How to Season and Clean Cast Iron

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After several summers of camping in my intemperate youth, I had learned how to use cast iron dutch ovens. Cast iron cookware holds a special place in my culinary kitchen because it’s cost friendly, durable, holds heat like a champ, versatile and cooks food evenly. When it’s properly seasoned and maintained, cast iron can last your family for generations and sustain a longer lasting and easier release surface than that expensive non-stick pans you might have purchased at that high-end boutique store in the village hot spot shopping plaza.

In order to have a well-maintained cast iron arsenal, the cast iron has to be taken care of. This is no small task. I mean, do you wash it with soap or no soap? What’s the best way to season it? Everyone, even your Aunt Matilda, has their opinion. It’s time to breathe deep… we have your back.

Wash it Once with Soap

When you purchase your new cast iron cookware, it’s perfectly ok to use a mild soapy water mixture to complete the first wash. However, that is it. Just once. You want to avoid any harsh soap and those nasty scouring pads after this first washing as they will remove the seasoning you have been working so hard to create. And that also means that you stay clear of that dishwasher.

Season Your Pan

“Seasoning” on a pan is the method of using fat or oil that gets baked into the iron. Yes, I said baked into the iron. When you do this, it helps to create a natural non-stick coating. The more you use it, the pan will become even more seasoned.

Here is how to season a cast iron product:

  • Preheat the oven to 300°F.
  • Place a layer of foil on the lowest rack in your oven and place your cast iron pan on the top rack.
  • Allow the pan to heat for 10 minutes and then remove.
  • Using a paper towel, coat the pan with about 1 tablespoon of vegetable shortening, lard or what I used: bacon grease. (Do not use vegetable oil, as it creates a sticky coating).
  • Place the pan back into the oven on the top rack for another 10 minutes.
  • Remove and discard any excess fat or oil.
  • Then turn the pan upside down and return it to the top rack of the oven and allow it to cool in the oven.
  • Repeat this as often as necessary to maintain your pan’s seasoning.

While some pans are labeled “pre-seasoned”,  I still recommend that you season them in your home anyway. This will just help create a stronger seasoning.

Let’s Get Cooking!

With a new piece of cast iron, I highly recommend that you start off with cooking foods that contain a high-fat content (like bacon) to help improve the seasoning and solidify the non-stick surface. Cast iron cookware is awesome for anything from creating a pan-seared steak to making crispy edge cornbread.

Note: Don’t store any food in your cast iron cookware. The food contains acid that can break down the seasoning surface you worked so hard to achieve.

Cleanliness is a Virtue

Never let your cast iron soak. You can wash it, preferably while it’s still warm by using hot water and a sponge or if needed a stiff non-metal brush to remove any residual cooking residue. If you find that you have some tough stuck-on food, you can use a cup of kosher salt in the warm skillet and use a kitchen towel (that has been folded in half) to scrub the pan with the salt. When done just toss the salt out and rinse the pan with hot water.

Keep it Dry

Not properly drying your cast iron will cause it to rust and that will destroy your seasoning. Moisture is your mortal enemy. So after you clean or just rinse, you will need to dry it extremely well and place it on the stove top over a low flame. This will allow it to dry for a few minutes. Then use a cloth or a paper towel and begin to rub it with a little shortening, lard or bacon grease. Allow to heat for 5 to 10 minutes more, then remove it from the heat and allow to cool. To finish, use another paper towel and wipe to remove any excess grease.

Store It Right

Always keep your cast iron cookware in a very dry place with the lid off to avoid rusting. If you do see rust appearing, scour your pan with some steel wool to remove it and then you will need to re-season your pan.