Your Burning Questions

What’s the Best Way to Care for Cast Iron?

By • October 19, 2013 • 25 Comments

There are so many great conversations on the Hotline -- it's hard to choose a favorite. But we'll be doing it, once a week, to spread the wealth of our community's knowledge -- and to keep the conversation going.

Today: You've seasoned (and re-seasoned), but food is still sticking to your cast iron cookware. Don't panic, we've got the panacea.

How to Care for Cast Iron, from Food52

Every kitchen needs a cast iron pan. Well-seasoned and properly cared for, your cast iron cookware will be a constant cooking companion for a lifetime (or more). We’ve talked about how to choose the right one to add to your arsenal, how to clean cast iron, and how to season it -- but if you’ve seasoned (and re-seasoned), and that coveted non-stick surface doesn’t pan out, you might start to wonder what you’re doing wrong.

This week on the Hotline, bamcnamara asked exactly that, and the community got fired up to help:

  • Meghann Cantey recommends making sure the pan is fully heated up before putting food in it, and taking care to avoid using cast iron with super-high heat.
  • Scrubbing the pan clean with salt and making sure it's always well-oiled are important maintenance steps, but petitbleu thinks the real trick to cast iron is just using it all the time.
  • Ceeteebee finds that before trying to cook eggs in cast iron it helps to cook foods with higher fat content (like bacon) in the pan at least once or twice.
  • Multiple members have had better success with vintage cast iron and Sfmiller explains why it's a good idea to scour antique markets: "Old cast-iron skillets were polished on the inside to get that smooth surface, and subsequent seasoning made them even smoother. Modern cast iron generally isn't polished, hence the rough cooking surface. It smooths out somewhat with seasoning, but you'll never get that glass-smooth surface that you do with old cast iron."
  • We know that everything's better with butter, and Steph agrees -- her secret to prevent eggs from sticking in cast iron is to use LOTS of butter.

What do you think is the best way to maintain cast iron pans? Do you slather them with lard? Do you break with convention and clean them with soap? Tell us in the comments!

Photo by Nicole Franzen

 

Jump to Comments (25)

Tags: hotline, your burning questions, best question, cast iron, cast iron pans, how-to & diy

Comments (25)

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Stringio

8 months ago James Sullivan

Noting the "Old cast-iron skillets were polished on the inside to get that smooth surface" - I don't think this is entirely accurate. As I understand it, older cast iron pans were actually made of a much higher quality cast iron that is not refined to this level anymore in the US. This is why the older pans are smoother and the newer pans have a higher "grain" in the metal.

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9 months ago AFotWMB

anntruelove thanks for the link! I am going to try this as soon as I get some flaxseed oil! I use plain, hot water and this chain mail scrubber off Amazon to scrub my cast iron. You don't have to use a lot of pressure and it scours all the bits off with little effort. I use it on my boiler pan after cooking bacon which helps me avoid destroying so many sponges. I love this thing and am getting it for everyone in my family for Christmas this year! And who doesn't want to say they have chain mail in their kitchen!?!
http://www.amazon.com/Chain...

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9 months ago Mark Oviatt

I have used modern and I have used very old. I have cooked in the pre-1900 family Dutch Oven and antique Griswold. The old cast iron cooks much better than the new. If you can find an old Griswold, no matter the condition, buy it! There are places that will use an electrolysis process to remove all old crud and pre-season it for you. Fun Fact: The only "American" innovation to the Dutch Oven is the 3 feet and flat top. This innovation was developed by Paul Revere. (You know of "Red Coats are Coming" fame.)

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9 months ago anntruelove

Oops! I meant to include the link: http://www.cooksillustrated...

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9 months ago anntruelove

America's Test Kitchen is a great resource for this. They include info for stripping an old cast iron pan and then re-seasoning it with flaxseed oil.

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9 months ago petrini.elisa

i scrub mine out, using soap and scratchy sponge only if necessary, then immediately dry on the stove and, when hot, swipe with grapeseed oil. no sticky oil residue and smooth finish. use helps tremendously. i roast a chicken once a week in a cast iron pan, which keeps the pan in great shape.

Stringio

9 months ago Jim Mckee

That pan (pictured) is not made of cast iron, it is made of steel plate. Though the treatment should be roughly the same.

Pict1821

9 months ago Lindsay-Jean Hard

Lindsay-Jean is a Contributing Writer & Editor at Food52.

Good eye Jim - see my note to Andreas below - thanks!

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9 months ago belinda lorimer

I inherited skillets from my mother and use them almost everyday. I have tried many ways of seasoning them, but I have had the most success using the method described below. This also works great to recondition pans that are in really bad shape.

I use this seasoning method which lasts more than 6 months.
1) Clean with soap & water and remove any rust. Aluminum foil makes an effective (and safe) scrubbing device.
2) Heat pan/skillet on stove top or in oven (250F).
3) Using paper towel wipe pan/skillet Flax Seed Oil, which has a much stronger bonding composition.
4) Let your pan/skillet cool.
5) Repeat steps (1 thru 4) -- 4 more times. This should keep your cast iron in top condition and you will not have to repeat or oil for at least 6-8 months (or more).
========
After cooking in your pan/skillet clean as-soon-as possible (I use a mild soap only when absolutely necessary) and dry thoroughly by heating on stove-top.

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9 months ago John

I do clean with soap and a scotch pad. I then dry and heat the pan and wipe it down with wax paper making sure to coat the whole pan well. I make a lot of cornbread and breakfast bacon gravy in the pan often. I've never had the cornbread or anything stick it really.

Stringio

9 months ago Sietske van Schaik

We have several of my fiance's grandmother's cast iron pieces. They've got a crust on the outside from decades of use. I use them daily, for everything.

I used to scrub them with salt, but that really didn't do the trick. Then I found a plastic hand brush with stiff bristles... works like a charm. Just water and a good scrub. No damage, but it scrapes any stuck bits very easily. A quick spray of cooking spray and a wipe with a paper towel and they're good to go. I store mine inside the oven.

I used cooking spray for very few things, but keeping cast iron in good shape is one of them.

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9 months ago Bob Y

I agree. Effortless and effective.

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9 months ago Rochelle Bilow

I'm a big proponent of rubbing it down with fat after every use. I keep a rag at the ready for that reason.

Stringio

9 months ago Alian Kasabian

My uncle (the owner of MANY cast iron pans) says to use them often. From observation, I can tell you he never uses soap or salt - he fills it with water and scrapes out any leftovers as the water heats on the stove. When everything is loosened, he dumps the water, wipes it out, and starts cooking. He usually cooks some bacon before making anything that would stick.

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9 months ago karen

use it often, and for some reason, cooking potatoes -ie home fries or whatever, potatoes seem to speed the seasoning process along. and if you plan to cook tomato or vinegar based recipes, plan on reseasoning the pan.

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9 months ago cjogrady

This is a bit of a digression, but is semi-cast-iron-related: anyone have advice for reclaiming a rust-covered carbon steel pan? It's a nice DeBuyer Mineral B pan that was given to me after someone gave up on it. I don't know what went wrong, but somewhere along the line they must have left it to air dry and it is covered in a thin layer of rust. I'm hoping that scrubbing it and reseasoning it will save the pan, but I want to make sure that a) it's worth the time and b) it will be safe to cook in.

To actually answer the question, I clean my cast-iron and carbon steel by spraying them down with water (never any soap) while they are still hot to steam off anything that is left behind, and then wiping them down with a wet paper towel before drying them with paper towels. Then I wipe a very thin layer of flax oil all over the inside of the pan before storing them (which I wipe off before using them again).

Chris_in_oslo

9 months ago Greenstuff

Chris is a trusted source on General Cooking

Yes, cjogrady, it will work and it's certainly safe to cook with. Some "helpful" guest did that to my carbon steel paella pan, and it recovered fine.

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9 months ago farmerbaker

The pan in the photo is the carbon steel pan made by Lodge Mfg. I have three and they are wonderful. I am putting mine over a fire pit tonoght and cooking steaks. A combo of peanut oil and butter will do nicely in keeping the steaks from sticking.

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9 months ago Evan

I take Alton Brown's approach of oil + salt + scrubbing. For difficult stuff I'll rinse the pan in hot water and then throw it over high heat to deglaze the culprit. Afterwards I give it a nice coat of shortening, wipe up the excess and store.

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9 months ago aobenour

I have three cast iron pans - a frying pan, a Dutch oven, and a two-burner skillet - the first two purchased from a reputable antique vendor with that wonderful, polished finish. I use them all the time and I do wash them with soap, but only very briefly. When they are clean I put them on a hot burner to cook off the water and then rub in vegetable oil while they are still hot. I've never had problems with rusting or sticking.

Photo-andreas

9 months ago Andreas

That pan in your picture isn't cast iron, that's rolled iron out perhaps even rolled steel. A very different tool. As far as care is concerned, the best thing you can do for a cast iron pan is use it. The more they get used, the happier they are.

Pict1821

9 months ago Lindsay-Jean Hard

Lindsay-Jean is a Contributing Writer & Editor at Food52.

Thanks for the note Andreas. Your Burning Questions highlights the one of the most interesting questions that came up in the past week on the Hotline. We certainly always want to have the perfect photo for every piece, but given the timeline for this particular column we adapt to use photos we have -- selecting those that best illustrate the discussion at hand.

Chris_in_oslo

9 months ago Greenstuff

Chris is a trusted source on General Cooking

The picture isn't the best for this question, but brings up another--how do you clean your rolled iron or steel pans? I pretty much treat them the same as my cast iron.

Photo-andreas

9 months ago Andreas

Same here. I've got a rolled steel sauté pan that's beautifully seasoned. In my experience, steel takes longer to develop a decent seasoning but once its there, it tends to stick nicely. If needed I soak it overnight, then wipe it clean with the bit of soap the next morning.

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9 months ago ChristyBean

When I purchased my rolled iron pan (just like the one in the image) second-hand from a garage sale, the previous owner made sure I knew how to properly take care of it. He went inside and photocopied a page from a Julia Child cookbook explaining how to take care of an "omelette pan", . He was quite serious about its care, and I've been quite careful to use only salt, oil and paper towels. The result has been a wonderful pan that I use for about everything that will likely last several generations.