Caring for Cast Iron

cast iron pan on stone background with cloth

What’s not to love about cast iron items? Their exceptional heat retention, naturally non-stick surface, and unbeatable durability make them treasured kitchen items. But that kind of staying power doesn't come from nowhere. While your cast iron might be sturdy, that doesn't mean it's indestructible. There are a few ways you can destroy your cookware entirely. To avoid these pitfalls and keep your cookware in top cooking condition, follow these basic guidelines.

Clean Cast Iron After Every Use

If you can possibly avoid it, don't ever leave cooked food on your skillet. Wipe the interior surface of your skillet with paper while it's still warm to remove excess oil and food. Rinse under hot running water, and scrubbing with a chain mail pad or a plastic rubber to remove any traces of food particles.

cast iron with cleaning metal sheet

For really stuck-on messes, add some salt to your damp pan and try scrubbing again. If that still doesn't work, you can simmer it over low heat for quite some time to soften any leftover bits then scrub it off.

Don’t Let Cast Iron Rust

When you leave even a well-seasoned cast-iron utensil out in the air, it will inevitably rust. By just letting it get wet and storing it for long periods makes it rust so severely such that no amount of elbow grease will bring it back. Once done using your cast iron, always clean it, dry it thoroughly with a rag, paper towels, or low heat it. You can then wipe it down with a thin layer of oil to perfect it until needed again. In case your cast iron gets rusty, all you have to do is scour off the rust, clean it, re-season it, and you're ready to go.

Avoid the Dishwasher

Nothing strips away years' worth of seasoning from your pan faster than leaving it in the dishwasher. Cast iron is porous, meaning that prolonged exposure to damp environment, harsh detergents, and heat transform a pan that used to see a fried egg slide around into a bare piece of metal with the non-stick ability of duct tape.

dirty cast iron pan with cleaning implements

Don’t Overheat

Avoid overheating your cast iron. Exposing your skillet into a roaring fire might appear an excellent way to heat it much faster, but overheating or uneven heating causes it to take a permanent warp or even crack. Additionally, you should avoid pouring cold water into a hot pan. Better yet, let the pan cool a bit before you wash it.

Try Not to Drop Your Skillet

Cast iron is usually deemed indestructible, but dropping it on a hard surface might cause it to lose a handle or chip the edge. It’s always advisable to use a towel or pot holder when moving your hot pan. Don't leave your skillet near the edge of the counter where it might be knocked off. Unless you want to end up with nothing more than a handful of worthless cast iron pieces, learn to take care of it.

cast ironed pan seasoned with oil

Keep it in Circulation

Cast iron cookware is usually known to improve with use. Cooking in cast iron might seem like a big hustle, but it gets easier to cook each time you use it. If you only make use of your pan a few times a year, then your seasoning will be very thin and prone to sticking and damage. Regular use of cast iron makes cooking eggs effortless in the long run.

Season With Oil

pouring oil in cast iron pan

Over the lifetime of your cast iron skillet, you will need to maintain or touch up its seasoning. Seasoning in an iron skillet is a micro-thin coating that protects the iron and becomes a non-stick surface. You achieve this by drying your iron cast thoroughly and heating it over medium-low heat until all water has dried out. Add a teaspoon oil to your skillet and use paper towels to coat the interior surface with the oil. Continue to wipe the pan with oiled paper towels until it looks darkly gleaming, and there is no oil residue left. After this, let the pan cool completely.

Old, well-seasoned cast-iron skillets can become treasures, making it hard to find even a dirty, rusty, perfectly cruddy pan for a bargain at flea markets or yard sales. If you get hold of one, it deserves a place of honor on your stovetop. Cast iron is virtually indestructible and quick to restore if mistreated. All it needs is a cleaning routine after cooking, and in return for this loving attention, it will provide a lifetime of great meals.