Caring for Cast-Iron Skillets

Although I remember growing up in Western Canada with my mom constantly cooking on cast iron cookware, it took me a long time before I finally decided to buy my first skillet. Cast iron skillets are a joy to cook with but cleaning and caring for them can seem daunting at first, at least it did for me. That’s why it took me so long to finally add one to my kitchen (called a galley on a boat).

Initially, I thought they were too heavy, required too much care to maintain, and I didn’t like the idea of storing an “oily” pan in the cupboard. However, I think I broke down and bought a cast iron pan one winter when I wanted to cook a nice thick steak and it was too cold to grill outside.

One of the great advantages with cast iron is that it cooks (or sears) food evenly. I also like that it can go from the stove to the oven, which is a great way to cook a thick steak sans grill. Just sear it on the stove, then put in the oven until it cooks to the perfect temperature.

Cleaning a Cast Iron Pan

Cleaning is surprisingly easy. Although there may be a temptation to use soap, it’s best to avoid it, as it can remove the seasoning, which is what gives the pan a non-stick coating. Instead, just wipe the pan down with a paper towel. If there are stubborn food bits, use some coarse kosher salt and a nylon scrub pad or brush. While the skillet is still warm, add the salt to the pan, a little bit of warm water and scrub the pan. Afterwards, rinse the pan, pat dry and put on the stove on low temperature for about 5 minutes or until it is completely dried. Then, add just a very thin coat or wipe of vegetable oil or any leftover bacon fat and let it heat for 10-15 minutes on high. Let the pan cool, and wipe clean with a paper towel if there is any excess oil.

Dry After Every Use

Moisture is the enemy of cast iron! If it is put away when not completely dry, there is a very good chance that it will rust. So, as mentioned above dry it out on the stove, then lightly oil while heating it. Do not skip this step!  Also, it is best to store it in a dry place. For those living on boats, if your cabinet gets a tad damp in winter, it’s best to find another spot for your cast iron. Nothing ruins good dinner plans like pulling out your pan to start cooking and finding it rusty. I found that out once to my chagrin.

Reseasoning Cast Iron

Sometimes a pan can get a bit of rust or it may have black bits that flake off. If that is the case, then it may be time to reseason your skillet. No need to worry, the task is not as daunting as it seems.

There are many types of oils and quite assuredly as many opinions as to the best oil to use to reseason a castiron skillet. Growing up, I think it was good old-fashioned lard that my mom used. Today, some say canola oil, others avocado oil, coconut oil, or bacon fat. Personally, for reseasoning, I like to use flaxseed oil. I moved to this from canola oil after reading a very informative article that delves into the Chemistry of Cast Iron Seasoning (well worth the read!).

  1. As a first step, preheat the oven to about 200°F.
  2. While the oven is preheating, wash the skillet with warm, soapy water and a metal scrubbing pad. Scrub well until all food residue and rust flakes are gone.
  3. Rinse well with fresh water, than wipe dry with a clean cotton towel.
  4. Place the pan in the oven for about 15 minutes to fully dry out the pan and open the pores of the cast iron.
  5. Remove the pan and pour about a tablespoon of flaxseed oil in the skillet. Using a paper towel and tongs (the pan will be quite warm to touch) rub the oil all over the inside surface of the pan including the rim. Lightly wipe out any excess oil with a clean paper towel, the goal is to just have a very thin layer of oil that can barely be seen.
  6. Place the skillet upside down in the oven and turn to 450°F (it’s a good idea to place some aluminum foil underneath the skillet to catch any oil which may drip down). Heat the pan for 90 minutes then turn off the oven and let the skillet cool down in the oven for about 2 hours.
  7. Repeat this process of lightly coating the pan with oil, heating and cooling at least 5 times, although I prefer 7-8 times.
  8. At the end the skillet should have a great, non-stick semi-gloss finish to it.


One response to “Caring for Cast-Iron Skillets

  1. Great advice Greg. I have three cast iron skillets. and I treat them in similar fashion. The difference being that I do mine on the stovetop and burn my hands in the process, every time. The oldest I have is 34 year. All three will “see me down” as my late father used to say.


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