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How to Clean and Season Cast Iron Cookware

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There are many benefits to cooking with a cast iron skillet or pan. They’re practical, easy to clean, durable, and versatile. A cast iron skillet that is cleaned and appropriately seasoned becomes more nonstick over time.

We outline a few tips showing how to clean and season cast iron cookware so it can last a lifetime.

What is Cast Iron?

Cast iron is a mix of iron and carbon which can be molded and placed into a cast. It contains 2% carbon which is the primary alloying element, and 1-3% silicon. The melting temperature point is very low, making it a lot more useful than other metals. Cookware made from cast iron will rarely get damaged due to its high indestructibility. 

Since cast iron is a mix of iron and carbon, it can be used on induction cooktops and electric and gas stoves. 

Discover information here, so you don't scratch your induction cooktop when using a cast iron skillet.

Cast iron frying pans, pot, and griddle

Difference Between Enameled Cast Iron and Bare Cast Iron

There are two types of cast iron. The first is the traditional bare cast iron cookware. The second is enameled cast iron, in which an enamel glaze is applied to the bare cast iron. 

Advantages of enameled cast iron

  • It won't rust
  • It doesn't have to be seasoned. 
  • It can be used to cook acid foods such as spaghetti sauce.
  • It is easy to clean, and no seasoning is required.

Drawbacks of enameled cast iron

  • They are more expensive than bare cast iron products.
  • They are less durable as the paint can chip off.  

Disadvantages of Cast Iron Cookware

There are two main reasons why people might be opposed to using large cast iron cookware.  First, if you usually cook with a 12" skillet, a cast iron skillet of this size might be too heavy for some. The 6 and 8 inch skillets are great for cooking a couple of eggs, a pancake, or a chicken breast.

The second disadvantage is an extra step in maintaining cast iron cookware - namely, seasoning. This is crucial to obtaining a non-stick surface. However, once you get into the routine of cleaning, drying, and seasoning your cast iron skillet, it only takes a few minutes and becomes part of your regular cleanup routine.

Cooking with Cast Iron  

Cast iron cookware is versatile – it can be used on the stovetop, in the oven, or over the campfire.

It is sturdy and durable if cared for properly. Although cast iron is slow to heat up, it retains the heat longer than stainless steel pans once it does.

A cast iron skillet is a great choice for deep frying chicken and okra, cooking a thick steak or bacon, making cornbread, pizza, Shepherd’s pie, chicken pot pie, or an apple pie. You can make pancakes with a round cast iron griddle at home or over a campfire. A review of this griddle from Lodge can be found here.

Food can be prepared on the stove and then placed in the oven. For example, you can cook sauces in a cast iron skillet or pan, add your other ingredients such as meat or cheese and stick it in the oven to cook. 

Dishes can be served on the cast iron pan.  It's important to note the contents of the pan will keep cooking for a very short time, and the pan will remain hot for a few minutes.  

Cast iron waffle irons are terrific for making hot waffles. Although there is a wide range of waffle irons/makers from which to choose, some prefer the old-fashioned cast iron waffle iron.  

If you are in the market for one, visit this site to see some of the best waffle makers and irons on the market. They also have a nice roundup of other innovative appliances that aren’t widely advertised.

Acidic foods such as tomato sauce should only be cooked in a well-seasoned cast iron pan and only for a short period of time. If you let tomato sauce simmer for hours, it can erode the seasoning.

Some people have a cast iron skillet that is only used for preparing desserts. Their theory is that if a skillet is to cook spicy foods and then used to prepare an apple pie, the residual flavors from the spicy food can transfer to the apple pie. 

How to Clean Cast Iron Cookware

Cleaning and seasoning cast iron cookware are very easy. The more you take the necessary steps to keep it in good condition, the longer it will last.  

There is a lot of discussion about seasoning cast iron cookware. Seasoning refers to the layer of polymerized oil that has bonded with the cast iron cooking surface. The purpose is to have a slick surface so that food does not stick. It is a lot easier to cook with cast iron if the seasoning is protected.  

In maintaining cast iron, you don't want to put it in a dishwasher or a hot pan in cold water as the cast iron could warp. Be sure to thoroughly dry the skillet after washing to prevent rust from forming.

We have outlined that cleaning cast iron purchased new or at an estate sale is different from routine cleaning.

rusty cast iron skillet with wooden handle

Cleaning Newly Acquired Cast Iron

1. Line your sink with a towel so it doesn't get scratched.

2. Using a Brillo pad with soap or soap, water, and a stiff bristle brush, scrub the inside, outside, and handle of the pan. Rinse with hot water.

3. Coat the inside and outside with a solid shortening.

4. Place upside down in the oven on a foil-lined cookie sheet or place foil on the lower rack and the pan upside down on the upper rack. Heat at 350ºF for one hour.

5. Turn the oven off.  Take  the pan out when the oven has cooled.

Steps for Routine Cleaning of Cast Iron

1. Scrub with a nylon bristle scrub brush before the pan cools. Don't use abrasive cleaners. Rinse with hot water. Dry with a dish towel or paper towel.

2. If there is food stuck on the pan, sprinkle coarse kosher salt into the pan. Then rub the salt into food with paper towels. Add more salt as needed. Empty the salt and food and wipe remnants away with a paper towel.

3. Heat on low heat until dry (5-10 minutes) to remove the remaining moisture.

4. Wipe pan when cool to remove remaining grease. Don't store pans with the lid on them. The moisture in the air could become trapped, resulting in rust.

How to Season Cast Iron Cookware

If you purchase a new or used bare cast iron vessel, the first thing is to wash it and then season it. The purpose of seasoning is to get a non-stick coating on the pan's cooking surface that is natural.

Lodge uses soy vegetable oil to season their cast iron products. Shortening or canola oil are also good seasoning products. The following is the seasoning process recommended by Lodge.[2]

Steps for Seasoning Cast Iron  

1. Rub a small amount of cooking fat/oil into the pan. The purpose of this is to create a layer of fat that is bonded to the iron.

2. Place a piece of aluminum foil on the bottom rack of the oven.

3. Place the cast iron skillet face down on the upper oven rack.

4. Heat at 350ºF for one hour.

5. Turn off the oven. Take out when the oven is cooled.

Repeat the process another 2 or 3 times.

If cast iron skillets are cleaned, dried, and seasoned correctly, they can be handed down to the next generation of cooks in your family. A cast iron skillet can be used for cooking on the stovetop, in the oven, on a camping oven, or over a campfire.

cast iron pan rusted

How to Clean Cast Iron Rust

If your cast iron skillet has become rusty, or you found a vintage iron skillet that has been neglected, you will want to know how to clean it.

Cast iron is susceptible to rust unless sealed with a protective layer of carbonized oil, called seasoning. However, even if you have seasoning on your cast iron skillet, it can rust if you leave it in water or a moist environment.

Using a skillet we found at a thrift store, we developed step-by-step instructions on cleaning and seasoning a cast iron pan that is rusty.

Here’s what you need

  • Towel to line sink
  • Steel wool (Brillo, SOS)
  • Scrubber (e. g. Scotch-Brite ™)
  • Solid shortening
  • Mild dishwashing detergent (I used Dawn)
  • Paper towels
  • Rimmed cookie sheet lined with aluminum foil

Preparation

  1. Pre-heat oven to 350°F
  2. Line sink with towel
  3. Mix baking soda with water to form a paste.
cast iron skillet scrubbed with SOS

Step 1: Rub skillet with baking soda and water

To start breaking down the rust on the pan, use baking soda and water. Place the baking soda mixture on the pan and rub with a scrubber (I used a Scotch-Brite™ pad). Once some of the rust has broken up, rinse the pan in running warm water.

Step 2: Scour with steel wool

Now that you have gotten a bit of the rust off, it’s time to use a steel wool pad. Run warm water in the pan and scrub the pan’s inside, outside, and handle using something like Brillo or SOS.

Keep scrubbing until you get all of the rust off. This can take some time, depending on how rusty it is. Rinse the brown mush off in the sink.

Step 3: Clean skillet with a soft sponge

To ensure your skillet is thoroughly cleaned, scrub it with a soft soapy sponge and warm soapy water. Rinse your skillet with warm water until all of the soap and debris are gone from the pan.

Step 4: Dry the Cast Iron Skillet

Once the skillet is rust-free and completely clean, dry it with a paper towel or a lint-free cloth. It is important to take as much time as you need to ensure that the skillet is completely dry.

Step 5: Coat skillet with solid shortening

Put solid shortening on a clean, folded paper towel and coat the pan, inside and outside (including the handle). A thin layer of coating is best. Wipe excess shortening with a fresh paper towel. If you hold your pan at an angle, oil should not run or drip.

Step 6: Bake the Skillet in the Oven

Line a baking sheet with foil and place it on the lower rack of the oven to catch any excess oil that might drip. Place the cast iron skillet in the center of the top rack upside down in your pre-heated oven.

Let the skillet bake for one hour. After one hour or so, turn the oven off and leave the skillet to cool completely as the oven cools down. This extra time allows the seasoning to cure further.

cast iron skillet after cleaning

[1] http://www.engineershandbook.com/Materials/castiron.htm

[2] http://www.lodgemfg.com/use-and-care/cast-iron-lets-cook

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