If you have a cast iron skillet that’s in good shape, you know just how wonderful of a kitchen tool they can be. They impart flavor like no other cookware can, they get HOT, they’re versatile: you can use them to fry up chicken, eggs, to bake a skillet cake, make a frittata… and they last pretty much forever. If you take good care of your cast iron cookware, you can pass it down to your children, who can pass it down to their children, and so on. So why not use one? What’s not to love?
Beats us. As far as we’re concerned, every cook should have a well-seasoned cast iron skillet in their arsenal. But not all cooks do. It might be that this kitchen workhorse is misunderstood and some home cooks are a little leery after hearing all the myths and tips surrounding cast iron care. “Don’t use soap! Never cook acidic foods! Don’t use metal utensils!”
That all can seem daunting. But in reality, cast iron skillet care is really simple. Follow a few simple rules to keep it dry and well-seasoned and you’ll have a culinary family heirloom to last through the ages. It’s easy-peasy, we promise.
Here are our 10 Commandments of Cast Iron Skillet Care:
1. Keep it Seasoned.
“Seasoning” of a cast iron is just the natural coating that happens when oil hardens onto the pan. You can buy skillets pre-seasoned, so you don’t have to worry about undertaking the initial seasoning process yourself. You can start using pre-seasoned pans right away, and the more you use it, the more seasoned your pan will become. (This is what gives skillets their non-stick qualities and that telltale flavor!)
2. Keep It Clean.
Give your skillet a quick clean after each use. While the pan is still warm, wash it out with hot water and give it a gentle scrub. What to use? Well, that brings us to our next commandment…
3. Soap is Okay.
(Yes, really.) There is a common myth that you shouldn’t use soap in your cast iron skillet, but really, it’s not going to hurt anything. While the soap of yesteryear might have been a thing to avoid, today’s soap won’t do any harm. A century ago soap was made with lye and could definitely damage cast iron, but today’s mild detergents will only degrease the pan.
4. Just Say No to the Dishwasher.
Under no circumstances should your cast iron go into the dishwasher. Water and cast iron just aren’t friends, and while a quick clean and rinse by hand is fine, the deluge of the dishwasher is just too much.
5. Give It A Good Scrub.
It’s fine to scrub your pan, but you want to scour it without removing any of the seasoning. Coarse salt makes a great scrub, and a gentle vegetable brush works wonders too.
6. Keep It Dry.
Water is the enemy of cast iron, so make sure you dry your skillet completely after cleaning. After wiping it dry, place it over a low heat on the stovetop for a minute or two to make sure that all the water has evaporated. And if it’s looking a little dry…
7. Oil It Up.
You can oil your skillet every time you clean it, but you don’t necessarily need to. You can wait until the pan is looking a little dry, but it’s good to oil it on a regular basis. Just heat the pan over low heat on the stovetop for a minute or two (this opens the pores of the iron) and add a scant teaspoon of a neutral oil like vegetable, canola, or coconut. Rub it into the cast iron with a paper towel. Easy!
8. Resist the Rust.
Rust is the ruin of a good cast iron skillet, so make sure to keep it dry. Even just one drop of water left to linger after the pan has been put away can create a spot of rust. But never fear, if you do get some rust, you can always scrub it away and season your pan again.
9. You Can Always Re-Season.
If you have to scrub out a spot of rust or items keep sticking to your pan, you can always re-season it. Just give it a good cleaning, dry it well, and then rub it down generously with oil on the inside, outside and all over the handle. After wiping off any excess oil, place it in a 400°F oven upside down on the oven rack and bake for an hour. Repeat oiling and baking until it’s shiny and sufficiently seasoned.
10. Treat It With Respect.
Cast Iron cookware has its own special set of rules, but it will last a lifetime if you treat it right. Use it frequently (thus making the seasoning even better) and take good care of it, and you can pass it down for the next generation to enjoy.