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How To Season a Cast Iron Skillet — and Clean It After You Cook

These sturdy pans are a kitchen essential.

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Cast iron skillets are the workhorse of the kitchen. Sure, they may seem like old-timey cookware, but these trusty pans are durable, versatile, and functional in a variety of cooking methods. There’s one caveat: you must season your skillet before you start cooking with it. Not sure how? Read on to learn everything you need to know about seasoning, cleaning, and caring for your cast iron skillet. 

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What’s so special about cooking in cast iron, anyways?

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 delicate bites like fish and eggs. 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. 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. 

Cast iron skillets age like fine wine. 

Everyone has their own cooking preferences. Some swear by non-stick pans, while others prefer the traditional look of cast iron. If you’re already a fan, you know that cast iron skillets only get better with age. You see, the key to a good cast iron skillet is seasoning. Seasoning is the process of coating the pan with cooking oil and heating it until a smooth, 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.

Cast iron skillets are versatile. 

A cast iron skillet is a kitchen staple that can be used for a variety of tasks. Whether you’re cooking a juicy steak or baking a delicious cake, these beloved skillets get the job done. One of the reasons why cast iron skillets are so versatile is that they can be used on both the stovetop and in the oven. Cast iron skillets are super durable and typically last for years, and even decades.

A well-seasoned cast iron skillet is a naturally non-stick pan. 

If you’re new to the world of cast iron, seasoning your skillet may seem like a daunting task, but you’ll find that it’s actually quite easy to care for. And the best part? It’s naturally non-stick. With proper seasoning, your cast iron skillet will develop a smooth, glassy surface that is resistant to sticking.

You can heat cast iron to high temps.   

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, giving them mouth-watering color and a delicious caramelized flavor.

You can cook almost anything.

Next to big cuts of meat like pork chops and rib-eye, these versatile pans are more than capable of whipping up a stack of fluffy pancakes or even an ooey-gooey grilled cheese. And, because cast iron cookware is oven-safe, you can use your skillet to make bread, pizza, or pie.   

Cast iron is affordable. 

More often than not, cast iron cookware is less expensive than stainless steel. Why? I’m not actually sure, but it’s probably because there’s a misconception that cast iron skillets are difficult to keep clean. (Spoiler alert: they aren’t). Better still, even the best cast iron skillets are reasonably priced. My personal favorite is the classic and affordable Lodge cast iron skillet (Buy from Lodge, $29.95).

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. This means that it will need to be “seasoned” before use. Seasoning is simply the process of creating a thin layer of oil on the surface of the pan that will prevent food from sticking and rust from forming. 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.

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.

Preheat the oven.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Place the skillet on the middle rack and heat 30 minutes.

Rub oil thoroughly.  

Remove the skillet from the oven and rub it all over with a thin layer of any of the following:

  • Vegetable oil
  • Canola oil 
  • Grapeseed oil
  • Lard
  • Crisco
  • Flaxseed oil

Be sure to cover the entire surface, including the sides and bottom. Avoid using excess oil, as the high heat of the oven can cause problems. In addition, avoid using olive oil, as its low smoke point can make it difficult to clean cast iron after use.

Reheat the skillet. 

Place the skillet back in the oven upside down on the top rack. Place aluminum foil on the lower rack to catch any drips. Bake one hour.

Let the pan cool.

Turn oven off and allow skillet to cool before storing. 

Repeat the process in case of rust.

If the skillet starts to rust or develops sticky spots, simply rewash it with a small amount of soapy water and start the re-seasoning process again from scratch.

Any cast iron care and maintenance tips?

With a little bit of effort, your cast iron can last for generations. Here are a few tips for keeping it in top condition.

Season your skillet regularly.

Seasoning helps to prevent rust and keeps the surface non-stick. 

Don’t let your cast iron get too dirty.

After cooking, scrub your skillet with a stiff brush and hot water. Avoid using a lot of dish soap. (Contrary to popular belief, a very small amount of soap is fine.) When you use soap in too big a dose, it can strip the seasoning from the pan.

If you’ve got a rusty cast iron skillet, don’t panic. 

There are a few 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.

Never put cast iron in the dishwasher.

The harsh detergents can damage the seasoning and cause rusting.

Store it properly.

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.

Be careful with extreme temperature changes.

Don’t put a cold pan straight into the oven. Bring it up to temperature gradually to avoid thermal shock. 

Steer clear of scratches. 

Use only silicone or wood cooking utensils on your cast iron skillet to prevent scratching. 

The Final Word

Cast iron skillets are essential for anyone who loves to cook. Seasoning and cleaning your skillet following the steps above will keep your favorite cooking pan in great condition. That said, keep in mind that cast iron is heavy, so if the weight is too much, this may not be the skillet for you. And, because the entire pan is made of cast iron, you’ll find that everything — including the handle — can get extremely hot when the skillet is heated, so be especially careful not to burn yourself.

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