Whether it’s homemade cornbread, sausage gravy, hard-seared steaks, a big breakfast scramble, or the perfectly gooey grilled-cheese sandwich, just about everything somehow tastes better when it’s cooked in cast iron. (We have collected quite a treasure trove of best cast iron recipes for BBQ lovers.)
We love how it can go from stovetop to oven, from campfire to grill, and back again without bending or warping. Heavy use? That just makes cast-iron cookware even better. Not only does a piece of well-seasoned cast iron take on a non-stick sheen, it’s also so hard-wearing that it can be handed down through a family for generations.
Plus, it’s easy on the pocket book. Cast iron cookware is inexpensive, especially given its versatility and how, so long as you don’t leave it behind on a camping trip or at the hunting lodge, it will likely serve generations of your family.
To make sure your cast-iron cookware works as hard as you do and gets to meet the grandkids someday, take care when it comes to clean-up.
How to clean cast-iron cookware
You’ll need just a few inexpensive supplies:
Sponge or stiff brush
Clean, dry cloth or paper towels
Kosher salt (optional)
Cast-iron cookware should be washed only by hand. The sooner clean-up happens after meal time, the better (and easier) it will be.
Never leave cast iron pots, pans, or skillets in the sink to soak. If you’re looking for a good recipe for rust, this is it.
A sponge or stiff brush, some hot water, and a bit of elbow grease will scrub cast-iron cookware clean. For stubborn, stuck-on food, try one of these tips:
1.) Try a pan scraper.
2.) Simmer a little water in the pan to soften up stuck-on food, then proceed with cleaning as usual.
3.) Use kosher salt as a scrub.
4.) For well-seasoned pans, use a small amount of dish soap (but maybe don’t tell the other members of your cast-iron fan club). Rinse thoroughly and, if needed, re-season—see below.
One item to keep far away from your cast iron: steel wool. This could strip the seasoning from the pan.
Once your cast-iron cookware is clean, dry it thoroughly. Use a clean, lint-free cloth. Remember, leaving any moisture on the cookware can lead to rust.
If your pan has already rusted, it’s not the end of the world, even if your pride as a card-carrying cast-iron aficionado takes a small hit. It happens to us all. Rubbing the surface with half a raw potato (yes, really), paired with a sprinkle of baking soda, can work wonders.
Seasoning (and Re-Seasoning): The key to cast-iron longevity
How does cast iron last generations? It all comes down to seasoning.
This has nothing to do with salt and pepper, or even your favorite Head Country Championship seasoning. Rather, it’s the black patina—actually, it’s a layer of carbonized oil that’s baked onto the cookware’s surface through a process called polymerization—that builds up on cast-iron cookware with regular use, making the cooking surface smooth and virtually non-stick.
Without seasoning, cast iron cookware would corrode and rust, thanks to oxygen and moisture in the air.
So, seasoning your cast-iron skillets, Dutch ovens, and pans keeps them from rusting. Better yet, well-seasoned cast-iron cookware is easy as pie to clean.
So, how do you season a cast iron pan?
1.) Cooking with oil or fat regularly, and/or
2.) Manually seasoning cookware with oil and heat.
Regular cooking with your cast-iron cookware naturally adds layers of seasoning to the pan. When you use your cookware this way often, you might be able to go for years without manually seasoning.
For new cookware, newly restored older pieces, or for pots and pans becoming dull or gray, or for cookware that is losing its non-stick surface, it’s time to manually season.
It’s a fairly simple process.
Start with a clean, dry piece of cookware. Add a very thin layer of cooking oil (vegetable, sunflower, or grapeseed all work well) or melted shortening to all surfaces of the cookware with a lint-free cloth. It’s important to go light on the oil so that when it’s heated, it bakes right into the surface of your pan.
Next, add aluminum foil to the bottom rack of your oven. This will catch any oil that drips during the seasoning process. Heat the oven to 350-450 degrees F. Place your oiled cast-iron cookware upside down on the center rack—it’s upside down to prevent oil from pooling on the cooking surface of your cookware—and bake for one hour.
Let your newly seasoned cookware cool completely in the oven. After a thorough session of admiration—be sure to invite everyone in the house over to glimpse the glory—your cast-iron skillet, Dutch oven, pot, or griddle is ready for use.