While cast iron cookware is known for being a good conductor of heat, its durability and ability to evenly and efficiently retain heat also make this cookware a lasting choice for cooks of all levels. While home cooks who are new to cast iron may find the idea of caring for and seasoning their cookware intimidating, with proper maintenance, cast iron cookware is a durable choice that can last a lifetime.

Seasoning – Why It’s Needed and How to Do It:

Cast iron is not a smooth surface; it is filled with microscopic holes and edges that expand when heated, which can cause foods to stick if used without any oil or seasoning. Seasoning your pan involves applying a layer of oil which penetrates the cast iron surface, filling in the holes and creating a smooth, almost non-stick cook surface. It will also prevent the iron from rusting, further extending the life of your pan.

For a simple method for seasoning your cast iron pan, follow these steps:
  1. Preheat your oven to 375°F/190°C.
  2. Clean the pan with dish soap and water and wipe dry.
  3. Dip a paper towel in 1 tablespoon vegetable oil or vegetable shortening and rub on the pan’s surface and all over both sides.
  4. Place a drip tray on the lower shelf of the oven and place the cast iron pan, inverted, on the rack above.
  5. Leave the pan in the oven for 1 hour then turn off the oven.
  6. Allow the pan to completely cool in the oven.
  7. Repeat the process as necessary to build up a good seasoning layer.
  8. Once cooled, your pan is now ready to use.
You may be familiar with an “old school” process that involves rubbing a salt and oil mixture onto a hot pan. While this method was common in previous decades, it is no longer recommended as cooking oils have a flash point that, if reached, could cause the oil in the pan to combust. Additionally, the oil and salt mix can be a burn hazard, as it remains very hot during the rubbing and removal of the mixture.

As always, it is recommended to consult the instructions that come with your cookware before seasoning for the first time.

How to Get the Best Results from Cast Iron Cookware:

As with any cookware, it’s best to preheat your cast iron pan, then add the fat prior to adding your food. Monitor the heat carefully as it will take longer for a cast iron pan to respond to the adjustment of heat.

Cast iron pans are extremely versatile and can be used on almost any cooking surface – indoors and out – and can handle heat as high as 500°F/260°C. But be careful not to leave it on high heat for extended periods of time, especially without food inside; overheating your pan can cause the seasoning to come off.

Refrain from using metal utensils on cast iron as they can scratch the surface and remove the seasoning; use with wood, silicone or heat-resistant nylon utensils instead.

Care and Maintenance:

While many cast iron pans come pre-seasoned, as with all cookware, your cast iron pan should be washed prior to use. Some recommendations indicate dish soap is to be avoided as it contains grease-breaking properties that can remove the seasoning from the pan, and instead, to simply wipe the pan clean. However, this depends on what was cooked and what residue needs to be removed.

For quick everyday cleaning, wiping the pan with a paper towel or giving it a quick rinse and drying immediately is often sufficient. When cleaning up after cooking particularly saucy, sticky, or greasy foods, it is suggested to go ahead and use dish soap, along with a mild abrasive scrub pad. If the cleaning is gentle and brief, the pan should re-season itself when next preheated, or, if clean-up needs to be more aggressive, the pan may need to be re-seasoned by repeating the process above. Never soak cast iron to get off stubborn messes – this can cause rusting.

Always be sure to completely dry your cast iron pan before storing it. To prevent the pan from oxidizing, you may rub a very thin film of vegetable oil into the surface prior to storing. By following these instructions and performing regular maintenance on your cast iron cookware, these pieces will become your go-to tools in the kitchen for years to come.