Seasoning and Maintaining Your Cast-Iron Skillet

Reader Contribution by Kirsten Lie-Nielsen and Days Ferry Organics
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Home cooks and chefs alike rave about using cast iron in the kitchen. The sturdy, durable skillets are an ideal way to cook a wide variety of meals. A skillet in the kitchen will quickly become integral to your breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Why is cast iron so desirable? It is naturally non-stick when seasoned correctly, it can withstand even the hottest oven temperatures, it’s durable, and much more. Cast iron can be used in an oven with temperatures up to 500 degrees, making it a great way to cook casseroles and roasts. This also means you can use the skillet as a stove-top grill or do any kind of frying. The iron of the skillet not only will get burning hot, ideal for searing, but it will maintain that heat throughout the cooking process and distribute the warmth evenly across the pan.

A versatile dish, cast iron can fry eggs or toast, cook a steak, or sear up a stir fry. You can often find quality cast iron at a yard sale or antique shop, and because of it’s sturdy material it will last you a lifetime.

Not only does cooking with cast iron have all of the above benefits, but it is also going to save you from buying soap. Cast iron is seasoned with oil, so using soap can actually be detrimental to the skillet. While it is a myth that using soap on your cast iron will ruin the pan, it is both easy and efficient to clean your cast iron without soap.

Before you start cleaning or cooking in your skillet, you need to make sure it is properly seasoned. Most new cast iron will come seasoned, but many older pans will need some love before being put in your kitchen and even seasoning new pans is recommended

To season your cast iron, you will actually be using dish soap. You’ll also need your oven, a dry cloth, some vegetable oil (flaxseed is best), and a sponge. Heat up your oven to 325 degrees and wash the skillet thoroughly out with dish soap and a sponge. Rinse and dry the pan, and then apply a thick coat of vegetable oil. Place the skillet upside down in your oven and heat the pan up for an hour. After an hour, turn the heat in the oven off and allow the pan to cool naturally before removing it. Depending on the condition of your pan, you may have to repeat this process a few times. The result you’re looking for is a smooth, almost shiny semi-matte finish on the pan.

Now that your skillet’s been seasoned, you can start cooking in it! There are a few guidelines for maintaining a cast iron skillet. Because it’s iron, your skillet can rust and shouldn’t be soaked or left with food remains for a long period of time. The general rule is to wash your cast iron pans immediately after dinner, while they are still warm. You can remove food remains with a clean sponge or by using some kosher salt and a dish towel. Use hot water, but no soap.

Once you’ve removed the food from your skillet, a few quick steps take the place of other dish’s scrub down and soapy rinse. Dry your skillet off with a dish towel or paper towels, and take extra care to make sure it is completely dry. Even a little moisture can lead to rust issues down the road. To open the pores in the cast iron and keep it well seasoned, set the pan on your cook stove at a low temperature for a few minutes, until it is heated through. To re-season it, use a paper towel to evenly spread a layer of vegetable oil (again, flaxseed oil is the most commonly recommended) over the pan’s surface. Use a dry corner of the towel to remove excess oil, and make sure to always store your cast iron in a dry location.

It might seem like a lot of work to maintain cast iron, but after the initial seasoning it is simply a matter of maintaining a cleaning regime. If you think about it, the quick oiling process to keep a skillet in good season takes only a few seconds more than soaping and the pan’s ready to go again.

You’ll be amazed how often you turn to your cast iron skillet, for every meal of the day. This little pan will last you a lifetime, and be an a key ingredient in many of your recipes. 

Kirsten Lie-Nielsen currently farms 2 acres of a suburban homestead using geese for weeding and guarding purposes, raising chickens for eggs, bees for honey, and maintaining vegetable gardens for personal use. Recently she has begun work restoring an old barn and 100 acres of overgrown fields in hopes of farming full time in the future. Find her online at Days Ferry Organics Blog, and read all of Kirsten’s posts here.

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