Tips for Cast Iron Care – Seasoning and Cleaning, Do’s and Don’ts

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These tips and tricks for cast iron care will help ensure that your cast iron cookware lasts a lifetime–or for generations! Here’s everything you need to know to get started cooking in and caring for cast iron.

Image of woman holding cast skillet with text "Cast Iron Care Guide"

When I first got my cast iron skillet, I was so excited. It coincided with moving into our current home, and I was stoked to start cooking in my new kitchen with my new pan.

But the excitement quickly faded when I tried to use my cast iron because every. single. thing. I cooked stuck to the pan. I tried all of the conventional suggestions for seasoning and cleaning my cast iron skillet. But none of them seemed to work.

My frustration got the best of me, and I tossed it (well, I didn’t technically toss it. Cast iron is way too heavy for that) in the back of the cabinet and didn’t look at again it for more than a year.

However, about two years ago, I decided it was time to revisit cooking in cast iron. I knew that if I were going to successfully cook in it, I’d have to be willing to experiment with new ways of caring for cast iron.

Lo and behold, in time, I was able to narrow down my tips and tricks for cast iron care into simple steps that work like a charm each and every time.

Cast iron skillet and wooden spoon

What are the benefits of cooking in cast iron?

  • Cast iron is a naturally nonstick surface: Unlike other forms of non-stick cookware, cast iron achieves it’s non-stick surface through a process called polymerization. In short, this when you rub oil onto the skillet and apply high heat. This hardens the oil and bonds it to the skillet’s surface. No chemical coatings are used to create cast iron’s non-stick surface.
  • Scratches in the non-stick surface can be fixed: Because cast-iron cookware is seasoned with a thin layer of oil, it can easily be re-seasoned. Most of the non-stick cookware found in the stores is not safe to use if the surface has been scratched or chipped. But if cast iron gets a blemish, all you have to do is re-season it.
  • Cast iron is incredibly resilient and can last for generations: Did your cast iron skillet get rusty? No problem, clean up the rust spots, wash it, re-season it. Did you scratch your cast iron skillet? No problem, just re-season it! Really, the only thing you can’t fix is a broken skillet. With proper care, your cast iron can last not only a lifetime, but also generations.
  • Cast iron cooks better: Now, this might be a matter of opinion. But I believe cast iron cooks better. It gets hotter and stays hotter than stainless steel cookware. And you can get a perfect sear because it heats evenly. The more you use it, the better it gets, too.
  • You can do everything in cast iron: Yes, you can do just about everything with cast iron. From baking sourdough discard cinnamon rolls, sauteeing healthy vegetables, or sizzling the perfect steak, you can cook just about anything in cast iron. There are a few caveats to this like boiling and cooking high acidic foods (which I’ll cover below). But other than that, it’s extremely versatile.

Watch My Cast Iron Care Video

YouTube video

How to Season Cast Iron

The very first time, season it in the oven.

If your new skillet says it is “pre-seasoned,” you will still need to clean and season it before using it. And you will definitely need to do this for heirloom or antique pieces that don’t have seasoning.

Here are the steps I recommend for initially seasoning your skillet:

  1. Wash your skillet thoroughly. Scrub it with a mildly abrasive sponge (I use a Scrub Daddy) to make sure you get off any rust or other debris. If you have heavy rust, you may need to restore your cast iron.
  2. Dry it it really well. Remember, cast iron can rust, so never leave standing water on it.
  3. Rub oil with a high smoke point over the entire skillet, including the handle, rim, sides, and bottom.
  4. You don’t need much oil. So wipe off any excess with a clean paper towel. You want it to be covered, but not dripping.
  5. Place the skillet upside down in a preheated oven. Put a cookie sheet on the bottom rack to catch any drips. The temperature will depend on the type of oil you use. The trick is you need the oil to reach its smoke point, so this isn’t the time for low heat.
  6. Bake for 1 hour.
  7. After an hour, turn off the oven and allow the skillet to cool completely inside of the oven.
  8. Repeat as needed until you have a patina–shiny black–coating.
Sourdough pizza in cast iron skillet

Keep cooking in it.

Without a doubt (and I’ll die on this hill), the best way to seasoning your cast iron is to use it. Yes, it’s as simple as that.

Every single time you use oil and cook in your cast iron skillet, you are creating a thin layer of non-stick seasoning. The more you use it, the better it gets.

The trick is you have to use fats and oils to improve the seasoning because, remember, the non-stick seasoning comes from hardened oil on the skillet.

So this isn’t the time for non-fat cooking. Heat butter or oil in your skillet, then cook your heart out.

Chances are if you see me cooking bacon or fried chicken in my cast iron skillet, you know that my cast iron needs to be seasoned.

Season cast iron on the stovetop.

My favorite tip for seasoning cast iron is using the stovetop. This isn’t a method I’ve come across in any particular place. But I’ve been doing this for years, and I haven’t had to use the oven method a single time other than the initial seasoning:

  • Wash and thoroughly dry your skillet.
  • Rub oil inside of the skillet (for this, I don’t recommend oiling the bottom).
  • Wipe out any excess oil so that you have a nice, even coating.
  • Turn the stove on high, and allow the oil to reach its smoke point.
  • When the oil smokes, turn off the stove. Allow to cool to room temperature on the burner.

What are the best oils to use for seasoning cast iron?

Really, any cooking oil will work. However, the best oils are those that have a high smoking point, such as avocado or vegetable oil.

Animal fats are also fine to use if you are cooking regularly in your cast iron. The issue with animal fat is that it can go rancid more quickly than other oils. So if you season your skillet with lard, for instance, and stash it in a cabinet, eventually, it can start to go bad.

Close up of cast iron skillet handle

Can you use soap to clean cast iron?

Good news! Yes, you can use mild dish soap to clean your cast iron skillet.

Once upon a time, it was true that soap could ruin cast iron seasoning because the ingredients were caustic. Luckily, that is no longer the case.

A little soap and a soft abrasive sponge will clean your cast iron without damaging the seasoning.

Every evening, I wash mine with Dawn dish soap and a Scrub Daddy. I’ve never had an issue with it ruining my seasoning. In fact, even the leading cast iron manufacturers recommend gently washing cast iron with soapy water. Just make sure you completely dry it to avoid rust spots.

How to Clean Cast Iron

If cast iron is properly seasoned, it is a non-stick surface. As such, generally, cleaning a well-seasoned skillet is a breeze.

Many cooks, who use their cast iron daily, only wash their skillet after cooking meat or if something cheesy, for example, gets stuck. It’s up to you how often you need or want to clean it. Whenever you need to, here are my steps for cleaning cast iron:

Hand drying cast iron skillet with microfiber towel
  1. Scrape off any burned or stuck-on food and bits using a wooden spoon or plastic scraper.
  2. Wash with warm water, dish soap, and a gentle abrasive sponge.
  3. Dry all parts of the skillet completely.
  4. Rub the inner parts of the skillet with oil (I do this after every washing). Wipe off any excess oil.
  5. Store as usual. I like to keep mine on the stovetop.

Tips for Cleaning Cast Iron

  • NEVER put your cast iron pans in the dishwasher. Without a doubt, this will ruin your cast iron. Cast iron should always be hand-washed. I know in the 21st century that seems like a bum, but it truly just takes a minute.
  • Clean while your skillet is hot. It’s easiest to clean your cast iron while it’s is still warm. Of course, be mindful when it’s scorching hot. Let it cool off a little. But as the food sits on the hot cast iron pan, it will continue to cook and runs the stick of getting stuck.
  • Never put cold water in a hot pan. This can crack your skillet. That’s about the only problem that can’t be fixed with cast iron, so be sure to let your skillet cool a little before washing it. I always try to use warm or hot water to wash a warm skillet.
  • Avoid using metal scrapers or scrubbers. I’ve never had good luck with steel wool, chain mail scrubber, or other scouring pads. Every time I’ve used them, they’ve damaged my seasoning. Instead, I’ve had my best luck using a plastic scraper to wedge off stuck food.
  • Simmer water for stubborn food. Look, it happens. Every time I make pizza or cinnamon rolls, I have to work a little harder to clean my skillet. If I have a stubborn mess, I fill the skillet with water and bring it to a simmer (not a boil) on the stovetop. Once the water simmers, dump it out, then wash and dry as usual. Be mindful that the cast iron is hot. Always re-oil your skillet after simmering water in it.
  • Don’t soak your cast iron. Cast iron rusts relatively easily. So you never want to soak your cast iron. Instead, follow the above cleaning instructions and tips.
Woman holding cast iron skillet

What Avoid Cooking In Cast Iron

Luckily, the tips and tricks for cast iron care are simple. And you can cook just about anything in cast iron. However, high acid foods can, over time, damage your seasoning.

It’s okay to use a few tomatoes or a dash of vinegar here and there. But if that’s done regularly, it could damage your skillet. Stainless steel is a better option for tomato sauce or other high acid foods.

I also don’t recommend boiling water in your cast iron. Doing so can make the seasoning release. A good solution for this is to use enameled cast iron.

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