for awhile now and finally bought one pan last week. Now I want more. I’m so excited to use it and to build up a good seasoning. I would add that lard probably isn’t the best choice unless it’s fresh or homemade since anything they sell on a shelf at a store contains trans-fats. I’m actually going to be making lard this weekend for the first time.

    • Jenny in CG says:

      @Adam,
      I found a source for un-hydrogenated lard at my local Save-A-Lot. It is available out there if you just look for it. But, I’ll admit, it is really hard to find. Check out Mexican markets if you have a med-large metropolis near you.

  25. I have a lot of cast iron that I use when camping, but I recently moved into a house with a glass top stove, do you know if I can use it on a glass top. I have been nervous about doing it and I desperately miss using my cast iron.

    • @leah, I use cast iron for all my cooking, and I have a glass top. I have never had problems, but there are two rules I try to follow. First, I try to be very gentle when putting the cookware onto the stove so I don’t crack the glass top, as the cast iron tends to be quite heavy. Second, I make sure that I don’t use any pans that lap over the edge of the designated burner area, since the glass that is not a burner area is not intended to get hot, and it might crack. But with following those rules, I have have been using cast iron on a glass top surface for two years without any problems. :)

    • @leah, I have always used my cast irons on my glass top. Honestly, I’ve never even thought of it possibly being a problem. I’ve been using my pans on it for years with no special treatment, and it hasn’t broken yet.

      • Jenny in CG says:

        just one thing to keep in mind with a glass top and choosing your cookware…
        the bottoms should be smooth – not just un-rough but not have a ridge or ring around the bottom. One of my cast iron fry pans does and while it still works, it doesn’t get the full use of the heat because there isn’t complete contact with the stove top surface.
        So if you are buying, look for a smooth bottom. If you are using what you already have, just keep it in mind.

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