My grandmother used to cook everything on a cast iron skillet. I couldn’t understand this because there were plenty of non-stick skillets to choose from. She was insistent though and never changed her ways. After becoming an adult and living a few years, I began to understand the appeal.
Why use a cast iron skillet?
- They are practically indestructible. This means that you can scrape food off of them with any scrubber that you want and it won’t harm the skillet. If food is really stuck on, pull out that metal scraper and scrape to your heart's content.
- They can go from the burner to the oven without a problem. So many wonderful recipes call for a stovetop start and then be transferred to the oven. Not many skillets can handle this transition but a cast iron skillet has no trouble at all.
- They last forever. A cast iron skillet can literally be passed down through the generations. The lifespan of a nonstick may be long-lasting, but for generations? No way.
- They are cheap. The best-selling cast iron skillet on Amazon is under $25 and has over 13,000 positive reviews.
- Cast iron skillets distribute heat evenly. This feature can be challenging to find even in the most expensive pans. With cast iron skillets you don’t have to worry about hot spots.
- Why season a cast iron skillet? It helps keep food from sticking the next time you use it.
Why season a cast iron pan?
- Cast iron rusts, so you are basically "weather-proofing" the metal. Even a little water left on the surface will leave a rust spot.
- If you see a lot rust on your pan, or you are "gifted" with an old cast iron pan, you can use steel wool to scrub it off. A little bit of rust can be removed with a disposable rag and cooking oil. One your rust is gone, you can re-season the pan.
- Seasoning helps keep food from sticking to the bottom of the cast iron pan. See the steps below to learn how to season your pan to maintain the finish.
- The fat and high heat you will use to season the pan create a "polymer" that protects the pan from the oxidizing effects of food, water, and air.
What kind of oil to season a cast iron skillet?
Frankly, you can use whatever kind of food-grade oil that you prefer. Lard has always been a popular option for cast iron skillets over the years. Ever see a can or jar of bacon grease on the stove and wonder what's up? It seasons a cast iron skillet really well and adds a bacon flavor to whatever you cook next. (Win-win.) Try seasoning your cast iron skillet with olive oil, coconut oil, or avocado oil.
How to season a cast iron skillet on the stovetop
When seasoning a cast iron pan, your kitchen may get a bit smoky. This isn’t an unsafe situation or it shouldn’t be but you do want to make sure you have some ventilation. When I am seasoning my cast iron pan, I generally open a few windows in the house prior to starting the process.
Note: I don’t generally do a multi-step process unless I have had to really scrub the pan or if it hasn’t been used in a long time. During normal use, I season in one round after a regular wash. However, I do recommend that you do a multi-round seasoning over a few months or a few weeks if you use the pan daily.
How to wash a cast iron skillet
There are two of us who use our trusty cast iron pan several times a week and we each clean it differently: Andi uses a bit of grease-cutting detergent, and I don't use any soap at all. A cast iron skillet can generally be cleaned with super hot water and a good scrub with steel wool. You can use a little soap and light scrubbing and not have to re-season, but don't let water sit on the finish. Too much detergent and a long bath soak removes that desired seasoning, and water that sits on cast iron will leave rust spots very quickly. (Of course that means never put cast iron in the dishwasher.) A well-seasoned cast iron skillet will clean easier, and vice versa: a clean skillet will season more smoothly.
Our tips for washing your cast iron skillet:
- While skillet is still slightly warm, wipe it out and remove as much of the food particles that you can. A paper towel is great for this.
- Run water as hot as you can stand it and allow the water to fill the pan.
- Scrape the pan with a scraper, if needed.
- With the water running, scrub the pan clean.
- Rinse the pan with hot water and make sure that it appears clean.
- Dry the pan on the stove top by placing it on a medium-high burner.
- Season the pan (see the steps above).
Even if your cast iron pan looks a bit rusty, it can be restored. It can be tempting to think that a cast iron pan is old and trash it but a little love (and the steps above) can bring it back to its useful old self.