Cast iron skillets are perhaps the most versatile of kitchen tools. They can be used for frying, searing, broiling, and even baking. With the ability to develop flavor over time and make food better and better the longer they’re in use, they can also make great keepsakes if well-maintained. However, with all that utility and versatility comes a little bit of upkeep. Follow these guidelines, and you’ll have your cast iron skillet for generations to come.
Wash Your Skillet by Hand
It goes without saying that cast iron skillets shouldn’t be put in your dishwasher, but there are specific steps that you should take to wash them effectively by hand. First, cleaning your pan after every use is key, and avoiding soaking your pan will prevent rust. It also helps if you clean your pan while it’s still a bit warm. Hot water and a stiff brush or sponge will remove any stuck-on food or crusted oil. If you need some form of solvent to remove food or detritus, coarse salt and water mixed together can get rid of leftover food on your skillet. Most cooking sources recommend avoiding using dish soap on cast iron. However, if you have something baked into your pan that only soap can tackle, use just a small amount, as you may strip the seasoning from your skillet otherwise.
Ensuring that you completely dry your skillet is crucial too. Some people suggest drying your skillet on low heat on the stove. Once your skillet is dry, rubbing ½ teaspoon (or more, depending on the size of your cast iron pans) of oil into the pan with a paper towel will preserve your seasoning layer.
Season Your Skillet
Cast iron skillets become more valuable as they age, maintaining years of flavor if you treat them properly. “Seasoning” your skillet refers to the process of baking oil into your skillet to create a protective coating between the cast iron and your food. Wash your pan before you begin seasoning, and once it has dried, rub your preferred cooking oil (vegetable, canola, or corn) all over the pan, including the handle and the bottom.
Double-check that you don’t have puddles of oil resting anywhere on the surface, and then pop your skillet in the oven for one hour to bake the oil into the skillet. Most experts seem to find that a temperature around 450 degrees Fahrenheit works best. If you have a kitchen that gets smoky easily, appropriately ventilate before beginning the seasoning process in the oven.
Completing the process of seasoning (rubbing oil into the skillet and baking it off) 3-4 more times will keep your skillet at its optimal use for a long time. While it may seem tedious in the moment, you only need to season cast iron a few times a year.
Store Your Skillet Properly
As with any item you plan on keeping for a while, storage will prolong your cast iron skillet’s life and help you make delicious food for years to come. Storing your skillet in a warm, dry location will prevent rust, and if you intend to store it with other pans stacked into or on top of it, lay a paper towel down between your skillet and other items to protect its seasoning layer.
Cast Iron Skillet Recipe
Now that you know how to care for your skillet, you’re ready to put it to use. Check out this jalapeño popper bread dip recipe from Volume II of the Associa Family Cookbook!