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Caring for Cast Iron Cookware

Caring for cast iron cookware might seem like a chore, but it’s a chore that doesn’t take as much time as you’d think and is honestly completely worth the time.

In this post, you’ll learn what the best oil to use for seasoning cast iron is, how to season cast iron, how to clean cast iron, how to re-season a cast iron pan that has rusted, and what my favorite recipes to cook in cast iron are.

overhead shot of a cast iron pan with herbs and garlic

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What Does it Mean to Season Cast Iron

The first step in caring for a new cast iron pan is seasoning.

Cast iron pans don’t come with that wonderful smooth, dark surface (unless you purchase a pre-seasoned pan) that skillets handed down over generations have. In fact, before seasoning they can be rather rough.

Seasoning cast iron is the process of baking oil on the cast iron through a process called polymerization. It gives the pan a natural non-stick surface, a nice black patina, and helps prevent it from rusting.

Achieving the beautiful patina that your great-grandmother’s pan has can be achieved over time without much work.

overhead shot of a cast iron skillet with oil in it on a dark background

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How To Season Cast Iron

1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.

  • Position a rack in the middle of the oven.
  • Place a foil lined baking sheet on the rack beneath the middle rack.

2. Wash your new pan in warm, soapy water. Dry well.

3. Warm the clean, dry pan over medium-low heat on your stove top.

4. Brush 1-2 tablespoons of oil, such as grapeseed or vegetable oil over the bottom inside and sides of the pan.

  • There should be just enough oil to evenly cover the surfaces without any excess.
  • Alternatively, some choose to use vegetable shortening, such as Crisco, or food-grade coconut oil to season cast iron.

5. Place the pan upside down in the oven on the middle rack. Bake for an hour.

  • Some people choose not to invert the pan, however. This difference is probably just a matter of personal choice and not right or wrong.
  • After the hour of cooking, turn the heat off and allow the pan to cool inside the oven for an hour.

Seasoning your new pan can be helped along if the first few recipes you cook after the initial seasoning process include the use of oil, such as sauteing an onion or deep frying.

Over time the pan will become dark and smooth with a beautiful, natural non-stick finish. Additionally, you can repeat this oven seasoning process.

The above is simply a quick summary of the instructions for seasoning cast iron. Check out the free printable how-to card at the bottom of this post for all the detailed instructions. Feel free to print a copy for your records.

How Do You Clean Cast Iron?

Never use soap and water to clean cast iron. Using soap to clean cast iron would only remove the seasoning you’ve worked so hard to create.

The best way to clean a dirty cast iron pan is with a stiff scrub brush, like this natural scrub brush, very hot water, and a little elbow grease. Simply wash the pan like you normally would with the brush and hot water while omitting any soap.

close up of a dish scrub brush

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Removing Stubborn Foods from Cast Iron

While the scrub brush and hot water method is usually sufficient to clean cast iron, occasionally you may have some more stubborn food residue to remove from your pant.

In this case, I like to shake some kosher salt into my pan, add a little water to make a past, and scrub the salt using my scrub brush.

The abrasiveness of the kosher salt helps remove any stubborn stuck on food but does not remove the pan’s seasoning the same way that soap would.

Preventing Rust on Cast Iron Pans

Cast iron pans rust easily when left wet for significant periods of time.

My kids always try to get out of cleaning a cast iron pan by saying it “needs to soak,” but soaking these pans overnight increases the risk of rust.

If a pan is so dirty that it seems like soaking might be required, it is best to follow the instructions for removing stubborn foods from cast iron rather than soaking the pan if you wish to avoid developing rust.

a stack of folded dish towels on a white background

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Also, you should never let your cast iron pans air dry or stack pans that have any moisture left on them.

This will also increase the risk of rust. It is best to always towel dry your cast iron pans immediately after cleaning before putting them away.

How Do You Get Ride of Rust on Cast Iron?

If, unfortunately, you haven’t cared for your cast iron properly or you inherited a piece of cast iron that is old and rusted, don’t worry!

You can easily remove that rust from your cast iron and restore a beautiful seasoned surface to your pan with the following steps.

rusted cast iron pan on top of a folded towel on a white table

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  1. First, you want to remove all of the rust from your pan. Steel wool works best for this task.
  2. After removing all of the rust from your cast iron, you will need to thoroughly wash the pan using soap, hot water, and a scrub brush. This should be the only time that soap ever touches your cast iron!
  3. Use a towel and dry the cast iron completely. You can also place the cast iron in a warm oven or over the stove on low to quickly evaporate all the moisture.
  4. Repeat the seasoning process. Make sure to cover the entire pan inside and out if you were dealing with exterior and interior rust. After the process is complete, you’ll have a wonderfully seasoned cast iron.

Why Cook with Cast Iron

There are many advantages to cooking in cast iron. In fact, the only disadvantage that I can think of is that the pans are heavy. A small price to pan for a great piece of cookware.

cast iron skillet with italian chicken and tomatoes

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Seasoned Cast Iron is Naturally Non-Stick

Besides being beautiful, cast iron pans that have been properly seasoned and cared for can offer you a chemical-free non-stick surface to cook on.

Cast Iron is a Good Investment Piece

Because they don’t contain a chemical non-stick coating there’s no need to toss out a pan the way you’d toss a Teflon coated pan after a few years.

They’re incredibly sturdy, too. A well-maintained cast iron pan will likely outlive you. For a relatively small price you’ve purchased a pan that you can one day hand down as a family heirloom.

Cast Iron Promotes Even Cooking

Sure a cast iron skillet takes longer to heat, it is wonderful at retaining heat – the heat is even and well maintained.

Cast Iron is a Versatile Piece of Cookware

Additionally, cast iron is one of my favorites to cook with because it is safely used stove top or in the oven, unlike traditional coated non-stick pans.

Cooking with Cast Iron Naturally Increase Your Iron Consumption

If you suffer from anemia, you may want to consider cooking in cast iron. Evidence suggests that eating food cooked in cast iron will increase the amount of iron in your diet. (source)

What Should I Cook in Cast Iron

One of the reasons I love to cook with cast iron so much is how versatile it is. It works well for a variety of different recipes from side dishes, to main dishes, and even desserts. Here are a few of my favorite recipes that are cooked (or can be cooked) in cast iron:

overhead shot of a cast iron skillet with baked ziti

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Cast Iron Recipe Ideas

Skillet Meals are one of my favorite things to cook in cast iron; I love when I can start and finish the recipe in the same pan because it creates less dishes!

Skillet meals like this recipe for Italian Chicken, Mushroom, and Zucchini Skillet, One Skillet Baked Ziti with Meat Sauce, Baked Honey Mustard Chicken, or these Apple Cider Pork Chops with Caramelized Apples are great cooked in cast iron.

Roasted Vegetables turn out great in cast iron because the cast iron gives them a nicely browned crust – try it and compare to veggies roasted on a baking sheet!

Try these Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Garlic and Sage, Honey Roasted Carrots, or Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Bacon and Balsamic for some yummy veggie recipes cooked in cast iron. These are all kid favorites in our house!

Greasy foods that will give your seasoning an extra boost. I always cook Homemade Bacon Bits in cast iron because cast iron works great for cooking in the oven. Cooking bacon in cast iron also helps add to the seasoning thanks to the fat rendered during the cooking process.

Desserts – yes, you can cook dessert in cast iron! Cobblers, like this Black Cherry Pomegranate Cobbler work great in cast iron pans and always remind me of making cast iron cobblers while camping when I was a kid.

Brownies, like my Easy Homemade Fudgy Brownies, can be cooked up in a cast iron pan. A 9 inch cast iron skillet about would be the right size to use in place of an 8×8 pan. Smaller cast iron pans are fun for individual brownies, but you’ll need to adjust baking time due to the smaller pan.

Don’t see what you’re looking for here? You can always head over to check out the recipe index to look for more recipes.

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overhead shot of a cast iron pan with herbs and garlic

Caring for Cast Iron Cookware

Yield: 1
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Active Time: 5 minutes
Additional Time: 1 hour
Total Time: 1 hour 20 minutes
Difficulty: Easy
Estimated Cost: Varies

Caring for cast iron cookware might seem like a chore, but it’s a chore that doesn’t take as much time as you’d think and is honestly completely worth the time. Learn what the best oil to use for seasoning cast iron is, how to season cast iron, how to clean cast iron, and what to cook in cast iron.

Materials

  • Cast Iron Pan
  • 2 tablespoons Cooking Oil 

Tools

  • Oven
  • Silicone Brush
  • Oven Mitts

Instructions

  1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Position a rack in the middle of the oven.
  3. Place a foil lined baking sheet on the rack beneath the middle rack.
  4. Wash your new pan in warm, soapy water. Dry well. Warm the clean, dry pan over medium-low heat on your stove top. stack of folded dish towels
  5. Brush 2 tablespoons of oil, grapeseed oil, canola, or vegetable oil over the bottom inside and sides of the pan. There should be just enough oil to evenly cover the surfaces without any excess. Alternatively, some choose to use vegetable shortening, such as Crisco, or food-grade coconut oil to season cast iron. cast iron pan with oil in it
  6. Place the pan upside down in the oven on the middle rack. Bake for an hour.
  7. After the hour of cooking, turn the heat off and allow the pan to cool inside the oven for an hour.

Notes

Seasoning your new pan can be helped along if the first few recipes you cook after the initial seasoning process include the use of oil, such as sautéing an onion or deep frying.

How Do You Get Ride of Rust on Cast Iron?

If, unfortunately, you haven't cared for your cast iron properly or you inherited a piece of cast iron that is old and rusted, don't worry! You can easily remove that rust from your cast iron and restore a beautiful seasoned surface to your pan. overhead shot of rusted cast iron skillet

  1. First, you want to remove all of the rust from your pan. Steel wool works best for this task.
  2. After removing all of the rust from your cast iron, you will need to thoroughly wash the pan using soap, hot water, and a scrub brush. This should be the only time that soap ever touches your cast iron!
  3. Use a towel and dry the cast iron completely. You can also place the cast iron in a warm oven or over the stove on low to quickly evaporate all the moisture.
  4. Repeat the seasoning process. Make sure to cover the entire pan inside and out if you were dealing with exterior and interior rust. After the process is complete, you'll have a wonderfully seasoned cast iron.

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Brooks

Tuesday 18th of August 2020

I just pulled my cast iron skillet out of the oven after the follow the curing instructions and it is almost glass like on the inside bottom surface, I had cleaned the bottom with salt to clean up what was likely years of pour maintenance. It looks great but is that normal, most pictures I have screened picture a dull surface.

Katie

Thursday 26th of November 2020

Yes that is normal and will dissipate after some use. With more regular seasonings your surface will develop the appearance you are referring to.

sarah

Thursday 25th of October 2012

Found out that the reason most people say to put the pan in the oven upside-down for seasoning is to prevent pooling of the oil or lard in the bottom of the pan. Just FYI.

Bill

Wednesday 17th of October 2012

Hi Katie, new food blogger here and just discovered your blog. You've done a great job. I just read this post and I agree with you about cast iron. It's a great way to cook and I have one of every size. I'll definitely be following your blog. Thanks for sharing!

Bracken

Monday 2nd of July 2012

I have one of those flat glass top /ceramic stoves.....other than worrying about placing the pan carefully on the burner so as not to break it from the weight of the cast iron pan, is it safe to use on that type of stove? Are there things to consider in using a cast iron pan on a glass top that you wouldn't with other type pans?

Dom

Saturday 11th of August 2012

Hi - I used my Le cresuet ware for years on a glass top stove, without any problems. But I have a few tips:

- never drag the pan across the glass as it can scratch the oven top and is not very safe for you either, always lift it and replace in gently on a new burner. - be aware of the type of stove you have, Vitro-ceramic burners take a while to heat up, but that is fine as it is always better to warm cast iron gently so the heat is evenly distributed. Induction stoves (which use magnetic fields to generate heat directly in the cast iron itself) have a lot of the immediate advantages of cooking on a gas stove; it is still best, however, to gradually heat the pans up - since rapidly raising and lowering the temperature will create to spots in the pan surface. This is not really dangerous, searing meat for a stew for example, but you need to give the pan time for the heat to distribute itself more evenly once searing is done.

Katie

Monday 6th of August 2012

Sorry, I don't have any experience with those type of stovetops. I have always cooked on gas. I would consult the manufacturer to find out their recommendations.

Jo Nosbisch

Friday 30th of March 2012

Hi I am a 71 yr.young Grandmother and I have 2- Iron frying skillets & 1- large chicken fryer and 2- small skillet for eggs (or a one person pan:) They belonged to my Grandmother,my Mother and now I have them & LOVE them. I gave the Large Dutch oven w/lid to my son and he uses it on his wood stove.. just keeping in the family..

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