Cast iron skillets are the workhorse of the kitchen. These trusty pans are durable, versatile and functional in some many cooking methods. However, there’s one caveat: You need to season your skillet before you start using it. Not sure how? Don’t worry, we asked three experts for tips on getting your cast iron skillet ready for whipping up delicious meals in no time. Plus, they reveal how to prevent food odors from lingering on the skillet’s surface and affecting your dishes’ flavor using a fridge staple…an onion! Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about how to season, clean and care for your cast iron skillet.
Why cook in a cast iron skillet?
Ask any experienced cook, and they’ll tell you that there’s something special about cast iron. For one thing, it’s an excellent conductor of heat, which means it can help you achieve an evenly cooked dish. Additionally, cast iron develops a natural, nonstick surface over time, making it ideal for cooking dishes like fish, eggs and ground beef. And because cast iron is so durable, it can last for generations with proper care. In fact, many home cooks cherish their cast iron pans for their sentimental value as well as their practicality.
One of the biggest benefits of using a cast iron skillet is that it can be heated to very high temperatures. This allows you to sear meat and veggies to perfection. And because cast iron cookware is oven-safe, you can use your skillet to make bread, pizza or pie. So if you’re looking for a pan that will give you superior results and stand the test of time, cast iron is without question the way to go.
What does it mean to season a cast iron skillet?
When you buy a new cast iron skillet, it’ll have a smooth surface that’s free of the seasoning layer, or “patina,” that forms on older pans. Seasoning is the process of coating the pan with cooking oil and heating it until a non-stick surface forms. This surface protects the pan from rust and helps to prevent food from sticking. Over time, the seasoning on a cast iron skillet will become more and more robust, providing a smooth surface that is perfect for cooking. It’s best to season your pan before using it for the first time, but you can also do it if you notice that the surface is starting to look dull or scratched.
If you’re new to the world of cast iron, seasoning your skillet may seem like a daunting task, but it’s actually quite easy to do. Read on for the how-to.
What’s the best way to season your cast iron skillet?
Seasoning is an important part of cast iron skillet care as it helps to prevent rust and sticking. To get that layer of seasoning and oil on your old or new pan, follow this step-by-step guide from Alex Bayev, food blogger and photographer at Bayev’s Kitchen:
1. Rub oil thoroughly
Using a paper towel, apply any of the following fats onto the skillet in a thin layer:
- Vegetable oil
- Canola oil
- Grapeseed oil
- Vegetable shortening
- Flaxseed oil
Be sure to cover the entire surface, including the sides and bottom, but don’t overdo it. “More oil is not better in this case, as it will create pooling and an uneven layer of patina,” cautions Kaili Wang, co-founder and recipe developer at MangoandBasil.com. It’s also key to avoid using olive oil, as its low smoke point can make it difficult to clean cast iron after use.
2. Preheat the oven
Set oven temperature to 450°F. (Need to preheat quickly? Click through for a trick that cuts preheat time in half.)
3. Heat the skillet
While the oven is beginning to preheat, place the skillet inside so it’s upside down on the top rack — this prevents the oil from forming a small pool in the pan. Place a sheet of aluminum foil on the lower rack to catch any drips. Once the oven is fully preheated, bake the skillet for 1 hour.
4. Let the pan cool
Turn oven off and allow skillet to cool completely before storing.
How to best store and maintain a cast iron skillet
With a little bit of effort, your cast iron can last for generations. Here are a few tips for keeping it in top condition:
1. Season your skillet regularly
Seasoning the skillet whenever the appearance seems discolored or sticky helps prevent rust and keeps the surface non-stick.
2. Don’t let your cast iron get too dirty
To clean your cast iron skillet, Jakob Miller, founder at Barbecue Pals, says usually just rinsing with water will do. What if there are stuck-on food bits? You may have heard you shouldn’t use soap on cast iron, but Miller says that’s not true. “Occasionally, I do use a mild dish soap to clean my cast iron skillet, especially if there are stubborn food residues,” he says. Just use a very small bit along with some warm water to clean.
Miller also says it’s best to not use scrubbing pads or abrasive cleaners as these tools can damage the seasoned layer. Instead, he prefers using a soft brush or non-abrasive sponge to gently scrub away residue.
3. Avoid unpleasant food smells with this genius hack
The flavor of pungent foods made in a cast iron skillet (think fried fish or spicy chili) may transfer onto other dishes cooked on the surface. Bayev has a surprise solution: He rubs half of an onion around the skillet’s surface for five to 10 seconds right after cooking foods with a strong odor. “The onion will not only absorb the smell but also help to clean the skillet surface,” he notes.
4. Remove any rust with ease
There are two main ways to remove a buildup of rust from cast iron. One is to rub the rust off with steel wool soaked in canola oil. Another is to boil water in the pan before scrubbing the rust away with a stiff scrubber.
5. Never put cast iron in the dishwasher
The harsh detergents used in dishwashing tablets can damage the seasoning and cause rusting.
6. Store it with a paper towel trick
If you’re not going to use your skillet for a while, store it in a dry place. Moisture causes corrosion, so it’s best to keep your pan out of humid environments. Try lining it with a paper towel as well for extra rust protection.
7. Be careful with extreme temperature changes
Don’t put a cold pan straight into the oven. Allow it to heat gradually to avoid sudden temperature changes (or thermal shock), which can cause the skillet’s surface to crack.
8. Steer clear of scratches
Use only silicone or wood cooking utensils when cooking in your cast iron skillet to prevent scratching.
Want more tips to keep your other pots and pans in tip-top shape? Check out these stories below:
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