There are a number of advantages to cooking with a cast iron pan. They are naturally non-stick (once you season them), they create amazing sear, they fortify your food with iron, they’re cost effective and they’re virtually indestructible. To make sure that your cast iron pan lasts long into the future, you need to treat it with care – and the main aspect of this process is making sure to season it regularly and clean it properly!
Have You Seasoned Your Cast Iron Pan?
Seasoning your cast iron pan is essential if you want it to be naturally non-stick and protected from rust. Basically, seasoning is a layer of grease that is baked into the pan’s surface. The process is really simple – all you need to do is:
- Scrub the pan well in hot soapy water.
- Dry thoroughly.
- Spread a thin layer of vegetable oil over the pan with a pastry brush.
- Place the pan upside down on a middle oven rack at 190ºC. Place foil on the lower rack to catch drips.
- Bake for 1 hour, then let it cool in the oven.
If you’d like to see the process in action, check out this video. Each time you cook with oil or fat, this seasoning builds up – eventually, your cast iron pan will be almost as nonstick as a Teflon pan.
Hard-earned seasoning can come off if a cast iron pan is washed incorrectly. Here are some tips for cleaning your cast iron thoroughly without stripping off the seasoning:
Clean it immediately after use
Ideally, you should rinse your cast iron pan as soon as you finish cooking (once it has cooled down enough to handle it safely). This will prevent food from hardening and sticking to the pain. You can add a cup of hot water to the pain while you wait for the handle to cool down, as this will loosen any food remnants.
Don’t let it soak for too long
Although it is tempting to immerse the pan in warm, soapy water while you eat, this should be avoided. Cast iron is not rust proof, so you should always aim to minimise the amount of contact it has with water. Also, you should never clean a cast iron pan in the dishwasher.
Use hot water and soap
Many people will tell you not to use soap to clean your cast iron pan, as they think it will remove the seasoning. However, in a properly seasoned pan, the oil has broken down into a resilient, plastic-like substance that has bonded to the surface of the metal. Using soap briefly should not drastically affect this substance – even if soap does slightly strip away the seasoning, cast iron is re-seasoned every time you cook with it, so this really shouldn’t be an issue.
Don’t use an abrasive scourer
Although soap isn’t likely to strip away your seasoning – abrasive metal scourers just might. We recommend that you avoid using scrubbers like scouring pads or steel wool and instead use a stiff nylon brush when you need to remove tough residue.
Do dry it well and oil it down
Once you have washed your pan, wipe it down with a cloth or paper towel right away. This prevents rusting. You can also set the pan on a heated burner for a minute or 2 until all it has dried. If you want to go the extra mile, you can also reinforce your seasoning after a wash by applying heating the pan on the burner and then adding a light coat of vegetable oil.
Remember, a little rust or scrubbed off seasoning isn’t the end of the world – you can always scrub off the rust and re-season the pan. With a little care, your cast iron pan can last you a lifetime.
The information in this post is adapted from Taste of Home and Serious Eats.