I’ve known for years that Teflon coated pans were bad for me and the environment, but committing to cast iron seemed like it would be complicated and expensive. I knew that they could rust if you left food in them too long, that they needed to be seasoned or things would stick, and that they were heavy. That was all the rationale necessary for me to avoid them. I tried buying other alternatives to Teflon, like the pans that said they were coated with “green” or “ecofriendly” materials. Once these started to scratch I began to realize that I had no idea what was in these coatings either, and I didn’t trust that they were any better than my original problematic Teflon.
So I finally made the leap to cast iron. I picked up a large cast iron skillet in a second hand store for only $1 and then next day I happened to find one for $12 at a different second hand store. These two pans were rusted and dirty, but luckily cast iron can be cleaned up and used again and again.
Below are some tips on how to clean, season, and care for your new or used cast iron.
If you have bought new cast iron that has been pre-seasoned skip these steps, and scroll down to find more tips on cleaning your seasoned cast iron.
If your pan is rusty:
- Use a piece of steel wool (I have a brush with steel bristles) and scrub off all of the rust.
- Once your pan is rust free, wash it thoroughly with soap and hot water.
This will be the first and last time you will need to use soap to wash your cast iron. Once you have seasoned your pan you won’t want to use soap because it will wash off the seasoning.
Once your pan is clean and free of rust it needs to be seasoned:
The seasoning on a pan is basically just a layer of oil that coats the metal and prevents food from sticking. All you’ll need is a rag, some oil, your unseasoned pan, and an oven.
- Preheat your oven to about 325-350 degrees Fahrenheit
- Take a rag or piece of cloth and dip it in an oil of your choice. I use coconut oil, but you could also use oils like olive oil or butter.
- Rub a thin layer of oil all around the bottom and sides of your pan.
- Place your pan upside down in your preheated oven for an hour.
You may want to put a sheet pan underneath to prevent the oil from dripping into your oven.
- Remove your pan from the oven and allow to cool.
- Once your pan has cooled repeat steps 2-5 once more.
- Use your newly seasoned pan.
If the layer of oil is too thick it can pool together and create spots that aren’t seasoned correctly. If this occurs, simply take your rag and rub these spots down until they are even with the rest of the coating and put your pan back into your heated oven for an hour.
Once your pan has been seasoned food is less likely to stick. The more you use your pan with oil, the better seasoning you will have. The more you wash your pan with soap, the more your seasoning will wash off.
Cleaning your seasoned cast iron:
- Wash your pan with hot water and a rag.
Washing your pan with hot water while it is still warm (not hot) is the easiest way to clean cast iron. Forgo the soap, and instead use baking soda or some coarse salt if needed.
- Dry your cast iron immediately after washing to avoid rusting.
I turn my oven onto the lowest setting and place my wet pans into it for a few minutes to speed up the drying process. You could also use a towel to wipe them dry, but I find that this wipes the seasoning off and stains my towels.
- Once dry, rub a thin layer of oil over the inside of your pan.
I don’t always do this, mostly because I am lazy, but it will help to keep your pans seasoned.
- Store them in a dry cupboard.
- Do not store food in them or the moisture from the food may start to form rust.
Instead, store food that has been cooked in cast iron in a glass bowl or some other type of container.
If you do end up using soap, or you leave it wet for too long and rust starts to form, don’t worry. If it’s just a small amount of rust you can simply scour the rust off with your steel wool, rinse and dry your pan, and then rub on a small amount of oil. If the rust keeps returning or you find lots of it, just go back up to the top of this article and follow the instructions for getting rid of rust and re-seasoning your pan.
I’ve come to realize all my worries about cast iron weren’t as bad as I thought. Cast iron is heavier than my old pans, but it’s not unmanageable. It does need seasoned, but seasoning is easy and can be repeated as necessary. It does rust if you leave water or food in it for too long, but if you dry it right away you can avoid this. All of the things that I thought would make cast iron too complicated to be worth using, are actually quite simple.
With the proper care your cast iron will last you a life time.