A good cast iron pan is essential for cooks. Cast iron pans evenly distribute heat and are great for searing meats and have high enough edges for frying, they just require a little bit more care than other pans. You can find a great cast iron pan for a really affordable price, and they last a long time. I think a lot of people are intimidated by their maintenance. Once you get the hang of it then it’s really quite easy. A seasoned cast iron pan is extremely versatile!
You do not wash a cast iron pan with soap and water, you either wipe it out or wash it simply with water and fully dry it and rub it down with a neutral oil. I will be teaching you how to season your new cast iron skillet as well as sharing tips for cleaning a cast iron pan and maintaining it over time.
Some new cast iron pans come “pre-seasoned”, meaning they have a layer of grease already so you can start cooking with them right away. With pre-seasoned pans, I immediately cook with foods like bacon or use it for deep frying, both of which will release more fat to help develop a non-stick surface. For pans that do not have a pre-seasoning or have been passed down (but are not rusty) I recommend following my steps below to season it.
Wash the skillet with warm soapy water to get rid of any dirt, dust or buildup. This is the only time I wash my cast iron with soap! I do it just to start fresh, especially since sometimes you don’t know what you’re getting. My “no soap rule” doesn’t apply to enamelware cast iron.
Add about a tablespoon of a neutral oil (like vegetable oil) with a high smoke point to the pan. Use a paper towel to evenly distribute the oil. Cast iron is porous, meaning the small amount of oil will seep into the pan.
Heat oven to 450ºF. Add your oiled pan to the oven and let it cook for one hour. This can be done quickly over high heat on a burner in a few minutes though it won’t be as even. Doing this on the burner is fine for a touch up but I recommend using the oven method for the first use.
I let the cast iron sit in the oven for about 30 minutes until any smoke dissipates and the pan cools.
Use a paper towel to wipe out the excess oil before storing the pan for its next use.
How to clean a cast iron pan after use is easy. Simply wash the skillet out with hot water and either wipe out with a towel or paper towel or heat it over medium low heat until totally dry. I don’t use soap when cleaning my cast iron. Soap strips the seasoning that builds up and keeps food from sticking to the pan when cooking. You can, however, use soap with enameled skillets because they don’t have a natural buildup.
First, rinse the pan with hot water. If it’s crusted with bits of food or thin layers of buildup, I recommend getting a chainmail scrubber or a plastic scraper which makes it easy to remove any buildup. For any tough bits try adding some coarse kosher salt to the pan with a bit of oil and use the scraper. If the pan is sticky (gross) then I recommend using hot soapy water to wash the skillet. The soapy water will remove the gunk, though it will also remove the patina from the pan (which makes it nonstick). It will leave you with a fresh pan but it will require seasoning again. Then proceed using step 1 for seasoning the pan.
Make sure your skillet is bone dry before storing it. Once you have rubbed a bit of oil on the pan, I add a piece of paper towel to the pan before stacking it with other pans. This keeps away any moisture (especially from the bottom of other pans) protecting the cooking surface.
I always heat my pan over medium heat, then add cooking oil and heat through before adding the food. This method is perfect for pan-searing anything from vegetables to meats. If deep frying, add the oil first then heat the pan.
Make sure the pans are totally dry before storing as moisture will cause rusting. Avoid cooking acidic foods (like tomatoes) in cast iron because it can also lead to rusting. If you do cook acidic foods in your skillet be sure to thoroughly clean and season it right after use.
Rinse the pan with hot water, then use a metal scouring pad to scrub away the rust. Once the rust has been removed you will have a fresh metal pan and you can start with step 1 of seasoning a cast iron pan. This may require some patience.
It can be overwhelming to have so many options for different pans. I have a few that I own and use frequently.
Finex pans are incredible as well as beautiful. They heat very evenly and come pre-seasoned. One time I burned something so badly in this pan the apartment almost caught fire, but I still was able to scrub it back to health! I have a 12” pan and I use it frequently.
Lodge makes wonderful cast iron pans that are a great value and are easily accessible. Since they are more affordable you can get a few sizes. They can be found in Target stores or online. Lodge is a classic cast iron company that produces reasonably priced, great cast iron you can rely on. I have a smaller Lodge cast iron pan. This is great if you are just starting out with cast iron care.
Unlike traditional cast iron they have an enamel finish over the cooking surface of the pan. Because of this they are hefty and still conduct heat well though, they do not need to be seasoned and are not prone to rusting as traditional cast iron is. You can also use soap with these pans. I have an enamel fry pan as well as enameled Dutch ovens. Enamel pans work best at medium temperatures. I like both Le Crucet or Staub.