How To Clean & Care For Cast Iron Cookware

cooking pan
Self

Chefs and home cooks alike love cast irons, and they love it for many reasons, including its affordability, versatility, and lifespan. In fact, a well-cared for cast iron can last for generations.

But the key to longevity is cast iron care.

How to Care for a Cast Iron

A cast iron skillet is a very useful tool in the kitchen; in fact, the versatility is nearly limitless. Cast iron is known for durability and heat retention, as well as non-stick cooking, but only when they are taken care of and oiled properly. 

“They’re very flexible because they can be used on a gas stove, electric stove, even in an oven and during campfires,” says Brian Andrada, food expert and editor at The Golden

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That’s why when you have a cast iron skillet, it’s important to know how maintain it properly and keep it at its best. Luckily, there are a few steps you can take to ensure your cast iron cookware lasts for years and years to come.

1. Wash and rinse your cast iron cookware properly.

Maintaining a cast iron skillet is quite easy. You just have to follow a few essential steps.

“Rinse your skillet with warm water after every cooking session,” advises Cyrus Bedwyr, professional kitchen and appliance cleaning specialist from Fantastic Services.

If there are any stuck-on bits, use a brush or scraper to remove them. You can also scrub your skillet with salt and oil if there’s food that is really stuck.

Suggests Bedwyr, “Add a few tablespoons of canola oil and a couple of tablespoons of kosher salt into the cast iron skillet. Then, use a paper towel to scrub all the food away using this mixture.”

Once done, rinse with hot water and let dry. After drying, this is when you can begin seasoning.

What you'll need:

OXO Good Grips Cast Iron Pan Brush

Lodge Handheld Polycarbonate Cast Iron Pan Scraper​

Maldon Sea Salt Flakes

Wesson Pure 100% Natural Canola Oil

2. Be sure to avoid over-scrubbing.

Over-scrubbing a pan, using degreasing soaps, and/or soaking the pan in a hot, soapy water can slowly strip away the seasoning and cause rust.

“Instead of cleaning cast iron pans in a traditional sense, add a little water to it and bring it to a boil,” recommends Seamus Mullen, chef at the Institute of Culinary Education. “Once the water boils, dump the water out and wipe the pan dry.”

Just make sure your pan is completely dry before you put it away, as it could rust. If rust spots appear, add a little oil to the pan and buff it with a paper towel.

3. After drying, season the cast iron.

When you season a cast iron pan, you are slowly baking oil into steel, creating a layer of fat in the pan. “A well-seasoned cast iron pan makes it easy to sear meats and fish, caramelize vegetables, and cook foods without having them stick to the pan,” adds Mullen.

If you do remove the pan’s seasoning, there are several ways to re-season cast iron. Mullen suggests “to heat the oven to its lowest setting, add a generous layer of good quality olive oil to the pan, and leave the pan in the oven overnight.” It can help to put a cookie sheet on the lower rack to catch any excess oil.

When you take the pan out, pour out any excess oil and wipe the pan clean with a paper towel. “Then, place the pan upside down in the oven, turn up the oven’s temperature to 400 degrees F, and season it for another hour,” says Mullen.

Once you dry the cast iron with a paper towel and place the pan over low heat, season the pan’s coating with a thin layer of vegetable oil. Add a teaspoon of vegetable oil to the pan and wipe it across the whole cooking surface.

What you'll need: 

Enzo's Table Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil

California Olive Ranch Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Carbon Steel Seasoning Wax

Lodge Seasoned Cast Iron Care Kit

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Can you use soap on cast iron?

Contrary to what many believe, you can actually use soap to clean your cast iron pan. But make sure it’s only a small amount.

Adds Bedwyr, “Using a large amount of soap on your pan can strip off its seasoning, which is still not that big of a problem considering that such pans are easily re-season.”

Still, it's always better to use caution.

One option is to use a soap specifically designed for cleaning cast iron, like Caron & Doucet Cast Iron Cleaning Soap.

What if the pan gets rusty?

If your cast iron gets rust spots because you put it away damp, simply wash the pan with a scouring pad or brillo pad, like this Lodge Chainmail Scrubber.

“Some say using soap is a cardinal sin, but if you re-cure the pan and dry it, you are good to go,” says Drew Mills, Executive Chef at Loews New Orleans Hotel.

However, if the pan is very neglected and covered in rust, use a wire brush to clean the iron and then wash it. “The key is to dry the metal quickly and then cure it,” Mills adds.

Remember that iron is super-resilient. Moisture is bad, but when applied properly and dried correctly, your pans will last for a long time.

What is the best oil to season a cast-iron skillet?

You can use many types of cooking oil or fat to season a cast iron pan. However, in order to get the best results, it’s recommended you use vegetable oil.

Manufacturers generally recommend that seasoning be done with vegetable oil and shortening because they are neutral in flavor. If you don't like those flavors, you can season your castiron with any oil you desire.

"I avoid those oils as they are extremely unhealthy," Mullen advises. "I don't have any issues using olive oil or even bacon grease to season the pan, as long as I use it frequently."

If you leave a substantial film of oil for a long period of time, it could theoretically go rancid, warns Mullen. "But in 30 plus years of cooking with cast iron, that's never happened to me."

So, it's probably not something the rest of us really need to worry about.

Can you use cast iron on an electric stovetop?

You can use a cast iron pan on an electric stovetop, but there are small adjustments you have to make to get the best out of the pan.

Cast iron pans take longer to preheat on electric stoves than regular pans. So, adds Bedwyr advises, “Keep in mind that cooking on an electric stove will take more time than cooking on a gas one.”

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Maintaining the temperature is easier on electric stoves, anyway. But be sure to use low heat only. “Just make sure that once you’ve preheated your cast iron pan to lower the heat, since these pans are great at holding temperatures. And if the heat isn’t lowered, you can end up burning your food,” Bedwyr warns.

Another important thing to remember? Never shake your cast iron pan on top of an electric stove! Why? “This can leave scratches in the coating and overall damage your pan.”

If your stove top is glass, you might even crack the stove top by shaking the pan!

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Best Cast Iron Cookware

When shopping for any sort of cast iron, look for a smooth, polished finish. "If it's pitted, rough or scratched, stay away!" Mullen advises.

An ideal piece of cast iron should have smooth, rounded edges and a nice polished finish. Then, it's time to start building your collection.

1. Le Creuset Enameled Cast Iron Signature Round Dutch Oven

The most recognizable of all cast irons is this Dutch Oven. Use it for that roast chicken, a ham or roast, soup, stew, or anything you want. It will last forever, and clean like a dream.

(Purchase on Amazon)

2. Lodge 12" Cast Iron Skillet

For everything from steaks to burgers, even a perfect fried egg, or anything in between, this cast iron skillet is a must for every kitchen. Plus, it's rust-resistant and is easy to clean.

(Target, $24.99)

3. Geoffrey Zakarian 13" Non-Stick Cast Iron Frying Pan

Frying up some chicken? Making gorgeous home fries for a delicious morning breakfast? This frying pan will give you that and more, with its ceramic non-stick coating, easy serving, and easy cleaning.

(Purchase on Amazon)

4. Le Creuset Enameled Cast Iron Skinny Grill Pan

A cast iron grill pan has amazing versatility and even heat cooking power. Make pancakes and bacon, and a burger, all on the same grill. It also has enamel resistant to chipping and cracking, so it will always look brand new.

(Nordstrom, $79.90)

5. Staub 3.5 Quart Enameled Cast Iron Braiser with Glass Lid

If you need to brown a piece of meat before brasing, a cast iron braiser is a multi-purpose (and multi-talented) cooking tool. The lid helps retain moisture, and it doesn't need seasoning!

(Nordstrom, $259.99)

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Aly Walansky is a NY-based lifestyles writer who focuses on health, wellness, and relationships. Her work appears in dozens of digital and print publications regularly. Visit her on Twitter or email her.

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