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. I grew up using cast iron to make corn bread and gravy in. As I’ve grown into creating my own home, I find that I turn to my cast iron more than any other cookware and use it for everything. When my mom asked me what I wanted for Christmas this year, I told her I wanted a cast iron Dutch oven. I have wasted so much money through the years buying various brands of cookware that are supposed to be the greatest and have a life time warranty. None of them have held up to their lofty promises. That’s why I keep going back to cast iron. It’s dependable, cooks evenly, is non-stick and I know for certain that it will not only last a lifetime, but will be able to be passed on after me with proper care.

  2. I have used a cast iron skillet for years, after my grandmother expressed her deep love and memories with cast ironware. My cast iron is used for everything including camping. I boil water with salt in my cast iron skillet until boiling and bubbling. I use a rubber scraper or spatula to scrape off the sides as my cleaning process. Never thought about coconut oil- I’ll try that after my olive oil.

  3. What are your thoughts on enamel coated cast iron?

  4. We have several that we use for camping but have talked about bringing them inside. We wash ours in soapy water and oil them after every use.
    Very interesting article :)

  5. I love my cast-iron skillet, and recently got my grandmother’s hand-me-down cast-iron Dutch oven. I’ve also read that cooking in this kind of pan imparts iron into the foods you’re making – pretty cool!

  6. I love reading how everyone cares for cast iron! I do it pretty much like this, except I don’t rub it down with oil after every use. If it looks like the black coating is coming off, I rub a little shortening over it and put it in the oven. Then the next time I bake bread, it’s in there, and the shortening gets baked on. As good as new!

    Question: I do not use shortening in baking since there are other much healthier fats to be found, but do you think it is a problem to use it on the pan? My thinking is, it carbonizes into a tough coating, so it’s not really getting into my food when I cook it. Just curious what anyone else thought!

  7. Do you season the bottom of the pan too? If you do season it, do you add the maintenance oil to the bottom as well as the inner surface? If so how does the stove burner react when the pan is placed on it after being oiled? If the bottom isn’t seasoned, how do you keep the bottom from rusting.

    • If anyone responded to you, I would be interested to know what they said. The bottom of my pan is rusty as someone left it sitting in water. But I don’t want to season it with oil as am afraid it will come out when cooking over flame, I have a gas stove. Perhaps it’s no big deal that it’s a bit rusty on the bottom? But I don’t want rust getting on things. Was curious if you got any help! Laura

  8. I have cast iron skillets, and like you stated they are great however they do take a special care procedure. I’ve heard the comments before about not using soap to clean them, but that sounds questionable to me. One question might be; If we are to wash after handling poultry , then how can you not wash after poultry has been in the pan? For me that’s just one example, the bacteria, I assume can be side stepped by preheating the pan, but that hardly is a suitable in my kitchen.
    So while I wash my cast iron, I use a nylon scrubby and plenty of soap and warm water. My normal care procedure for my cast iron is, once washed and dried, I coat with oil and it’s stored on an unused shelf in my oven, where it remains while I cook other dishes etc.
    When I’m ready to use it, I’m confident it’s bacterial level is minimum if at all, and it’s coating is black, smooth, and non-stick.
    Peace in the middle……..GregT2U2

  9. The only thing I do differently than your care is while the skillet is heating/drying on the burner, I use a paper towel with a little shortening and wipe it down to keep the seasoning nice.

  10. My other love…cast iron! Nice post, I plan to share this one too. I was converted to cast iron by a friend of mine, who made me fried eggs in one. They were the best fried eggs I think I’ve ever had. Since I have my own cast iron cookware now, I make everything in them just about. I love that I can “bake” cornbread on my stovetop, and even use them to bake biscuits in the oven (AMAZING YUMMY!), casseroles and desserts. I’m not sure which I love more, the cast iron or the stoneware!

    I gently scrub my pans with a soft bristle brush under running water, if needed, then after drying them on my stove top, usually use coconut oil or butter (real butter, not margarine) wrappers that I save for greasing pans or caring for my skillets. Now, I have beef tallow and will use that.

  11. Thank you so much for this post. I have wondered how to properly care for the cast iron skillet my husband bought me last year. I knew it needed to be washed with hot water and dried, but I didn’t know how. I will be following these directions to a T…I even wrote them on a note card to tape inside my spice cabinet for easy reference. Thanks again!

  12. Thanks for the post. I’ve been wanting to get a cast iron pan, but have been nervous about the upkeep. This seems easier than I thought.

  13. i know everyone has been saying this, but thank you! i picked up a skillet at a garage sale this summer and have been at a loss as to how to season it. now i’m excited to use it! :)

  14. I also love my cast iron. I had to learn to use it and my husband has been the one to give me tips on it. he loves to cook over fires and loves cast iron. The instructions were just like he taught me. Except that he was really picky that the grease had to CRISCO(brand). But since we have quit using hydrogenated oils, I use coconut oil and it works just fine. He also was adamant about no soap. I need to cure mine again, because stuff has been sticking. Thanks for sharing your routine.

  15. I’ve put up a SCD/GAPS for the Holidays page for everyone to put links to holiday recipes. I hope this will help everyone find plenty of SCD recipes, especially those who are new to the diet. If you want to add any links of your great recipes: http://mrsedsresearchandrecipes.blogspot.com/2010/11/scd-for-holidays.html

  16. Okay, I love this post! I have 3 different sized cast iron skillets that I’ve never used!! I have seasoned them awhile back though just because. I have some yucky teflon that needs to be thrown out now! (it’s all chipped). But for some reason I have been afraid to use my cast iron! lol
    Can I use them for EVERYTHING??? I don’t want to have to think twice about using them for certain foods. And…I have coconut oil to season them with!! So excited about that. Just another use for my coconut oil.

    Any info would be appreciated!

  17. I always wondered about cast iron pots and pans. I never considered them because I honestly had no idea about the upkeep and cleaning for them. Your post really breaks down the care that they require. I think if I can just get the hubby on board to help with the care so I am not the only one doing it all the time, I would definitely consider it!

  18. I love my cast iron and use it all through the day. I even get excited as I watch the layers of shinny fat (lard, butter, bacon fat) build up on the smooth surface.

    I have a dedicated stiff plastic bristle brush I use to clean it with. After cooking and while it is still hot I will put enough water in it cover the bottom. Let it soak 2 or 3 minutes. Use the detergent free brush to loosen any debris. Use the spray nozzle to rinse it clean. This will leave a shinny lint free surface. Put it in the oven to drip dry. Since I cook bacon several times a week I never have to add any fat to keep it seasoned. It just keeps growing. It is better then the Teflon non-stick.

    I started these out on lard when I bought them new. NO! I didn’t buy pre-seasoned!

    One of these days I am going to find a wooden or bamboo brush. If you use food grade plastic type, make sure it is for hot surfaces and make sure you allow you pan to cool down to about 140f.

    Lee

  19. I layer several coats of grapeseed oil, one at a time, on my grill over hot coals. (i use the grill so the baking oil doesn’t smoke up my house).
    take a cool cast iron pan, coat with oil, place over hot coals for an hour. With high heat resistant silicone oven mit, grab pan. Coat again with oil, bake again for an hour. Repeat at least once more, leave until coals die down and pans are cool.
    before cooking in pan, heat, coat bottom with oil. When oil is hot, add food. When done, take hot pan to sink, runn cool water, deglace pan with cool water and scrub with a scotch bright scrubber, but don’t “scour” the pan. Dry the bottom (i have a glass top stove) and return to low heat. When dry and warm, add a little oil and spread with a paper towel. Leave on med-low heat until oil has soaked into the pan.

    my hubby likes crispy over easy eggs. I flip and plate them with the FORK I give him to eat with. Heat pan on high, add oil, when oil is plenty hot, drop in three eggs. Reduce heat to med. When whites are set, slip fork under the eggs (that slide effortlessly in the not-greasy pan) and flip. Wait thirty seconds, flip onto plate and serve with the flipping fork.

  20. Have you guys read Wardehs post on this topic? Here are the basics, but please read the full article here: http://gnowfglins.com/2010/03/12/how-to-season-cast-iron/

    If you do this, your cast iron will be just as non-stick as a regular teflon pan. Like glass. It really is miraculous. I swear by it!

    Step 1: Pre-heat your pan to 200°F in your oven to open its pores and remove all moisture for about 10 -15 minutes, or when the pan looks dry and your sure it’s warmed up.

    Step 2: Get your flax seed oil from the fridge and shake it really well to mix the contents. Then remove the pan from the oven using a good oven mitt and sit it on your stove-top. Squirt about a quarter size drop of oil (for large skillet) in the pan and using your hand, or utensil rub this into the pan all over. Be sure to get every crack, and be generous. As you do this the pan will be cooling off so using your fingers lightly will become more doable. The pan will have a very shiny appearance at this point.

    Step 3: Now wipe all that oil off with paper towels or a non-fuzzy cotton cloth. YES, all of it! It will look dull and no longer shiny, like all the flax oil is gone, but it isn’t. A very thin layer remains, and that’s exactly what you want. You are going to bake (polymerize) this oil into the pores of the pan, thereby sealing them.

    Step 4: Now turn up your oven to its highest temp – mine went to 450°F (anywhere between 400 – 500 is good). Place your wiped-off pan upside down into the oven. You shouldn’t need any foil to catch drippings, because there had better not be enough oil left to drip! When your oven comes up to temp set a timer for one hour. At the end of an hour, turn off the oven but do not open the oven door. Let the pan cool inside the oven, about 1 hour, or until it’s cooled enough to handle. The pan will come out of the oven a little darker, but matte in appearance – not the semi-gloss you’re aiming for. It needs more coats. In fact, it needs at least six coats.

    Step 5: Repeat Steps 1 through 4 five more times.

    The full post explains the science behind using Flax Seed oil, and why its best.

  21. I also love my skillet. A few tips I have picked up. One – if it needs a little scrub, baking soda works well, and is gentler than salt. Two – I store mine in the oven to keep it dry. Three – Don’t cook anything sugar-y in it (like BBQ sauce), it will carmelize and ruin the seasoning when you try to scrub it off.

  22. I use my cast iron skillets every.single.day. If something does stick, I fill my kettle and bring water to a boil. I pour that water in the skillet and wait for the water to cool enough to scrub the skillet. Wipe it out, oil it and use it again. I have had two of my skillets for about 15 years and I recently added a small skillet from my grandmother. Once I had the small, medium and large cast iron skillets, I donated every other skillet and wok in my house. That large skillet is GREAT for stir fry!

  23. The reason you don’t use cast iron for acidic foods (like tomato sauce) is because the acid leaches iron from the pan into the food.

    You can also clean off caked on grease by using letting it soak in baking soda and then scrubbing with salt. You probably should re-season after that.

    I use my cast iron skillet for eggs, stir-fries, browning meat, and skillet breads. I have two cast-iron dutch ovens which I use for slow-cooking pot roasts and other braised meat dishes, like stews and chicken cacciatore. I also have a beautiful vintage cast-iron muffin pan that makes the best muffins. I just have to grease well!

    I LOVE my cast-iron cookware!

  24. One time I found an old Wagner round pancake griddle (cast iron, of course) at a thrift store. It looked horrible ~ it was all encrusted with LOTS of baked on icky stuff. BUT, I knew the heart of gold that was in there and only paid $3.00 for it. I took it home and my DH (very dear) took it out to the garage and he cleaned it with oven cleaner. It completely stripped it. Then I was able to season it, and it is like new. Just thought I’d tell you…. I LOVE my cast iron and there is a joke amongst my daughters that when I die, they will see who gets to the house first to take my Griswold 12 inch skillet. :) (Hmmm… maybe they aren’t joking after all.)

  25. I love my cast iron! Plus it just looks so pretty and old-fashioned hanging out there on the stove. It was my grandmother’s too! I also really love my stainless steel. I just scrub it with a steel scrubby and it shines! I don’t have to put any elbow grease into it or worry about taking off the finish. Either way I love that my pots and pans are safe and will last for generations.

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