How to Clean and Care for Cast Iron

Cast iron. It is the best kitchen investment you will make. Purchase cast iron and use it often. It is the most versatile kitchen tool you will own.

You can often find long-forgotten cast iron skillets rusting away in a deep, dark corner of a thrift store or proudly sitting on an overcrowded rummage sale table. In these moments, they don’t show their best face. Their cooking surface may be filled with large hard spots of rust and their outer edges covered in dust. Buy that pan. You will not regret it.

Cast iron is indestructible. Despite the rust, that pan can become the hardest working item in your kitchen. You will never find another skillet that can manage to same workload as a healthy cast iron skillet.

You will season it and oil it and cook some of your favorite family meals in it. And when the time comes, you will pass it on for the next generation to cook more memories. Your cast iron will outlive you.

People who own cast iron and don’t recognize its abilities aren’t caring for it correctly. A pan that is properly cared for is loved. It can make bread and pancakes; it will roast and sauté vegetables, and it can fry an egg leaving nothing stuck behind. Take care of your cast iron and it will take care of you.

Initial Cleaning
If you purchased that frightening-looking skillet for $1 in the rummage sale, you have some cleaning to do. Cast iron is porous, so stay away from soap. Using soap will not only remove the oils from the pan, but it will also leave a soapy flavor in the skillet.

For the initial cleaning, sprinkle the pan very generously with salt. Add a generous helping of vegetable oil and scrub. I use an old kitchen towel; however, paper toweling can do the job as well. The oil will slowly be absorbed by everything and you may end up with a grainy, oily paste. Use this to scrub. At some point you may need to replenish your cleaning agents. Discard the now soiled salt/oil mixture and reapply. Do this as many times as necessary. By the time you finish, you should have a dark black, glossy pan.

That old pan was probably used in another lifetime, so I like to give them a good seasoning. After cleaning the dirty spots from the pan, I bake it at 350 degrees for 15 minutes. I then place the skillet on the stove, add a generous amount of oil and sauté some green onions. Once the onions are nicely browned, discard the onions. Use an old towel and tongs to rub the oil into the interior of the skillet. Return the skillet to the oven for another 5-10 minutes. Allow it to cool, and store it with the rest of your cast iron collection.

Since I mentioned storage, cast iron should be stored clean. I like to rub the pan with oil and allow it to heat up before placing it into the cabinet. When I remove it, my pans are always smooth and easy to work with.

I recently visited my father-in-law, who I noticed, stores his pans with a thin layer of oil and paper toweling layered between each pan. These come out clean and absolutely nonstick.

Use the technique that you prefer, but keep your pan oiled.

Day-to-Day Cleaning
If you have a properly cared for pan, daily cleaning is easy. Simply use a washcloth with only water that has been rung out and wipe the pan clean. Heat the pan to be sure no water was left behind (stovetop or oven). Once the pan is dry, oil the interior, heat, and store.

To cook with the skillet, heat the pan and add a small amount of oil if necessary. Often times, I remove mine and nothing is needed. Clean as outlined above and store.

Remember, what happens in the skillet stays in the skillet. Foods with strong flavor will leave behind the faintest indication that they were there. I have two skillets for this purpose. Things with strong flavors such as fish, roasts, or taco meat are cooked in one skillet, while foods like pancakes, eggs, bread, and desserts can be cooked in the other.

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How to Clean and Care for Cast Iron