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Caring for a Cast Iron Skillet

Updated on January 23, 2018
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Kate is a culinary enthusiast with a Bachelor of Science degree from Sonoma State University. She currently resides in Sonoma, California.

In this article you will learn:

1 - How and when you need to season a cast iron pan.

2 - How to clean a cast iron skillet without damaging it.

3 - How to store a cast iron pan so it will last indefinitely.

If good cooking is what you are all about, then the cast iron skillet should be just about your best friend. These iron pans with long handles are versatile, durable, heat sustaining and also provide a very even spread of heat.

However, the durability and exemplary cooking results from the cast iron skillet does not come easy. The pans have to be well taken care of through specific maintenance practices.

Section 1 - How to Season Your Cast Iron Skillet

Seasoning is the very first process of cast iron maintenance. This process helps to create the initial base layer of a coating which provides the non-stick coating to the pan.

Although some manufacturers pre-season the pans before getting them to the stores, experts advise on home seasoning cast iron pans before using them.

The seasoning process should frequently be repeated to intensify the oil coating.

Steps To Seasoning Your Cast Iron Skillet:

 
 
Step 1
If the cast iron is being put to use for the first time, it is necessary to scrub the pan prior to applying the bast level of seasoning.
Step 2
Heat the pan for at least ten minutes in an oven set at 300 degrees Fahrenheit.
Step 3
Carefully remove the pan and let it cool before applying either vegetable shortening or bacon grease with a tablecloth. This should be done while the pan is still warm.
Step 4
After applying oil, place the pan back in the oven for another 10 minutes, this allows for oil to fill in the pores on the pan's surface thus creating a layer.
Step 5
Remove the pan and pour out excess oil, a paper cloth can also be used to wipe out extra oil.
Step 6
Place the pan back in the oven and bake for at least one hour when the pan should be left to cool inside the oven.

While some people choose to apply vegetable oil during this process, it is not always the best ingredient because it can leave the pan sticky. Use just enough oil to coat the pan in a thin layer.

If good cooking is what you are all about, then the cast iron skillet should be just about your best friend.

Section 2 - How to Clean Your Cast Iron Skillet

Washing of cast iron skillets is a vital maintenance practice. While it might occasionally be necessary to use soap and coarse scouring pads, only mild soap and very light scrubbing should be used. Soap contains acids that can easily interfere with the seasoning hence undermining the non-stick element of the pan.

A dishwasher should never be used with cast iron skillets. Soaking is also never recommended on any iron material because it causes rust issues with iron pans.

The pan should only be washed with salt water and hot water. Salt provides a coarse material to remove any food residue, and a soft folded kitchen towel should be used for the scrubbing.

Use a mixture of salt and water to properly clean your cast iron pan.
Use a mixture of salt and water to properly clean your cast iron pan. | Source

Steps To Properly Clean Your Cast Iron Skillet:

 
 
Step 1
While the pan is still warm, use a solution of salt and warm water to clean the pan. The ratio of warm water to salt can be adjusted depending on how hard the food in the pan is to remove (more salt = more abrasiveness). Use only enough salt to get the job done as too much salt can cause you to remove the base layer of seasoning to your pan.
Step 2
After cleaning with hot water and salt, rinse with water only (no salt) to ensure that no salt residue remains.
Step 3
Immediately dry the pan with a soft kitchen towel.
Step 4
Put the pan back on the stove for five to ten minutes to ensure any remaining water evaporates.
Step 5
Prior to storage, rub a light coating of grease (such as bacon grease or other fat based grease) or vegetable oil.

Iron cookware should be kept in a completely dry place with any associated lids off to avoid rusting.

Section 3 - How to Storing Your Cast Iron Skillet

The most important thing to ensure is that your pan is stored in a dry place with no moisture as moisture can cause rust and other damage to your pan. The pans should also be protected from dust. Dust destroys any iron material and more particularly seasoned surface that attracts dust.

The use of lids should be avoided as they are airtight and might cause moisture, covering your pan with a towel is recommended for dust protection.

Storing food in cast iron should be completely avoided. Irrespective of the type and contents of food, long storage of food on the seasoned surface threatens its functions because the acid from food will react with (and likely remove) the coating.

There is nothing better than a home cooked meal on a properly seasoned cast iron skillet.
There is nothing better than a home cooked meal on a properly seasoned cast iron skillet.

Myths About Cooking with Cast Iron

There are a lot of myths floating around when it comes to cooking with cast iron. Here are a few of the most common myths out there:

Myth 1: Iron cookware can easily chip or crack.

It is a common worry that the cast iron material can crack and chip easily thus should not be stored in a nested style. Although proper care and gentleness are important, the pans are made up of real iron and just like iron nails, cannot be easily chipped.

It is a misconception that the pans are delicate. Apart from standard maintenance of iron material to protect from rust, the pans can sustain relatively harsh physical conditions because of the tough iron.

Myth 2: You should never use soap of any kind on an iron pan.

Some also insist cast iron should never be washed with soap because soap ingredients are essential to remove oil which destroys the seasoning. In as much as there is an effect on the extreme and frequent use of harsh scouring pads and soap, the seasoning is polymerized on the iron and is not a thin layer that can easily peel off.

Repetitive oil rubbing and baking of the pan during the seasoning process ensures bonding of the oil and iron surfaces by breaking down the oil to plastic like substance. Therefor, mild soap should not affect a proper seasoned cast iron skillet pan.

Myth 3: You should never use metal utensils on a cast iron skillet.

As demonstrated, the seasoning is not a light surface sticking on the metal surface of the pan. It is a tough layer bonding on the pan's surface hence almost inseparable by mere stirring or turning of a meat steak with a metal spoon. Although nylon and wood utensils are great options, unless one is gouging on the pan, the seasoning is quite resilient to withstand normal turning and stirring.

Myth 4: Old cast iron pans are better and tougher than modern ones.

People also often strive to acquire the old cast iron pans with a notion that they are better and tougher than the modern cast iron skillet. Advancement in technology affects production as well as service industries, the cast iron skillet is not immune.

Although the production methods have significantly changed, iron is iron. The only difference between the two generations of cast iron skillet is the finishing.

Previously, satin was used to polish the pan as a final process. The polishing no longer exists in today's products. Instead, the pans have a bumpy surface. Therefore, proper seasoning of the cast iron skillet remains the key to great results.

Martha Stewart Shows You How to Clean and Season Your Cast Iron Skillet

Conclusion

In comparison with other surfaces on cooking pans, cast iron takes relatively long to warm. Although some may perceive this as a disadvantage, the pan compensates for its heat retaining ability. Once it is hot, the heat evenly distributes to other parts of the surface away from the direct heat-pan contact. After cooking, it takes a while before cooling down as compared to other surfaces, this is critical in food marination and serving warm food. However, a major undoing in use of cast iron would be boiling water. The pan is guaranteed to rust if exposed to such conditions.

Flexibility in use of the pan is one of the excellent characteristics of cast iron pan. Provided one takes the initiative to keep the maintenance standards, it can be used to effectively cook anything from fried chicken to bacon to searing meat. The fact that the pan concentrates heat on points of the pan then evenly distributes demonstrates its reliability in cooking that requires heat control. The pan's heat-retaining capacity is also suitable for searing.

Opinions on the use of cast iron skillet are usually full of unusual rules which can easily scare away an enthusiast, even those with impeccable culinary skills. However, with a little patience and practice, maintaining your cast iron skillet will become a natural part of cooking. As a result, you will enjoy almost unlimited usage of this incredibly durable cooking surface.

What is the biggest frustration when it comes to caring for your cast iron pan?

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© 2017 Kate Daily

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    • MomsTreasureChest profile image

      MomsTreasureChest 

      10 months ago

      Great tips for caring for a cast iron pan, thanks for sharing. I should use mine more often, I think I don't because it's harder to clean.

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