How to Care for Your Cast Iron Skillet

There are so many wonderful things that can be made in a cast iron skillet. Cornbread probably isn’t as great if it’s made in a regular bread pan. Fried chicken could not possibly taste better if it were made in a regular frying pan. Everything just tastes better when it’s made in a well-seasoned cast iron skillet. And it was probably a blast to make. But then comes the fun part. How the heck do you clean that thing? It’s sacrilege to soak it in water, and use a sponge and dish soap. Don’t you dare even think of putting it in the dishwasher. Allow me to help.

Cleaning

You’ve cooked something delicious with your beloved cast iron skillet. It’s the one passed down through the family from your great grandparents, no doubt. When cleaning, depending on the level of mess, you can usually just wipe it out with a paper towel. It is best to do this while the pan is still warm, but not too hot that you burn your fingers.

If the residue is sticky or syrupy, run the pan under warm water, and scrub using a gentle brush or sponge. Never use soap. No matter what. It removes the oils that keep the skillet in good working order. You want the oils.  While the pan is still damp, put it back on the still-warm burner.  Cast iron skillets are incredibly porous, and letting it dry on the warm burner will evaporate the water quickly. You will know it is cleaned properly and ready for another use when the pan has a nice shine to it.

If you’ve made a proper mess of your skillet, no need to worry. There are a  number of metal sponges that work wonders. Chainmail cloth has been determined to get cast iron skillets looking brand new. You can also try steel wool. If you do not have these handy, try scouring the pan with coarse salt. Sprinkle a healthy amount of salt into the bottom of the pan. Use a dry paper towel to rub the salt into the skillet and around the edges. If the residue still remains, fill the pan with water and bring it to a boil.

One helpful thing to note: when cooking in your skillet, be generous with the oils from the start. This will give you an added nonstick coating. Fats such as lard, butter, coconut oil, or ghee are helpful additives.

When you are satisfied with the cleanliness of your skillet, make sure to dry it and put it away.

Re-seasoning

Depending on how often you use your skillet, this may not need to happen often. It certainly does not need to be done after each use. When you start to notice the finish is wearing off, or it has lost its shine, then is it time to re-season. Seasoning is also what keeps the skillet from getting rust.

There is plenty of debate on which oil is best for seasoning. It usually comes down to vegetable oil versus flaxseed oil. Both seem to work well, so whichever you have on hand will do fine.

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.  Rub the inside of the pan with the oil using a clean cloth or paper towel. Keep the amount light so that all that remains is a thin layer. Put the pan into the oven upside down, and let it “bake” for one hour. Once the hour is complete, turn off the oven and let the skillet sit inside until it is cool enough to remove.

A good way to test the non-stick surface of your freshly seasoned skillet: fry an egg. Add a small amount of oil to the pan, and crack open the egg.  If the pan has been seasoned properly, the egg should slide around easily.

If you have never seasoned your cast iron skillet before, follow the instructions from above, but repeat the oiling part at least 4 times to ensure proper seasoning. Keeping your skillet dry and seasoned will prevent rust and ensure it retains its place of pride for generations.

Helpful Tips

  • Never let your pan air dry, as that is how rust occurs.
  • Store your pan in a cool, dry place.