Ask any chef and you’ll get the same answer — cast iron cookware is essential when it comes to gourmet cooking. Not only does cast iron always cook food at an even temperature, but it can be used over any heat source (including a campfire). Did we mention that cast iron, when taken care of properly, can last for 100 years or more? Think about it: if you buy a cast iron skillet tomorrow, your great-great-grandchildren may one day use it to cook their own gourmet meals. The key to that, though is taking care of it. Taking care of cast iron means two things — knowing how to properly season your cast iron and knowing how to clean it.
Below, we cover both so that whatever cast iron cookware you’re about to buy will last many, many years into the future.
How to Season Cast Iron
Though cast iron may seem indestructible, it has a few weak points. If you wash your skillet like any other pan, for example, exposure to oxygen and moisture will result in rust. To maximize the longevity of your cast iron cookware, you need to give it a protective, shiny, non-stick coat of fat. This process — known as seasoning — is easier than you think. Here’s how:
- Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Thoroughly wash your new skillet using an abrasive sponge or brush, hot water, and soap. This is the only time you will use soap to clean your skillet.
- Immediately rinse your skillet and dry it with a towel. Be sure to designate a particular towel or rag for this purpose, as cast iron tends to stain cloth.
- Use a paper towel to apply a coat of shortening or oil to all surfaces of your skillet (even the handle). Crisco and vegetable oil work fine, but flaxseed oil is best.
- Lay a sheet of aluminum foil on the bottom rack of your oven. This will catch any oil drops that fall during the seasoning process.
- Once preheating is complete, place your skillet upside down on the top rack of your oven.
- Bake for one hour.
- Turn off the heat and let the skillet cool inside the oven. Do not try to cool the skillet with ice or cold water, as this could cause cracking and warping.
- For the best results, repeat steps No. 4 through No. 8 twice or even three times.
Note: You should season your new cast iron cookware the moment you pull it from the box. If your cast iron is “pre-seasoned,” re-season it once food starts to stick.
How to Clean and Maintain Cast Iron
Though seasoning is important, it’s not the only important aspect of cast iron cookware maintenance. Keep the following tips in mind as you cook with, clean, and store your cast iron skillet.
- Refrain from cooking tomatoes and acidic sauces with your skillet after seasoning. You should first build up the seasoning by frying chicken, bacon, or other high-fat foods.
- Do not boil water with your cast iron skillet — this will cause it to rust.
- After each use, wait until your skillet cools to a sufficient temperature, then rinse it with warm water. Use a sponge or non-metal brush with coarse salt to scrape off leftover food debris. Do not use soap and do not let your skillet soak.
- Thoroughly dry the skillet and apply a thin layer of vegetable oil before storing. Do not store your cast iron cookware with the lid on, as the iron needs to “breathe.” Instead, you can protect your cookware from dust by covering it with a paper towel.
- If your cast iron skillet develops rust, don’t worry! Scrub off the rust with steel wool and immediately re-season your skillet. Extensive rust may require more substantial restoration measures.
- Don’t neglect your skillet — use it as often as you can to prevent the seasoning from going bad. Fortunately, cast iron cookware is extremely versatile; you can use it to fry, sear, or bake just about anything (including monkey bread).
If you’re ready to get serious about cooking, you’ll need cast iron cookware in your kitchen. Considering that cast iron lasts forever and doesn’t require a whole lot of maintenance, a good skillet is certainly a worthwhile investment. If you go camping often, we also recommend investing in this amazing cast iron pan.