If you think cast iron skillets are intimidating, then think again. They’re not as fragile as some people say. Sure, learning how to clean cast iron requires time and a little effort. But its versatility, performance and toughness make up for it. And the best thing is, you can always restore it in case of a kitchen or camp cooking mishap! Here’s a list of dos and don’ts to live by, so you can pass down this heirloom-quality cookware to future cooks in the family.
How to Care for Cast Iron Skillets
What I love about these kitchen workhorses is the fact that they are virtually indestructible. Even the clumsiest of cooks are no match for their seamless, pure metal construction. Plus, their cooking results get better with age. But like any other pot or pan, cast iron cookware needs the proper care (and perhaps, the extra love!). So, I’ve rounded up some of our common mistakes or problems with cast iron skillets and the care tips to remedy them.
- Don’t store your cast iron pans wet.
Water and our seasoned cookware don’t mix. Water spots are to stainless steel, and rust is to cast iron. So, air drying is a big no-no. Instead, immediately dry your cast iron skillets with a kitchen towel after washing. To make sure no moisture is left, let them dry over a low flame.
- Do use them for dry cooking.
Water-based cooking like boiling, steaming and poaching are not your cast iron’s expertise. Keeping it exposed to water for too long means an increased risk of rusting. So, let it do what it does best, like frying, searing, sautéing, roasting, grilling and baking.
- Do reseason them after every use.
When your cast iron skillets are all clean and dry, get a paper towel to cover their entire surface, inside and out, with a thin layer of cooking oil. You can use vegetable oil or any neutral oil like flaxseed or soybean. Seasoning spray is also good. Storing a seasoned cast iron pan will prevent rust from developing or returning.
- Don’t throw your rusty pan away.
It’s neither the end of the world for you nor the waste bin for your rusty cast iron. Use metal scouring pads or steel wool instead to scrub the affected area. You can use a small amount of dish soap when needed. Just make sure to rinse and dry it thoroughly with a dish towel after. Then do the same seasoning process described earlier.
Afterwards, place your skillet upside-down on the oven rack and heat it at 350F to 400F for 45 minutes. Put aluminium foil at the lower rack to catch drips of oil. The heat should open up the pores of your pan, allowing the baked-on cooking oil to be absorbed and create a smoother cooking surface.
- Don’t put your cast iron pans in the dishwasher.
The combined cleaning cycle and harsh detergents of your dishwasher can throw your well-earned seasoning efforts down the drain. The damaged coating can also affect the flavour of your delicious recipes. So, make sure to stick to hand washing when you clean cast iron.
- Do avoid using it for cooking very acidic or alkaline food.
Lodge cookware noted that cooking large amounts of tomatoes, citrus or beans can break down the initial layers of your new cast iron. It may also cause discolouration, dark residue or a metallic after taste to your one-pan comfort food. You can, however, do it once the pan is well seasoned. Better yet, reserve your tomato-based dishes to your stainless steel or enamelled cast iron cookware.
- Do use pan protectors when stacking.
If you’re stacking your cast iron skillets to save storage space, a pan protector in between can prevent scratches. It can also protect the seasoning layer and absorb excess moisture. To save money, you can layer your cast iron pans with paper towels instead.
- Do wash it with little soap and reseason when needed.
Contrary to popular belief, you can occasionally wash your cast iron with mild detergent and warm water. Doing this can help wash away stickiness and prepare your pan for reseasoning. When dry, apply a light coat of oil and heat it in a 400F oven for an hour. Let it cool inside before storing.
- Do use neutral oil when seasoning your cast iron.
Heating a thin coating of oil with a high smoke point creates a smooth and clean cast-iron surface. So, avoid seasoning it with olive oil or butter, and use canola oil or melted vegetable shortening instead.
- Don’t submerge a very hot pan in cold water.
Warped cookware happens with extreme temperature changes. So, to keep your skillets flat and well-shaped, avoid overheating them. And after cooking, let them cool down for a while before washing them with dishwashing soap and running water.
Stuck-on food particles
- Don’t soak them excessively.
The let-it-soak-in-the-sink-overnight trick won’t work for our cast iron pans. We’ll only end up with a rusty skillet or Dutch oven. So, start scrubbing and washing when the pans are no longer too hot. Removing stuck-on food is also easier while the pans are still warm.
- Do use hot water and scrub brush.
For extra troublesome food remnants on cast iron grill pans, remove them with hot soapy water, stiff brush and a little elbow grease. The hot water should soften the stubborn bits, while your scrubbing lifts them off the pan. You can also simmer the pan with a little water for a few minutes.
- Do the salt scrub technique.
For additional scrubbing power, you can sprinkle the surface with coarse kosher salt and a small amount of oil. These should create a paste as you scrub the surface with your kitchen sponge, metal scrubber or brush. It helps when you do this with your cast iron pan still warm. Also, this cleaning technique works when removing little rusty spots on your skillet.
- Do use enough oil when cooking.
Your cast iron needs time to develop its nonstick finish. So, until it does, make sure to cook with a well-oiled, preheated surface when searing or pan-frying to avoid stuck-on food bits. Keep an eye on it when cooking high-sugar food to prevent burning. Lastly, your cast iron skillets can get pretty hot on high heat because of the all-metal surface. Adjust the temperature when needed.