The cast iron skillet is at once the most beloved and most feared kitchen tool. Chefs and home cooks alike revere it for its versatility, durability, and ability to distribute and retain heat evenly. It’s the ideal deliverer of pancakes, fryer of eggs, caramelizer of onions, and searer of meats. Fluffy cinnamon buns can bake in it, and juicy chicken can roast in it. The cast iron is all-powerful, but as Spider-Man fans know, “with great power comes great responsibility.” And the responsibility of caring for a cast iron is where the fear usually comes in.
Cast iron pans are shrouded in mystery. How do you buy them? Clean them? Season them? The term “seasoning” gets thrown around a lot, but what does it even mean? Basically, it’s a science-based method that protects the material, creates a naturally nonstick surface, and flavors the pan over time by bonding oil to the iron. Whether you purchased your skillet pre-seasoned or not, it’s wise to perform an initial seasoning before the first use and then subsequent re-seasoning every time it appears dry to you. The thing to remember is that if you treat a cast iron pan right, it'll last a lifetime (or two, or three). Here’s exactly what you need to do to keep it in tip-top shape for your numerous kitchen tasks.
- Heat your oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Place a piece of foil on the middle rack to catch any drips coming off the pan.
- Lightly coat the cast iron pan with a neutral oil that has a high smoke point: canola oil, vegetable oil, and grapeseed oil are great options. Rub the oil all over the pan—both inside and outside—with a paper towel.
- Position the pan upside-down on the piece of foil in the oven.
- Leave in the oven for an hour.
- Turn off and let it cool.
- When cooled down, rub another light coat of oil all over the pan.
- Store for future cooking adventures.
It’s even easier to season your cast iron if you properly clean it on a regular basis. And remember, the more you use a cast iron pan, the less maintenance it needs! Our co-founder Amanda Hesser swears by the no-soap method as her favorite way to clean cast iron. Community member Denise Smith-Weiss agrees, saying her grandmother never used soap to clean the skillet. Grandmas know best, so you don’t have to, either. Here’s how to do a soapless clean:
- Add a pinch of coarse salt to the dirty pan.
- Scrub the salt into the skillet with a paper towel so the bits and scraps of stuck food release from the pan, and dump them out.
- Rinse the pan under water, if you want to. This is an optional step.
- Dry the pan immediately!
- Lightly coat the cast iron with oil just like you would during the seasoning process. Store for later.
If you do want to use soap on your cast iron occasionally—Lloyd, a community member and cast iron fan believes that it won’t harm your pan—our suggestion is to use the mildest soap with a non-abrasive sponge, or you'll lose your seasoning, and no one wants that. So, if you want to go this route, follow these steps:
- Hand wash (Don’t ever, ever put it in the dishwasher! Don’t soak!) your skillet to make sure it’s free of any scraps.
- You can use a bit of soap and scrub with a sponge, but remember to dry the pan immediately—rust is the number one villain when it comes to cast iron, so the drying is crucial. Paper towels and lint-free cloths work best to eliminate moisture.
- When bone dry, give the pan a lick of oil just like you would during the seasoning process and store away for next time.
Do you have any other tricks for seasoning cast iron pans? Tell us in the comments below!