How to Use Cast Iron – Cooking, Cleaning & Seasoning

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Last Updated February 2021

There are many benefits to cooking with a cast iron skillet or pan. They’re practical, easy to clean, durable and versatile. A cast iron skillet that is cleaned and seasoned properly becomes more nonstick over time.

We outline a few tips for cleaning, seasoning, and cooking with a cast iron skillet.

 In this article, we will cover the following:

  • What is Cast Iron?
  • Difference Between Enameled Cast Iron and Bare Cast Iron
  • What's Great About Cast Iron Cookware?
  • What are the Drawbacks to Cast Iron Cookware?
  • Cooking with Cast Iron Cookware?
  • How to Clean Cast Iron Cookware
  • How to Season Cast Iron Cookware

What is Cast Iron?

Cast iron is a mix of iron and carbon which can be molded and placed into a cast. It contains 2% carbon which is the main alloying element and 1-3% silicon. The melting temperature point is very low, making it a lot more useful than other metals. It is very rare that cookware made from cast iron will get damaged due to its high indestructibility. 

Since cast iron is a mix of iron and carbon, it can be used on induction cooktops, as well as on electric and gas stoves. 

This article has tips so you don't scratch your induction cooktop when using a cast iron skillet.

Cast iron frying pans, pot, and griddle

Difference Between Enameled Cast Iron and Bare Cast Iron

There are two types of cast iron. The first is the traditional bare cast iron cookware. The second is enameled cast iron in which an enamel glaze is applied to the bare cast iron. 

Advantages of enameled cast iron

  • It won't rust
  • It doesn't have to be seasoned. 
  • It can be used to cook acid foods such as spaghetti sauce.
  • It is easy to clean and no seasoning is required.

Drawbacks of enameled cast iron

  • They are more expensive than bare cast iron products.
  • They are less durable as the paint can chip off.  

What are the Drawbacks to Cast Iron Cookware?

There are two main reasons why people might be opposed to using large cast iron cookware.  First, if you usually cook with a 12" skillet, a cast iron skillet of this size might be too heavy for some. The 6 and 8 inch skillets are great for cooking a couple of eggs, a pancake or a chicken breast.

The second disadvantage is that there is an extra step in maintaining cast iron cookware - namely seasoning. This is crucial to obtaining a non-stick surface. However, once you get into the routine of cleaning, drying, and seasoning your cast iron skillet, it only takes a few minutes and becomes part of your regular cleanup routine.

Cooking with Cast Iron  

Food can be prepared on the stove and then placed in the oven. For example, you can cook sauces in a cast iron skillet or pan then add your other ingredients such as meat or cheese and stick it in the oven to cook furthermore. 

Dishes can be served on the cast iron pan.  It's important to note the contents of the pan will keep cooking for a very short time and the pan will remain hot for a few minutes.  

Cast iron waffle irons are terrific for making hot waffles. Although there is a wide range of waffle irons/makers from which to choose, some people prefer the old fashioned cast iron waffle iron.  

If you are in the market for one, visit this site to see some of the best waffle makers and irons on the market. They also have a nice roundup of other innovative appliances that aren’t widely advertised.

Acidic foods such as tomato sauce should only be cooked in a well-seasoned cast iron pan and only for a short period of time. If you let tomato sauce simmer for hours it can erode the seasoning.

Some people have a cast iron skillet that is only used for preparing desserts. Their theory is that if a skillet is used to cook spicy foods and then used to prepare an apple pie for example, the residual flavors from the spicy food can transfer to the apple pie. 

Helpful Tips Chalk Illustration

How to Clean Cast Iron Cookware

Cleaning and seasoning cast iron cookware is very easy. The more you take the necessary steps to keep it in good condition, the longer it will last.  

There is a lot of discussion about seasoning cast iron cookware. Seasoning just refers to the layer of polymerized oil that has bonded with the cast iron cooking surface. The purpose is to have a slick surface so that food does not stick. It is a lot easier to cook with cast iron if the seasoning is protected.  

In terms of maintaining cast iron, don't put it in a dishwasher or a hot pan in cold water as the cast iron could warp. Be sure to thoroughly dry the skillet as soon as it has been washed to prevent rust from forming.

We have outlined the process for cleaning cast iron purchased new or at an estate sale is different from routine cleaning.

rusty cast iron skillet with wooden handle

Cleaning Newly Acquired Cast Iron

1. Line your sink with a towel so it doesn't get scratched.

2. Using a Brillo pad with soap or soap, water and a stiff bristle brush, scrub the inside, outside, and handle of pan. Rinse with hot water.

3. Coat the inside and outside with a solid shortening.

4. Place upside down in oven on a foil lined cookie sheet or place foil on the lower rack and the pan upside down on the upper rack. Heat at 350ºF for one hour.

5. Turn oven off.  Take  the pan out when the oven has cooled.

Steps for Routine Cleaning of Cast Iron

1. Scrub with a nylon bristle scrub brush before the pan cools. Don't use abrasive cleaners. Rinse with hot water. Dry with a dish towel or paper towel.

2.If there is food stuck on the pan, sprinkle coarse kosher salt into the pan. Then rub the salt into the stuck on food into the pan with paper towels. Add more salt as needed. Empty the salt and food out and wipe remnants away with paper towel.

3. Heat on low heat until dry (5-10 minutes) to remove the remaining moisture.

4. Wipe pan when cool to remove remaining grease. Don't store pans with lid on them. The moisture in the air could become trapped resulting in rust.

How to Season Cast Iron Cookware

If you purchase a new or used bare cast iron vessel the first thing to do is to wash it and then season it. The purpose of seasoning is to get a non-stick coating on the pan's cooking surface that is natural.

Lodge uses soy vegetable oil to season their cast iron products. Shortening or canola oil are also acceptable seasoning products. The following is the seasoning process recommended by Lodge.[2]

Steps for Seasoning Cast Iron  

1. Rub a small amount of cooking fat/oil into the pan. The purpose of this is to create a layer of fat that is bonded to the iron.

2. Place a piece of aluminum foil on the bottom rack of the oven.

3. Place the cast iron skillet face down on the upper oven rack.

4. Heat at 350ºF for one hour.

5. Turn off oven. Take out when oven is cooled.

Repeat the process again another 2 or 3 times.

If cast iron skillets are cleaned, dried and seasoned properly they can be handed down to the next generation of cooks in your family. A cast iron skillet can be used for cooking on the stovetop, in the oven, on a camping oven or over a campfire.