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Cast Iron Care: Using & Seasoning Cookware

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Cast iron cookware is a staple in many homestead kitchens. They are known for being versatile pans that can be used on the stove top, in the oven, and even over an open fire. When properly cared for, these pans can last a lifetime and beyond! In fact, my best cast iron skillet is over 130 years old! In this post, you will learn proper cast iron care from washing, drying, and seasoning your pans to get a lifetime of use out of them.

cast iron skillets on wood surface



I believe my mom cooked more with cast iron than my grandma ever did. At least, in my lifetime. Growing up, I didn’t really understand that cast iron needed tender, loving care. It’s like a living and breathing extension of your kitchen. One that I now thoroughly enjoy as an adult in my very own kitchen.

But keeping cast iron seasoned and non-stick can be challenging for some. It was challenging for me at first, and sometimes, when I’m lazy (oh yes, I can be!), it still kicks me in the teeth and says “Ha ha, you’ll have to season me again!”

Most of the time, however, when I bring my cast iron skillets and pans out, I am greeted with a deep, rich, black blanket of color that could put a smile on any homesteader’s face.



Need a quick menu idea? Try making Spicy Eggs Bacon & Kale in your well-seasoned cast iron skillet!


Cast Iron Care: Using & Seasoning Cookware


There are some things you should consider before using cast iron.

For starters, when you use a cast iron skillet or pan, please keep in mind that the iron does leach into your food. It’s the same with copper pans, etc. This normally isn’t a bad thing, especially for many of those needing extra iron in their blood.

However, if you already have too much iron in your body, or you have a health condition that could be affected by additional iron, then I would ask your health professional for their opinion on using it. Otherwise, you should be perfectly fine. I use my cast iron skillets for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and even desserts!

cinnamon rolls in cast iron skillet

What Makes Cast Iron Non-Stick?


The surface on a cast iron skillet is not made of synthetic materials (specifically Polytetrafluoroethylene) like most non-stick cookware. Instead, cast iron pans have a thin layer of oil that is polymerized onto the surface. This means that the oil or fat has undergone a chemical change during a period of high heat that bonds it to the iron. The polymerization process (known as seasoning) creates a smooth surface that allows you to cook food without it sticking horribly. It also helps to keep the pan from rusting.

How To Season A Cast Iron Pan


Seasoning is absolutely vital in cast iron care. Before you do anything else with that pan when you purchase it (or find it for a steal at Goodwill), you must wash and season it properly.

STEP ONE: Wash


Start by washing the pan out well with a mild dish soap and sponge. Concentrate on any heavily soiled spots with a chain mail scrubber. These scrubbers are great for restoring cast iron, and they can help scrape off any stuck-on bits of food during your regular wash routine. Once your skillet is properly seasoned and used correctly, you won’t need this tool often. However, it’s great to keep on hand for those tough, grimy exceptions. Coarse salt is also a good option to scrub cast iron pans that need a little extra work.

If your pan has a rust build-up, you can use a piece of steel wool to knock the rust off before seasoning.

STEP TWO: Dry & Apply Initial Seasoning


Next, dry your pan on the stovetop on low or medium heat. Once your pan is dry, coat your entire pan (inside, outside, and handle) with a fat such as coconut oil, avocado oil, or lard. These three fats can reach and withstand higher temperatures for longer amounts of time, versus the everyday olive oil.

cast iron skillet | cast iron care

STEP THREE: Heat


Preheat oven to 450 and place your pan upside down, directly on the oven rack. Bake for 1 hour, or until the fat is no longer visibly wet. Your pan will most likely smoke—this is completely normal. Be sure to keep the door closed until the pan has cooled. You can practice this step as many times in a row as necessary until your pan is a deep rich black.

How To Keep a Good Seasoning on Your Pan


More so than actually seasoning the pan itself, I would say keeping it seasoned well, as to maintain its non-stick surface, is probably the most challenging part of cast iron care. Here’s what I have discovered to make my cast iron pans remain non-stick and seasoned.

Tip # 1: Use Fat When Cooking


Always start with a pat of fat in your cast iron pan before placing your food in it. I feel like this is something we all do, but apparently, many people don’t add butter or fat to their pan before cooking in a non-stick skillet. This is probably one of the more essential ways to keep your cast iron seasoned properly. The fat in the pan creates an extra barrier before food is placed directly on the surface. And in all honesty, it’s just being culinarily proper! I bet culinarily isn’t a word….

Tip # 2: Clean Immediately After Cooking


Clean your cast iron pan as soon as it can be easily handled without burning yourself. It is much easier to clean a cast iron pan when it is still warm than once it has cooled. Unless you are cooking something extra greasy in it (like fried chicken), you should just be able to wipe the pan clean with a damp rag, or you can run it under the faucet and give it a quick rinse and wipe with a sponge (soft side).

Don’t be afraid to use a little dish soap if you think you need it. Soap may remove extra layers of oil that you have on your skillet, but it will not removed the initial seasoning of polymerized oil.

If you notice that food has stuck to your pan, keep it on the heat and add a bit of cool water. It will “deglaze” the pan and you can scrape the burned bits off easily. You can also use coarse salt or a chain mail scrubber to clean the pans if needed.

Tip # 3: Dry and Re-Oil Immediately After Washing


Dry your cast iron pan completely after being washed. If you leave a cast iron pan to air dry, the water can seep into the pan’s pores, causing the breaking down of the seasoning. Or worse, the breaking down of the iron pan. Place your pan on a burner on your stovetop and let it dry out through that direct heat for about 5 minutes or so.

oiling cast iron | seasoning


Once it is dry, use a clean paper towel to rub a thin layer of oil or lard on the inside of the skillet and wipe out the excess oil. This will increase the time between seasonings. I have only fully seasoned my pans once and I have had them for a couple of years!

Tip # 4: Don’t Use Cast Iron for Food Storage


Never leave food in a cast iron pan for storage. I learned this the hard way. I had made a lasagna skillet dish one evening, and instead of placing it in storage containers, I just left it in the pan and refrigerated the entire pan. No no, don’t do that. I regretted it the next day! The food will begin to break down the pans seasoning and could even start the rusting process.

What to Avoid When Using Cast Iron


It is a popular belief that you must avoid using hot water and dish soap, cooking acidic foods (like tomato sauce) and eggs, and using cast iron on a glass-top stove. With a properly seasoned pan, however, all of these are perfectly fine! Let’s talk about each of these plus a couple of things that you do really need to watch out for.

Dish Soap & Hot Water


You shouldn’t need to use dish soap every time you clean a cast iron pan because a properly seasoned pan won’t need it. There are certainly exceptions, however. If a dirty pan has been sitting overnight or longer, you may want to use soap to clean it. You may also choose to use dish soap if a pan has gotten extra greasy or has food stuck to it (although there are other ways to remove stuck on food).

The idea that dish soap cannot be used on cast iron comes from the idea that the soap will remove the seasoning. Dish soap, after all, is intended to remove oil. The seasoning on a cast iron skillet is made from polymerized oil that is bonded to the iron so soap does not remove this.

Older generations have also passed down the idea that lye in the soap can harm pans, but we no longer use soap that has lye leftover after saponification so this isn’t a concern either.

Acidic Foods & Eggs


Foods heavy in acidic ingredients like tomato sauce can potentially react with the metal in the pan. This can cause molecules from the metal to leech into foods causing an unpleasant metallic taste. Having a well-seasoned pan can help to reduce this because the food will come into contact with the polymerized oil instead of the metal.. If you notice bare spots of metal without seasoning, you may need to simply reseason before cooking acidic foods again.

cooking an egg in a cast iron skillet


Many people complain when cooking eggs on cast iron because they stick. This issue can also be mitigated with proper seasoning. I cook eggs on a vintage pan every morning and they never stick. Newer pans do tend to have a rougher texture so they can have more of an issue with eggs sticking, but not to the extent that you should totally avoid cooking eggs.



Make this Farm Fresh Frittata in your cast iron skillet!


Glasstop Stoves


Many people believe that cast iron cannot be used on glasstop stoves. This is simply not true. You can absolutely cook on electrice/glasstop stoves with cast iron, but you need to take a couple of things into consideration.

  1. Cooking may take a few minutes longer than the recipe calls for.
  2. Be careful when moving the heavy pans so you don’t break the glass.

That’s it. Just cook the food a bit longer (than you would cook on a gas range) if needed and move the pans gently.

Soaking


This is the one that you SHOULD actually avoid. Soaking cast iron cookware in water can speed up the rusting process so try not to let it sit in the sink for too long.



Ultimately, while caring for cast iron may be slightly different than your normal kitchen routine, you’ll come to love the dance. It becomes an extension of who you are, and eventually, you’ll just tend to it without even realizing it.

When you finally reach the expert level of seasoning, you’ll think to yourself, so this is what a properly seasoned cast iron skillet looks like. And you’ll grin with joy. And you’ll wonder what took you so long to get to this point. You’ll have breakdowns. You’ll forget every now and then. But once you’ve been successful, you’ll never want an improperly seasoned skillet again. And you will realize that there is very little scrubbing involved…ever.

Cast iron, in the long run, makes our homestead run smoother. It’s one less dish to have to put into the sink (we don’t have a dishwasher). And it’s one more way to make our food taste even better!


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How to care for cast iron | washing, seasoning, and more


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