Cast iron care is critical to keep your cookware in good working order. Cast iron cookware is a wonderful accouterments for the outdoor, or indeed, indoor, chef. Naturally non-stick when used and maintained properly, cast iron can add trace amounts of iron to one’s food. Its best quality is that it heats evenly and thoroughly. It does, however, require a type of treatment unique among cookware. Cast iron pans are almost never meant to be washed (aside from possibly at first usage). Instead, they must be seasoned, which means melting lard into tiny crevices in the metal. Done properly, this will keep your cookware rust and bacteria-free and reliable for a lifetime. Bear in mind there are several different schools of thought when it comes to cast iron care. I follow this method and my pans are doing great. However, I think the use of salt to clean your pans is a great method, but since I have not tried it I do not mention it. I also find its use a bit wasteful so I follow these methods instead.

Cast Iron Care – Seasoning

Some cast iron cookware comes pre-seasoned. If your pan is specifically labeled as pre-seasoned then you are set, but if not, then follow these simple steps for great cast iron care in seasoning your new cookware:

  1. Wash the pan with soap and hot water. This is important because cast iron which isn’t pre-seasoned often comes with a coat of wax to protect it from rust. This should be the only time soap ever touches your pan!
  2. Dry the pan thoroughly with a towel then allow the pan to completely air dry before proceeding.
  3. Grease your pan all over, inside and out. I prefer to use shortening, but lard or bacon grease may also be used. Liquid oil (such as vegetable oil) is not recommended. If you find yourself in a pinch, you can use butter or Canola oil. Use a paper towel to spread a nice thin coat over the entire surface. Be careful not to miss any spot, as this coating will protect your cookware from rust.
  4. Heat your oven to 350° and place the pan in the oven.
  5. Remove the pan from the oven after one hour. Wipe off any excess grease.
    Allow to cool moderately.
  6. Apply a fresh layer of grease, and place your pan back in the oven. Let it bake for another hour.

Most cast iron manufacturers recommend you repeat this process several times to get a well sealed seasoning on your pans. The first couple of times you use the pan you should cook foods with a high fat content, such as bacon. This will help the seasoning bond to the pan. At any time should the need arise for you to use soap on your cast iron, simply re-season your pans following the steps listed above.

The wax coating on a new Dutch oven. The initial washing should be the only time soap touches your cast iron. Good cast iron care starts with this step.

Cast iron Dutch oven before seasoning

Use a paper towel to spread a nice, thin, even coat.  Cover the entire pan, including the legs.

Seasoning a cast iron pan

Be careful not to miss any spots! Heat your pan for an hour at 350°F (176°C), then apply more grease and heat for another hour.

Cast Iron Care – Cleaning

Soap should never be used to clean seasoned cast iron unless it is absolutely unavoidable, as it will break down the seasoning. Instead, while your pan is still warm, run hot water on it and scrape out any remaining food particles. I find that a steel wool pad is at times the only thing that will get food residue out, although some recommend against it. The choice is yours. Another cleaning method is to boil water in the pan. This has the added benefit of killing any bacteria there might be on the pan.  If soap must be used then re-season the pan.

After cleaning, make sure the pan is completely dry. Wipe it with a towel and let it air dry for a while, then add a teaspoon or two of fat or Canola oil and spread a thin layer around the pan. This not only helps keep the seasoning intact but also is instrumental in storing the pan and preventing rust.

Cast Iron Care – Storing

Store oiled pans uncovered in an open, dry area. If you store your pans with a lid on moisture can build up and cause the pans to rust. If your pans do rust, clean with soap and water and steel wool to remove the rust and re-season.