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How to Care for Cast Iron Skillets, Griddles and Cookware

A Guide to Proper Cast Iron Cleaning and Maintenance



Cast Iron Cookware

Photo © Erin Huffstetler

Cast iron cookware is as durable as it is frugal. Follow the proper cleaning and maintenance procedures, and your cookware will last for generations to come. Here’s what you need to know:

How to Clean Cast Iron

  1. Wash your cast iron in hot water immediately after use. Due to concerns over bacteria, I recommend washing with soapy water – though there are many cast iron users who feel it’s best to stick to water only. Whichever route you choose, be sure not to scrub too vigorously, and take care not to submerge the pan in water. This could cause damage to the seasoning on the pan.
  2. Dry your cookware completely. Cast iron will rust if it isn’t dried immediately after washing. Start by towel drying you cookware. Then, place it on the stove over low heat for a minute or two to pull out any remaining moisture. If desired, lightly coat the inside of the pan with oil, and heat for a minute or two longer. This will help to restore any seasoning that might have been lost during washing.
  3. Store with the lid off. To further protect against rusting, store your cookware with the lid off. Many cast iron users also recommending placing a paper towel inside the cookware to absorb any additional moisture that may be present – either in the pan or in the surrounding environment.

Cast Iron Maintenance Tips

  • cook over low heat, to avoid damage to the pan
  • use plastic or wooden cooking utensils to prevent scratching
  • remove acidic foods from your pans immediately after cooking, and wash promptly to prevent damage to the seasoning
  • do not store foods in cast iron, as this can break down the seasoning
  • never submerge cast iron in water
  • never put cold water in a hot pan; this can cause the pan to crack or warp
  • do not wash cast iron in the dishwasher

Troubleshooting Common Cast Iron Problems

My cast iron skillet is rusty; what causes this?
Rust indicates that a pan is not properly seasoned. This can occur when a pan is new and not fully broken in, and can also occur when the pan is scrubbed too hard or not dried adequately after washing. To remedy the problem, scrub or sand off the rust; then, reseason your pan.

Everything seems to stick to my skillet; why is this happening?
If food is sticking to your pan, it’s a sign that the pan isn’t fully seasoned. To achieve the desired no-stick surface, you’ll need to reseason your pan. You may also find it beneficial to lightly oil your pan before and after each use, and to cook fattier foods until a deep seasoning develops. Bare in mind: a true no-stick surface develops over time, and after much use.

I accidently cooked at too high of a temperature, and now my pan is one big, baked on mess; what’s the fix?
Start by scrubbing out all of the stuck on food, just as you would with any other pan. Then, once the pan is dry, evaluate the condition of the seasoning. Are there areas where the seasoning was removed? If so, you’ll need to reseason the pan before you can use it again.

The Bottom Line: Cast iron cookware is very forgiving. Learn how to clean and season your cast iron, and you’ll have it forever.

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