A good cast iron pan can be a reliable, go-to tool in your kitchen, one that can last for decades if you treat it right. While the stories you may have heard about the fussiness of cast iron is overblown, there are precautions you should take if you want it in top shape. Generally, there are three ways to care for these pans that help them last for as long as you need them.
First up is seasoning your pan. Unlike seasoning a steak, you won’t be using any actual spices! No, seasoning is a method of rubbing oil onto the cast iron and then heating it to bake the oil into the metal. This creates a protective layer on the metal to help guard against rust and make it non-stick. Today, you can find cast iron that has been pre-seasoned, meaning you can sometimes skip this step initially. You may eventually need to reseason your cast iron should the seasoning wear off.
Whatever your reasoning, the seasoning is pretty easy to do. Many cast iron pans come with instructions, but if they don’t, you can follow these simple steps for seasoning in the oven or on the stovetop.
Of course, once you use the cast iron, you’ll need to clean it. Decades ago, you needed to be careful with how you cleaned your cast iron, when soaps often had harsh ingredients like lye or vinegar that could strip the protective seasoning layer. This meant cleaning the cast iron skillet involved hot water and scrubbing until any food residue was off. If you scrubbed too hard, used too abrasive of a scrub (like steel wool), or accidentally ruined the seasoning, you could just finish cleaning the pan and repeat the seasoning steps above.
Now, that was the older method of cleaning cast iron. It’s still a viable option, especially if you’re cautious about breaking your seasoning. But some people may be uncomfortable not using soap or have stubborn bits of food that just won’t come off. You’re in luck. These days, you can add a bit of soap to help clean the pan without ruining your seasoning. This can help you remove burnt bits and avoid some squeamishness about not using soap. If you want to avoid using soap, but still need a little extra cleaning power, pour a light covering of water in your pan and bring it to a boil on the stove. Dump the water and allow the pan to cool before scrubbing again. This method helps loosen stuck-on food.
Once you’ve washed the cast iron, you’ll want to dry it immediately. You don’t want to let your pan airdry since that could allow for rusting, a problem for cast iron that can be a real pain to fix.
Storing your cast iron properly is important to ensuring it’ll be around for a long time. Improperly storing cast iron pans can lead to rust, breakage, or losing your seasoning.
First, you’ll want to place a drop of neutral oil and spread it evenly across the surface with a clean cloth or paper towel, similar to when you were seasoning the pan. This creates an extra layer of protection from rust and damage to your pan and seasoning. Over time, it can also add to your seasoning, creating a non-stick layer. Second, you’ll want to cover the pan with a cloth or paper towel. This can keep dust or moisture off the surface, offering a layer of protection should anything fall on to the pan. And third, store your pan in a safe space! Don’t stack your pans, since the metal could very easily scratch the seasoning. If you do need to stack to save on space, we suggest using both a paper towel and pan protector to limit the amount of contact between them.
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Cast iron is a useful, affordable, and long-lasting material and much of our go-to cookware is made from it. Unlike some other materials, cast iron pans do require a bit of commitment and care. If you put in that little extra work, though, you’ll find that they’re a reliable tool in the kitchen and that more than makes up for the little bit of extra time spent caring for them.