Why do I need a cast iron skillet?

When I first began learning how to cook, anyone that had any professional experience in a kitchen would tell me that if I could only have ONE type of pot or pan at my disposal, the cast iron skillet was the one to choose. From braising to baking to searing to frying, this pan can do virtually anything. It can be used on any surface, from the stove, to the oven, to the grill, to even over an open fire while camping!

Some people tend to steer clear of the cast iron skillet because they think it seems high-maintenance or complicated. It just takes a couple of simple steps, however, to master the art of conditioning and maintaining this atypical pan, and once you learn, the return on investment is immeasurable.

So let’s get started!

 

I just got my first cast iron skillet… What do I do?

Wash and season it of course!

  1. First things first: wash it.
    • Use warm water, soap, and a sponge to wash the pan thoroughly. But keep in mind, this initial wash is the ONLY time that you should use dish soap on your pan
  1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Use about 2 Tbsp. of vegetable oil or shortening to coat the inside, outside, and bottom of the pan. You can spread the oil using a cloth or paper towel
    • I would recommend using a cloth, because paper towel will sometimes leave white lint behind
  1. Place the pan upside down on the center rack in your oven and bake for one hour.
    • Make sure to put a piece of aluminum foil underneath the pan in order to catch any oil drippings
  1. When the hour is up, turn off of the oven and leave the pan inside until it cools completely.
  2. Tada! Redo these steps periodically to keep your cast iron skillet pristine. When in doubt about if it’s time to reseason, good indicators to look for are food sticking to the pan or rust appearing on the skillet.

 

Wait, you just said I can’t use soap. How do I clean my cast iron skillet after I’m done cooking with it?
  1. Rule number one: Don’t soak it in water! This causes rust!
  2. Clean the skillet when it’s still hot, before the food has a chance to cool and harden on the surface
  3. Use warm water and a stiff brush to wash off excess food. DO NOT use soap or steel wool, as this will destroy the finish on the pan
  4. Dry immediately and thoroughly
  5. Using a cloth, apply a small amount of vegetable oil or shortening to the inside of the pan. Leave this oil inside the pan and store in a dry place
  6. If you are stacking the pan, be sure to place a level of protection (a cloth or padding) between the pan and those stacked around it. This will save the finish, and allow the pan’s seasoning to last longer

 

Help! My food is too stuck on my pan to come off with just water and a brush! And I see some rust!

Have no fear! We can fix this!

Sometimes water and a brush is no match for big globs of hardened cheese or leftover bacon grease. In these cases, you can make a paste with coarse kosher salt and water. Use this paste with your stiff brush to attack and remove the food residue. You can also boil water inside of the pan to loosen tough stragglers.

If there’s rust on your skillet, cut a potato in half and rub it across the inside of the pan. Then sprinkle baking soda across the surface. Rub the iron with fine steel wool until all of the rust is removed and you uncover the cast iron that is hidden below the rust. Then follow the previous steps to reseason your skillet.

 

Do you have any more tips for me?

Yes, just a few miscellaneous things!

  1. Be careful cooking with acidic foods. This will destroy your finish quicker than working with other foods
  2. A cast iron skillet is best when heated up slowly. As the skillet warms up, there will be pockets of heat, so wait to start cooking until it has had ample time to heat up. Be careful after this, though! The handle will be hot, so ALWAYS use oven mitts when transporting a recently-used skillet
  3. If taken care of properly, the cast iron skillet can last for decades

So there you have it! Taking care of a cast iron skillet isn’t as hard as you thought. Follow these simple steps, and you should be able to use your skillet for a lifetime.