Cast iron care is the key to creating a cook’s best friend. Properly cared for, a cast iron pan will reward your efforts for a lifetime — and beyond. Cast iron conducts and holds heat well, making it ideal for both frying and simmering on the stovetop or roasting in the oven. It’s great for searing meat, for stir-frying, roasting vegetables, scrambling eggs, frying chicken, baking cornbread. . . . this essential pan really is an endlessly useful tool.
Moreover, a cast iron pan is one of those kitchen items that, if taken care of properly, only improves with age. SHED owners Cindy Daniel and Doug Lipton still use Doug’s grandmother’s skillet in their daily cooking and each of their sons received a new pan upon leaving home, hopefully to use for the rest of their lives.
Whether or not you pass yours on to the grandkids, here are a few simple tips for cleaning and maintaining your cast iron pan:
Season it when you get it. Even pre-seasoned cast iron can do with some extra protection. To season your pan, heat it up on the stovetop until it’s smoking hot, then rub a little oil into it and let it cool. Repeat this process a few times and let cool completely before storing.
Clean it after each use. Clean your pan by rubbing it with kosher salt and a kitchen towel while it’s still warm, then wiping it out with vegetable oil. If you need a more thorough cleaning, wash using a tiny amount of dish soap and warm-to-hot water, scrubbing out any gunk or debris from the bottom. Use a non-abrasive scrubber for this. Don’t use steel wool unless the goal is to bring the pan back to a raw state for re-seasoning.
Don’t let it stay wet. Water is the natural enemy of iron. Letting even a drop of water sit in your pan when you put it away can lead to a rust spot. Always dry out your pan with a paper towel and coat it with a tiny amount of oil before storage.
Re-season it. Re-season your pan to counteract signs of rust. Start with a clean dry pan and place over a burner set to high heat. When the surface has warmed, add a half teaspoon of such neutral oil as vegetable, canola, flaxseed, or shortening. Rub it around with a paper towel. Continue heating the pan until it just starts to smoke — then give it one more good rub with the oiled towel. Let it cool and store away from water.
Fry and Sear in it. The best way to keep your seasoned pan maintained is to use it a lot! The more you fry, sear, or bake in it, the better its seasoning will become.
Remember: Never ever put your cast iron pan in the dishwasher!
Want more? Learn to make Buttermilk Cornbread like Cindy’s mother and grandmother.