The first time I cooked with a cast iron pan, I shoved it into our dishwasher at the end of the meal, knowing nothing about their care & need for attention. My better half still mocks me to this day. You may think this makes me the wrong individual to write a foodie blog, but I beg you to see that these (many) tiny failures gave me just the right inspiration to learn how to cook & care for my kitchen. If it was sink or swim, my culinary (mis)adventures threw me into the deep end & dared me to start treading water… even if my greatest motivation was to save face when my now-husband came home.
After the wash load was complete, I had my first experience reviving a cast iron pan. However, it would not be my last; garage sales & thrift stores are amazing places to find your next favorite piece of kitchenware! And so, I’m typing tonight to give you your own crash course on how to give your pans the TLC they crave.
Saving your neglected cast iron
Your pan is rusted, dull & rough. It feels like sandpaper. You can’t understand why, oh gawd, WHY everyone raves about this stuff. You, my friend, need to learn to repair & reseason that pan.
- Preheat your oven to 450°F & make sure you have no plans to leave your home for the next hour.
- Grab some steel wool, add a little water & scrub away all signs of rust. If you must, use a little soap. The only time soap should come anywhere near your cast iron is before seasoning the pan.
- Dry your pan immediately, preferably with an old kitchen rag.
- Coat the entire pan with your oil of choice. I usually use olive oil. Most people use vegetable oil, but that’s not something we keep in our kitchen. Make sure not to neglect the handle or bottom of the pan!
- Put the pan into the preheated oven, upside down, for one hour. If it’s sticky once the hour is up, your oven wasn’t hot enough.
- Once it’s cooled, enjoy! Reseason your pan whenever the surface appears dull.
Cooking with cast iron
Always give your cast iron time to preheat. Once you can feel the warmth, be generous with your oil of choice before adding your food. The most common reasons food will stick to a cast iron pan are:
- The food wasn’t finished cooking. Don’t constantly flip & stir your food; allow it to get a slight crust.
- Your pan wasn’t finished preheating before adding your ingredients.
- Your pan wasn’t preseasoned, or it lost its seasoning due to rust & humidity, soap or too much scrubbing.
One amazing advantage of cooking with cast iron is that you can easily move your meal from the stovetop to the oven. So you can brown your onions, sauté your peppers, then finish cooking your chicken “low & slow” inside the oven to keep it from becoming dry or unevenly cooked.
Cleaning your cast iron
Now that your meal is deliciously devoured, it’s time to clean your pan. For the simplest messes, all you need is some hot water & a soft rag (although many people use a designated soap-free sponge). Never leave your cast iron to soak! After the food is lifted, dry your pan & coat the inside with a bit of oil. A little harder to lift? Use salt for some extra abrasion or use a chainmail scrubber; we use this one. The goal is to lift the food but leave the oils, so don’t scrub with all your might as you would to attack a spot of rust. Once the food is lifted, again, dry with a rag & coat with a bit of oil. In the perfect world, the last step to cleaning your cast iron is to warm the pan once more on the stove to evaporate the last bit of moisture from the pan before storing, but I will admit that I don’t do this all the time. If you note that your pans show signs of rust & dullness even with perfect care, this may be the step you need.
consider yourself converted
Once you’ve learned the basics of caring for your cast iron, you’ll be hooked. My own collection quickly grew from one simple pan into a larger twin, a dutch oven for camping, a double sided griddle for pancakes or burgers, a muffin mold for delicious weekend breakfasts, & an adorable wok. They’re so easy to cook on, so much healthier than Teflon & chemically coated alternatives, plus they come with the added boost of supplementing your diet with some extra iron. These beasts will last a lifetime, even if they’re occasionally abused by a passionate but uninformed chef!