Cast iron care and keeping

Not many household items deliver like cast iron cookware. It retains heat and can be used on any kind of stove (including campfires) and in ovens. It feels good in your hand (well, in an oven mitt!), you can use any kind of utensils with it (there’s no coating to scrape off), and it’s beautiful. (I think it’s beautiful.) It’s the only kind of pan I can make a decent stir fry in. And, best of all, it lasts forever. That’s usually an exaggeration, but, in this case, I mean it. It lasts forever—plan to hand yours down to your grandkids. And if you know just a little bit about cast iron care, it’ll still be in good shape when you do.

an empty cast iron pan sits on a wooden table. Various vegetables are lined up above it.

Of course, if you don’t take good care of it, cast iron can rust and get funky and look not at all like something you want to cook your food in. But taking good care of cast iron pots and pans isn’t at all hard. Here’s all you need to know:

• To wash cast iron, use a dishcloth or soft scrub brush (not a metal scouring pad), water, and (if needed) mild detergent. (Yes, some folks say never get your cast iron wet, but that’s just gross. Go ahead and clean it.) Don’t put your cast iron in the dishwasher. And never soak it in water. 

• Rinse and dry your cast iron pots and pans very well with a lint-free cloth. (A bit of dark residue might rub off on your cloth now and then. No harm; it’s produced by the oils and foods interacting. Eventually this won’t happen anymore, as the pan becomes well “seasoned.”)

• For good measure, you can further dry the pan by heating it on the stove over low heat for 5 to 10 minutes. This will evaporate any remaining moisture. (Moisture is what can cause the pan to begin rusting.)

• Rub with a light layer of cooking oil (such as coconut oil or vegetable oil). If your pan is very well seasoned, you can skip this step most of the time and just give the pan a light coating of oil when it starts looking dull. 

Image of a person's hands grasping a bowl of eggs beside a cast iron pan warming on the stovetop.

• Use your cast iron pots and pans often. The more you use them, the better “seasoned” they’ll become, and the better they’ll cook. 

• Store or hang your pans in a cool, dry spot, because humidity can kickstart the rusting process. I don’t have space to hang mine, and I have four cast iron pans of different sizes, so I dry them carefully and nestle them one inside the other, with a small towel between each of them to absorb any moisture and protect the surfaces. 

• When you cook with cast iron, let it preheat on the stove over low to medium heat before adding food, to prevent sticking. 

If your cast iron pan is in bad shape (it’s rusty or dull, for example), here’s how to re-season it:

• Remove any rust. Try rubbing any rusty areas with a little salt. If the problem is bigger, try #00 steel wool. Use the least abrasive tools to do the job, because you want to remove as little seasoning as possible. 

• Wash with water and mild detergent, then dry well.

• Oil liberally with coconut or vegetable oil. 

• Place on an oven rack in a 350 degree F oven for one hour. (Place a pan or aluminum foil on the rack below to catch any oil drips.)

• Turn off the oven and let the pan cool in the oven.

• Remove pan from oven, wipe off any excess oil, and store (see above).

There, good as new. I mean old. Good old. 

I found this source for some seriously beautiful cast iron cookware. That enameled pot is on my wish list!

Are you a lover of cast iron cookware? What do you like about it? How do you keep yours in good shape? 

You might also enjoy: Brooms — How to clean and care for your household broom and Towel care.

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