My friend has a set of her great-grandmother’s perfectly seasoned cast iron pans, and there is almost nothing in the world that makes me more jealous. Those pans have cooked thousands of meals for her family and loved ones, and will for decades to come. Despite growing up with every imaginable gadget in my kitchen, including multiple fondue pots, we did not have anything made from cast iron. My husband’s family had some beauties, I hear, but they were left behind in Spain. Sigh.
I’ve decided to be the person in my family who will nurture and pass down a coveted set of cast iron pans. Lucky for me, cast iron is relatively cheap, easy to season, easy to clean, and gets better with use. In the last few years, I’ve started to amass a collection of heavy black pans of every size. My favorite is this all-purpose pizza stone. I use it so much that it lives on my stovetop. I use it to make pizza, of course, but also to heat tortillas, make toast, roast vegetables, bake potatoes, cook pancakes…the list is endless. I store the rest of my pans nested in my oven, where the pilot light keeps them warm all the time.
A well-seasoned cast iron skillet can handle just about any cooking task you throw at it. Over time, with lots of use and loving care, the cooking surface can start to look like shiny black satin, and develop a natural nonstick surface that will last a lifetime. Even without proper care, cast iron can be revived and rusty pans can be brought back to life. If you stumble across a piece at a swap meet or garage sale, grab it like the found treasure that it is.
So, how can you keep your cast iron pans in great shape? Follow these simple steps to clean your cast iron pans and you’ll have years of delicious meals, and pans that will outlast you!
How to Clean Cast-Iron Pans
A lot of people ask me how I clean my cast iron pans because they’ve heard that they’re really sensitive. It’s not that hard. Actually, it is…it’s iron. You can’t hurt it. But it pays to follow some simple guidelines to keep your cast iron in top shape. Use these tips to clean your pans and they’ll repay you with a lifetime of use.
1. Clean cast iron while it is still warm
If you can, clean your pan before food has time to get crusty. If you have tenacious stuck-on bits, pour a tablespoon each of salt and oil into the pan and scrub using a stiff brush or the scouring side of a sponge. Rinse under hot water until most of the oil is melted away.
2. Dry pans thoroughly
As soon as you are done washing it, dry cast iron with dishtowels or paper towels to prevent rust. You can also dry your pan on the stove. Just place it on a lit burner for a few minutes.
3. Oil your pans
When your pan is dry, use a paper towel to spread a coat of oil on the cooking surface and walls of the pan. It’s a good idea to oil the outside of the pan occasionally as well to prevent rust. To quickly season the pan, light a burner under your pan once it’s oiled and wait for the oil to smoke, then remove from heat.
4. Never, ever do this
Avoid soaking or leaving pans in the sink where they may be in contact with water. Never put cast iron in the dishwasher.
Basic Cast-Iron Questions
What should I do if my pans are pre-seasoned?
Most cast iron comes “pre-seasoned,” but it’s still a good idea to season them anyway. Follow these instructions on how to season cast iron before you use your pans for the first time. It will give them an extra layer of protection and burn off any chemicals used in the casting process.
What kind of cooking utensils should I use?
Unlike with nonstick pans, you can safely use any kind of cooking utensil, even metal, on a cast iron surface. And, unlike those coated skillets, any scratches to the seasoning of a cast iron pan can be easily renewed with oil.
What about soap?
Don’t tell anyone I told you this, but it’s OK to use soap to clean cast iron. If you cook something with spices, or you don’t want your morning pancakes to taste like last night’s hamburgers, soap can eliminate lingering flavors. Just rinse and dry thoroughly.
What can I cook in cast iron?
Just about anything, but cast iron is better suited for some foods than others, namely roasting, frying, and baking. Make a perfect steak in a blazing-hot pan. Roast a whole chicken. Make the best Brussels sprouts you’ve ever tasted. Bake cornbread. If you’re eating clean, you’re probably not consuming a lot of bacon, but your cast iron loves to cook it, and the fat leaves the pan in perfect condition.
What foods shouldn’t cook in cast iron?
Certain foods can be cooked in cast iron, but will do better in other types of pans. Like eggs. Unless you’re pan is perfectly seasoned, they’ll need a lot oil and they’re never going to slide out of the pan and onto your plate like they will from a nonstick or ceramic pan. Acidic foods like tomatoes sauce can react with new cast iron pans making food taste metallic.
Do you have other tips or questions about caring for cast iron? Let us know in the comments.