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How to care for cast iron: A guide for beginners

Not knowing how to care for cast iron has been holding you back. It’s unlike any other pot or pan you have in your house and the only person you knew who used one was your grandma, but you want one so you can make the ultimate crispy fried anything or just bust an intruder in the head. Either way, learn everything you need to know to be a cast iron master right here. 

How to care for cast iron

Why is cast iron a good choice for your kitchen?

If you season your pan well (steps coming) it’s just about as non-stick as you can get a pan to be. Except for maybe that copper thing on the infomercials that boils caramel and rolls it out like it’s on an oil slick, but we’re not looking at that right now.

Cast iron retains and distributes heat a lot more evenly than some pots and pans out there. So you have fewer hot spots in your food (AKA charcoal charred burned bits)

It’s one of the few tools in your kitchen that gets better with time. The more you use it, the more well seasoned it gets. No broken handles, dented pans or missing knobs on your lids. It’s a forever investment. Like your first spouse. Or so you thought.

Generally cheaper than that fancy-schmancy stainless stuff you get at the mall. And… in my opinion, does a superior job in most cases. I have one stainless pan that cost a few hundred bucks and that sucker makes food stick better than my son’s gum on the under side of my dinner table. I never use it.

It’s versatile. You can cook on the stove top–fry, braise, sear, or crack a skull with it and then go to the oven with your pan with no problem-o.

How do I care for it?

You know, your pan is not a baby. I promise it won’t need hours of attention. Do these simple steps, learn how to care for cast iron once and you’ll be fine.

If your pan is new from the store, it may say that it’s “pre-seasoned” and that’s fine. But go ahead and do the steps once more just to be sure. You can never be too paranoid certain.

First, scrub your pan/skillet/pot in hot soapy water. No dishwashers here folks. Rinse it and dry it really well.

Next, use a paper towel to get a small amount of vegetable shortening (no more than a teaspoon should be plenty) and rub it all over the cast iron, inside and out, including the handle and the lid if you have one.

Turn it upside down on the middle rack of your oven and place a piece of foil below it to catch any dripping shortening. Bake at 375 for one hour then turn the oven off and let it cool completely. Your skillet will be all ready for use.

how to care for cast iron

What if my cast iron is old or rusty?

It’s fine to pick up pieces from a yard sale or thrift shop. We love a good deal. But if it hasn’t been taken care of, it may be showing signs of rust.

But it’s an easy fix–simply wash the pan well in hot soapy water and use a piece of steel wool to rub the rust away. Keep rubbing until you see just the cast iron.

Once that’s done, rinse it well and follow the seasoning steps above.

 

Is there anything I shouldn’t do with my cast iron?

Yep. There are a few things.

First, you shouldn’t forget that the whole pan gets hot. Even the handle. So don’t pick it up or touch it without protecting yourself first. I like to use two good mitts to protect my hands and my arms. If you plan on picking it up, make sure you have both hands covered because you’ll need one to hold the handle and one to support it underneath. That sucker’s heavy.

Limit the amount of time tomato-based foods sit in it to 30 minutes. That means your cast iron isn’t  good choice for a long-simmering tomato sauce or pasta dish because the food can take on a metallic flavor when the acids from the tomatoes interact with the iron. If it’s something quick though, you’re just fine. And it’s not dangerous in any case–just a flavor issue.

Never put your cast iron in the dishwasher. Just no. You’ll ruin it.

In a lot of cases, you may not even need to wash your skillet at all. If you can wipe out any leftover food just do that and put it away. It’s fine, I promise. But if you cooked something really strong in it or there’s something stuck, hand wash your pan in the sink with hot soapy water and dry it right away. I like to give my pan a little rub of shortening after I wash it. You can also scrub away any gunk with Kosher salt and just put it away afterward. I have on that I’ve never even washed. She’s a beauty, let tell ‘ya.

Where can I get a good quality pan?

I prefer Lodge cast iron bakeware above anything else. I have some very pretty enameled (on the outside) cast iron and somewhere somebody took a shortcut because it cooks unevenly and that’s just sad. Walmart sells Lodge and you can get it on Amazon too. You might also be interested in an enameled set–it’s porcelain bonded on to cast iron and doesn’t require seasoning. It will chip if banged or abused.

how to care for cast iron

 

 

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Patty Kerns

Friday 11th of September 2020

I got a cast iron broiler at good will for 10.00 dollars but no matter what I do I can't get the black out of it ,I washed in hot soapy water and reseasoned it but when I wipe out the inside the paper towels or rags turn black. What can I do?

Rachel Ballard

Saturday 12th of September 2020

Patty the black is likely because you are using an oil in it that hasn't been heated properly to really make the right seasoning. It probably just came to you that way. Washing it won't likely get it fixed--you'll probably have to partially sand it down and re season it with the right oil on the proper heat so it stops that. --Rachel

Becca wilcoxon

Friday 11th of January 2019

How often do you reason the outside of your cast iron skillet?

Rachel Ballard

Sunday 13th of January 2019

Becca I season the outside the first time (before I use it) and then I honestly never do that part again. It sort of seasons itself over time with grease that splatters out and it gets super hot from the burner if that makes any sense at all. Since you aren't cooking on that surface, I worry a lot less about it. --Rachel

Vanessa

Sunday 29th of January 2017

Hi If I don't have / can't find veg shortening? Thx

Rachel Ballard

Sunday 29th of January 2017

Vegetable oil will work just fine Vanessa.

Jacqui Gordon

Tuesday 15th of November 2016

Mine is very "crusty" I heard I should throw it in a fire. Please help.

Rachel Ballard

Tuesday 15th of November 2016

Crusty as in rusted or coated in sticky gunk Jacqui? Throwing it in a fire would only help! Hahaha! If it's rusty, follow my steps in the post to remove the rust. If it's gummy and sticky, go ahead and boil some water in it, pour that out, scrub it with some coarse kosher salt, wipe that out, then use a steel wool pad to scrub it until the goop is gone. You won't hurt it. Rinse it, dry it, and follow my steps for seasoning your pan. You may have to do it a couple of times if it's really "crusty". Let me know if that doesn't make sense. --Rachel

Pegasus Scotlander

Monday 14th of November 2016

I. LOVE. CAST. IRON! Literaly- I almost exclusivly use my skillets because they are impossible to break!

Rachel Ballard

Tuesday 15th of November 2016

Yes it is Pegasus! I think it's so, so valuable for everyone (even beginner cooks) and it's easy to work with--everyone needs at least one piece, don't you think?