Cast Iron Skillets: The Best Way to Keep Them Clean and Seasoned

fried eggs in cast iron skillet with heirloom tomatoes

Cast iron cookware has been a popular choice for cooking for centuries. The material is durable and versatile, allowing chefs for everything from frying chicken to baking cornbread. Cast iron skillets are exceptional at distributing the heat evenly, for a consistent cooking experience. However, the process of cleaning and maintaining a cast iron skillet is much different from other pots and pans in your cupboard. In this article, we’ll cover everything you need to know about keeping your cast iron skillet clean and well-seasoned, including how to remove stuck-on bits, properly dry the skillet, and season the skillet for optimal performance.

The Importance of Seasoning a Cast Iron Skillet

First, let’s talk about what seasoning is. To season a cast iron skillet means something different than what it does when you’re preparing meats and veggies. Cast iron is, by default, a very rough surface. When oils and fats are placed on that surface and heated to very high temperatures, they fill in those rough spots and form a hard, slick, surface. The provides an excellent non-stick quality to the skillet and keeps it protected from rust in the process.  

Maintaining the Seasoning on a Pre-Seasoned Cast Iron Skillet

If your cast iron skillet is pre-seasoned, you won’t have to season it before you use it for the first time. However, the seasoning needs to be maintained or it will lose its non-stick surface and rust protection over time. To ensure the seasoning stays fresh, always rub a thin layer of cooking oil onto the surface of the skillet after each use. Do this after you’ve cleaned the skillet and then return it to the warm burner as it cools. Wipe it dry with a paper towel once it does. This will help add additional layers of seasoning.  

How to Season a Cast Iron Skillet

If your skillet didn’t come pre-seasoned, you’ll need to perform the seasoning process yourself. To season the pan, simply rub a thin layer of you choice of cooking oil onto the surface of the skillet and place it into an oven preheated to 350 degrees. Be sure to rub the oil into every part of the skillet and coat it well. Let the skillet bake in the oven for an hour or so and then turn off the heat. When the skillet cools, you can remove it from the oven and wipe off any oil that didn’t harden.

Cleaning a Cast Iron Skillet

If you’ve never used a cast iron pan before, you may have heard that cleaning them is tricky. That’s partly because cast iron is prone to rust. But we’ve just learned that the seasoning protects the pan from rust. Now, you need to protect your seasoning from the cleaning process. Soap and dishwashers are both designed to remove oils. That’s bad for a cast iron skillet, so those old standbys are a no-no for cleaning them.

Instead of soap, you should simply use warm water to clean your skillet. The water will help to loosen food particles and make them easier to wipe with a clean rag or paper towel. Be sure the material you use to clean the skillet is less abrasive that the cast iron and its seasoning. Using steel wool, for example, increases the chances of your seasoning being removed or your pan scratched. 

If you find that stuck-on food simply won’t come off with hot water and gentle rags alone, there is another trick you can use. Kosher salt, when used briefly during the cleaning process is safe for the pan and less abrasive than the parts you want to protect. By places a couple tablespoons of it into the pan, you can provide additional abrasion to finish off those tough to get food particles.

Once you’ve got a perfectly cleaned and seasoned skillet, you’ll need something good to cook in it. For the perfect ingredients, visit International Fresh Market, where you’ll find everything you need to cook any dish from a variety of cultures.

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