Well-seasoned cast iron takes time, patience and care. Once you have the routine down, it’s actually pretty simple.
Cast iron is a tough, versatile material that is exceptional at conducting hot, even heat. The process of seasoning your skillet goes something like this: When you heat your pan, the pores open up and absorb the oils and fats from what you’re cooking. Over time, these oils combine with the porous surface and create an easy-release surface that is harder and smoother than cast iron on its own.
To help you get the most out of your pans (and keep them in good cooking shape), here are a few dos and don’ts to live by when it comes to cast iron.
Use dish soap—really!
If you only rinse your skillet, bacteria can grow or grease residue can go rancid. For best practice, get right to it. Clean the skillet immediately while it’s still hot or warm. Use a minimal amount of dish soap and wash the skillet using hot water and a stiff sponge or brush. Be sure to rinse thoroughly and dry well.
Rub the cast iron skillet with oil before storing.
After washing and carefully drying your cast iron skillet, use a paper towel to apply a very thin layer of neutral oil like flaxseed, soybean or vegetable oil. Store it until ready to use again.
Season your pans twice a year.
In addition to keeping your pans well-greased after cooking, it’s a good idea to give your pans a full seasoning twice a year. Lay a sheet of aluminum foil on the bottom rack of your oven. Preheat to 400° and while you wait, drizzle a few table spoons of vegetable oil in your skillet and spread it evenly across the inside of the pan with a paper towel. Bake upside down on a rack for 1 hour. Let it cool completely in the oven before storing in a safe spot.
Use it on your grill.
For the best crusty sear on a steak or a burger, you need surface area. Let your cast iron skillets preheat on your grill grate until they are nice and hot. Then use them on the grill just as you could on your stovetop. The cast iron’s flat, even surface will give you that perfect char while still getting the smoky flavor from the grill.
Don’t have a grate? You can lay it right on top of the coals or burning logs. This makes it perfect for camping if you’re able to lug it around. Just be sure to have a long spatula or tongs to work with!
Using metal utensils.
We all know to not use metal utensils on an enamel-coated cookware. However, it’s O.K. to use a metal spatula or tongs on cast iron—the seasoned surface actually protects the metal.
Put your pans away wet.
Attention: if we only get across on thing in this blog—this is it! Water will gather in the bottom of the skillet and rust. This also goes for letting your pans air-dry on your stove top. If the cast iron is still damp after drying with a towel, set it over a low flame until completely dry.
Put your pans in the dishwasher.
A dishwasher is too harsh and can potentially strip the surface of your skillet so don’t even think about it.
Let your pans soak.
Keep your pan out of the sink until you’re ready to clean it. Excessive soaking can cause rust. Like we mentioned above, it’s best to clean your skillet immediately.
Use it to cook acidic foods.
Acidic foods, such as tomatoes, beans and large amounts of citrus juice can potentially strip the surface of a skillet that is not heavily seasoned and make the food taste metallic. If you have a relatively new skillet, save these cooking jobs for your stainless steel or enameled pans.
Let your pan get sticky.
If the surface of your skillet feels sticky from oil, then the skillet isn’t properly seasoned and it can cause the fat on the surface to flake off. To fix this, follow the seasoning process mentioned above.
You have stuck food too tough for dish soap…
Try scrubbing your cast iron with a few tablespoons of oil, kosher salt and a paper towel. When the salt looks black and dirty, then rinse and dry well.
Your pan gets rusty…
Gently remove the rust with a super fine steel wool pad. Then rinse, dry and proceed with the seasoning process mentioned above.
Keep up with Schultz’s Gourmet @schultzsgourmet on Instagram and Facebook!
A version of this blog originally ran on Food & Wine