Domestic Details: Everything You Need To Know About Caring For Cast Iron

How-to-season-and-maintain-your-cast-iron-skillet If I had to pick a favorite kitchen essential, it would be my cast iron skillet. Hands-down. It conducts heat evenly and consistently, it’s perfectly non-stick, and you can use it for everything from searing meat to baking cornbread. Plus, cooking and serving things in a cast iron skillet is very rustic chic.

Unfortunately, I’ve found that many peeps are confused by cast iron, and they either refuse to mess with it or they mistreat it horribly. So I thought I’d clear a few things up today in the hope of converting some of you to cast-iron. I promise that with a little love and understanding, you and your cast iron skillet will have a very long and happy life together.

If you don’t own a cast iron skillet, please invest in one immediately. What kind should you get? Honestly, it doesn’t matter. Some people swear by Lodge, or vintage Wagner and Griswold, but any cast-iron skillet that is properly seasoned and maintained will do the trick. I picked up this one on the cheap one nice little Saturday at Bed, Bath & Beyond, and I love it.

How to Season your Cast Iron Skillet:

Seasoning is the process of coating your skillet in oil and baking it at a high temperature so that the grease actually penetrates the iron, filling in any pores or voids in the metal. This leads to that sexy non-stick surface that you can only truly get from cast-iron. Today, many skillets come pre-seasoned, but just to be safe, I like to season any new cast-iron pan myself. Breathe, friends, seasoning is actually a ridiculously simple task. Just follow these three steps:

  1. Use a paper towel to apply a couple tablespoons of oil (you can use any vegetable oil, as well as coconut and flaxseed oils) or shortening to your skillet. Rub that bad boy down inside and out, including the sides and the handle. Your skillet should be very lightly coated in grease, not a dripping mess, capiche?
  2. Place your skillet upside down on a baking sheet and bake for 1 hour at 450 degrees.
  3. Turn off your oven and let the skillet cool to room temperature. Remove from the oven, and admire your shiny, well-seasoned skillet. Done and done.

Technically, you should only have to do the grand seasoning process one time, but don’t feel badly if you need to do it more than once. If food is regularly sticking, or your skillet looks dull and rusty, go ahead and season it again.

How to Clean Your Cast Iron Skillet:

When if comes to cleaning your cast iron skillet, please follow one simple rule: NEVER USE SOAP. 

Soap will break down the beautifully non-stick surface of your cast iron, so please avoid it at all costs. Obviously, the no soap rule means that you cannot put your skillet in the dishwasher, which blows, but it is what it is. All that you should be using to clean your skillet is hot water and a medium bristled brush or the soft side of a sponge. Going to town with something extremely rough (i.e. a brillo pad) will erode the pan’s seasoning. Don’t do that.

If you have a lot of grime and scary pieces of food stuck to your skillet, you have two options:

  1. Boil water in your skillet to loosen any stubborn residue.
  2. Make a paste with Kosher salt and a little bit of water. Pour it into your skillet and then rub it around with a paper towel or the soft side of a sponge to scrub off any sticky food remnants. Rinse well with warm water.

Once your cast-iron skillet is clean, dry it thoroughly with a towel or over a low flame. Pour about a tablespoon of vegetable oil/coconut oil/shortening, depending on the size of your skillet, and rub it into the pan using a paper towel. (This regular “mini-seasoning” is key to the longevity of your cast iron.) Store your gleaming skillet in a dry place until its next performance.

I’m sure some of you are thinking, “That doesn’t sound very sanitary, Serena. I need to use soap to kill bacteria.” I feel you, but you’re wrong. Think about the fact that whenever you cook something, you heat your skillet, and the food in it, to a temperature that will kill any gross germies. However, If it makes you germophobes feel better, heat your skillet over medium-high heat for a minute or two before you actually cook in it. Clean clean clean.

On the off chance that you forget one of these rules and use soap and/or a brillo pad, as my roommate often does, don’t panic. Just re-season your cast-iron skillet, and you’ll be good to go.

Domesticity is all in the details, friends. Bow to your sensei.

*If you have a burning question that you’d like featured on a future edition of Domestic Details, don’t hesitate to contact me or leave it in the comments. Help me help you.

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  • Sharmila Bharathi Natarajan

    Hi Serena,
    Can cast iron skillets be used on electric stove tops (the induction tops)? What kind of spoon or laddle should be used in it? Wooden or steel? I have been thinking to buy iron skillets since a long time, but I was skeptic about few issues. Now, I have all reasons and enthusiasm to buy them! Thanks.

    • Serena_Wolf

      Hi Sharmila,
      Using a cast iron skillet on electric stove tops can sometimes crack the glass/enamel on the stove top. I personally have a gas range, so unfortunately, I don’t have much experience with this! However, you should be able to buy heat diffusers at a kitchen store to put between your stove top and the pan to prevent any possible cracking. If you do make the switch to cast iron you can use pretty much any spoons/ladles you like, but i usually silicon-tipped or stainless steel spatulas, depending on what I’m cooking. Hope this helps!