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How to Care for Cast Iron

Fancy pans don’t stand a chance in my house. I’m guilty of every non-stick sin possible.  I use metal spatulas and scrub with scouring pads. Despite my trouble with non-stick pans, I can’t bring myself to break the bank for professional stainless steel pans.

A few years ago I picked up an old rusty, cast iron skillet at a yard sale for $4. I knew nothing about cast iron, except that it can go from stove-top to oven with ease.  I definitely didn’t know how to clean the dirty rusty thing. But to my delight, it took a mere 10 minutes to salvage the timeless piece, and it has been a staple in my kitchen ever since.

Cast Iron is classic, durable, and extremely versatile. Most people shy away from it due to its high maintenance rumor. I’ve compiled an easy Cast Iron cleaning and caring tutorial, which could turn a $4 rusted pan into the last skillet you ever buy!

Cleaning

Don’t let the yucky rust scare you–there is so much life under there. Search yard sales, estate sales and thrift stores!  Three supplies needed to clean:

  • Coarse Salt. I prefer Sea Salt.
  • Cooking oil. Vegetable Oil or Olive Oil work best.
  • Paper Towels.

1. In the dry pan, pour an even ratio of salt and oil in the center. I usually start with ¼ cup of each.
2. Using 2-3 folded paper towels rub the salt mixture in small circular motions all over the inside and outside of the pan. Almost instantly you will see the rust lifting. Voila! It’s that easy!
3. You can add more oil or salt if needed. If you have a really rusty pan, you may want to repeat the entire process a second time.
4. Once you are completely satisfied with your clean rust free pan, throw out the salt mixture. Using a mild dish soap, give your pan a good washing to get rid of the last traces of rust and yuck.
5. Place your restored pan on the stove top over medium-low heat for about 3-5 minutes to dry. (Remember, that rust you just scrubbed off was caused by improper drying. Iron+Water=Rust.)
6. Remove pan from heat and let cool. While the pan is cooling, preheat your oven to 350 degrees to prepare for ‘Seasoning.’

Seasoning

Create your personal, safe, non-stick surface.

1. Coat the inside and the outside of the pan with an even layer of cooking oil; ideally the same type of oil you used to clean the pan.
2. Bake at 350 degrees for an hour.

Result: Shiny black cast iron and a surface that can compete with most pricey non-stick pans on the market. Now your pan is ready for use!

Caring

  • Washing with mild soap, and even a rough scrubber is perfectly safe for rugged cast iron.
  • Always dry your pan with heat to evaporate all traces of water.
  • Along with drying thoroughly after each use, regular seasoning is equally important in maintaining the integrity of your pan. You can season weekly, monthly, or whenever your pan looks a little dull.

This has been a guest post by Sylvia from Denver, CO
Find out more about the KCL Contributor Network!

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14 thoughts on “How to Care for Cast Iron”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Sylvia didn’t mention that some cast iron skillets are collector’s items (Griswald brand with series numbers) and are often found at yard sales and flea markets. We found an old rusty one among my husband’s grandmother’s stuff that was a Griswald.

    • I bought a large pan at a flea market – had to pay alot more than $4. for it but I new it was worth it. If I had been smart, when my mother passed away in 1983 I would have kept the many cast iron skillets that she had. Some I believe had been my grandmother’s. I just didn’t use my smarts! At that time I really didn’t have any place for storing a lot of extra items. I can remember many huge batches of fried tomatoes being made in cast iron pans at my grandmother’s. I made fried tomatoes but they never seemed to taste as good as I remembered hers tasting. I finally realized that it all had to do with the pan they were cooked in – cast iron.

  2. If you have a handyman or a metal shop guy around the house and if he has a sand blasting case, you can get rid of that rust very easily without using harsh chemicals to get rid of the rust. Then proceed with seasoning your pan. It will last forever if you take care of it. I have a huge pan from the 1920′s- 1930′s that I use regularly for Irish potatoes. :)

  3. Thank you so much for this. I bought a Dutch oven with lid, a griddle and a 2 qt sauce pan with lid at a yard sale for $10 that looked like yuck. Figured we could use them for camping. Now that I know how to clean and season, it might not leave my kitchen!

  4. Barbe Hayes says:

    I have 2 of my Grandma’s cast iron skillets…Had 3 but son already made off with one.  We both love cooking in it.  All we use except pots for veggies or potatoes.  These also will be passed down again.

  5. Thanks for all your tips….love love them!

  6. I haven’t gotten rid of mine for just this reason! Its in awful shape but we got it as a wedding gift 19 years ago and I hoped one day to find a way to salvage it from the rust!

  7. Anonymous says:

    NEVER, EVER, EVER use soap to clean an iron skillet after seasoning!!!!!.  You can use Coca- Cola (regular, not diet) to clean the pan.  Leave in a cold skillet for about 20 minutes.  Then you can use very little soap to get the sticky out.  Season with good ole lard, turn upside down on a foil covered rack in a 400 degree oven for about an hour.  You’ll get the black patena you’re looking for!  This is how my grandmother always did her’s and they’ve been passed down to the second and third generations!

  8. Lolita Mia says:

    I love cast iron cooking, Our Household has replaced little by
    little the nice pots and got rid of all aluminum and non-stick pans to the old
    Cast Iron and I have gotten some new ones from Walmart… MADE IN THE USA!!! Still looking for more old ones for my collection especially utensils. Thank You Krazy Coupon Ladys

  9. Do NOT use soap to clean your cast iron pans after they have been scrubbed of rust and seasoned. That’s the worst and the flavor will set into your seasoned pan. To regularly clean your pan just use very hot water, scrub it clean, dry with a paper towel, and then reheat on the stove top with oil.

  10. Instead of cooking oil for seasoning, I recommend lard.  The coating is far less sticky, and it lasts a long time.  I’ve read that you can also use bacon grease, but I’ve never tried it, so I can’t attest to its usefulness.

  11. kim sawyers says:

    Thanks for this information.  I have an entire set that was passed down to me that wasn’t pre-seasoned.  I’ve had it for almost 20 years, now that I know how to properly season them, I will do it this weekend.  I can’t wait to start using them.  Thank again!

  12. Anonymous says:

    I remember watching mom “season” her cast iron skillet and the time and care she took to keep it in good condition. If treated right, those pans will last a lifetime!

  13. I love my cast iron skillet. I have had it for over 20 yrs. and it gets better every time I use it! I will pass this skillet on to my daughter someday as she wants one also, but wants it preseasoned for 20 yrs. like mine. lol, patience my little girl, patience!