Show your cast iron cookware some love, and it will love you back. Properly seasoned and cared for cast iron cookware will last a lifetime.
Whether you found your cast iron cookware at a garage sale or bought it from a retailer like Walmart, proper care and seasoning is something to begin on day one.
You might think caring for cast iron cookware will be difficult and time consuming. But it isn’t, I assure you. It takes but a few minutes to do right by your cast iron. And for a cooking vessel that will literally last forever, it’s definitely worth it.
How To Care For Cast Iron Cookware
First, wash your cast iron cookware. This should be the only time you will need soap to clean it, but you want to be sure you remove any dust or dirt. If you have a brand new cast iron piece, you will need to do this to remove the wax coating that is on it to keep it from rusting until it’s seasoned.
Next, season your pan. What is seasoning? Seasoning is the process of treating the iron surface of your pan so that it will become non-stick and rust proof. Seasoning is what will give your pan that deep black, glossy appearance that we all associate with a good cast iron skillet. Be patient. That deep black coating doesn’t appear overnight. But that doesn’t mean you can’t use your skillet right away once it’s seasoned. In fact, the more you use your pan the faster it will become dark black.
Now, coat your piece in some type of oil. Cast iron has a porous surface. The seasoning process will fill and smooth the surface to make it non-stick. Some type of oil is used to facilitate this process. Traditionalists would use lard, but I use Crisco vegetable shortening. You can use plain old cooking oil, too, but you will get better results with Crisco.
Coat the entire cooking surface with the shortening. Don’t glob it on, but every nook and cranny should have a nice, thin layer of shortening. Use about as much as you would use to coat a cake pan for baking. I use my clean fingers for this, but you can use a paper towel or cloth if you wish, but I find that paper towels and cloths leave little bits behind, and over time that can interfere with proper seasoning.
Then, bake it in the oven. Pre-heat your oven to 375 degrees and put your Crisco coated cast iron pan in for an hour or so. After heating, turn off the oven and let it cool completely while still in the oven. Then it’s ready to go!
Heating the oiled cookware creates the oxidation that prevents rust and makes the surface non-stick. Some cast iron users advocate heating the pan slightly before applying the Crisco to ensure that the pan is completely dry and to open the pores of the pan before seasoning. I’ve never found this necessary, but it’s not a bad idea. Just remember cast iron gets HOT. Use oven mitts.
Newly seasoned cast iron will take on a dark brown coating. After long use, it will become glossy black. The non-stick properties of the pan will increase with time and use, so use your cast iron often. Remember, seasoning is a process. Even though cast iron can be used immediately after the first seasoning, your cookware will get better and better over time.
How do I re-season a used cast iron piece? If you buy a cast iron piece second hand, the process is still basically the same to re-season it, with one exception. First wash it in hot soapy water, as above. Then I put it in my oven on 450 degrees and let it bake for a few hours without any oil or shortening. This will remove any rust and the old seasoning. Let it cool, then follow the steps above to re-season.
Caring For Your Seasoned Cast Iron Cookware. After each use, clean your piece with very hot water and scrub with a stiff brush to remove any food particles left behind. Don’t use soap, it will remove the seasoning. After you scrub the pan, give it a very light coating with some Crisco or vegetable oil and store it in the oven.
Why Store My Cast Iron In The Oven? Because the oven will have less moisture. This will help keep your cast iron from ever rusting. Plus, each time you use your oven is now an opportunity to further season your pan. Even if you take your cast iron pan out while using your oven, give it a light coating of shortening before putting it back in the warm oven. Especially if it’s a new piece, this will help develop the seasoning further.
If you follow these tips, your cast iron pan will never let you down. I promise you it will become your go-to for any type of cooking. And will also make a great gift to future generations.