When properly cared for, cast iron cookware will be in use for generations. It’s my cookware of choice mostly because it’s what I learned to cook on. Many people are unsure of its use and care and this keeps them from using it. Learn everything you need to know to properly use and care for cast iron.
After the initial seasoning, it doesn’t require much more care than any modern-day cookware. You can even purchase them preseasoned. I personally don’t like this because I want to season them with organic oil but at least it’s an option for those just learning.
You still need to know how to season it because it will eventually need to be reseasoned.
My favorite piece is a pot that belonged to my grandmother. She used it for many, many years and I have been using it for 25 years. We’re going to remove any fear or uncertainty surrounding the care and use of cast-iron so that you can enjoy cookware that will be here for generations.
Why I Use Cast Iron
I like using it because it can be used over an open fire outdoors during the hot, humid southern summer. I don’t want to heat the kitchen on those days.
When we’re camping, or when we’re without power being able to cook over an open fire is necessary.
It heats evenly and holds its heat making it an excellent choice for the perfect cooking results.
It is cost-effective as it lasts for generations when cared for properly.
Once you know how to season it, you will be able to pick up neglected pieces at flea markets or thrift shops cheaply and restore them to use. That’s what I did with one of my favorite pieces.
I’m not really a shopper, but one of my favorite things to do is to go to antique stores or flea markets to look for old pieces.
A few years ago, I was in an antique store in Louisville, Mississippi, and found a breakfast griddle. It was rusted and I paid $7 for it.
After buffing the rust off with steel wool, washing, and seasoning, it has become one of my favorites and is used almost every day.
Restoring a Rusted Piece of Cast Iron
The first thing you need to do is remove the rust. Start by buffing with fine steel wool.
- If the rust is thick, soak the pan in a 50/50 solution of white vinegar and water for no more than four hours. Leaving it too long will result in the vinegar damaging it.
- After you remove it from the vinegar/water solution, rinse and soak the pan overnight in a solution of water and baking soda. This serves two purposes: to neutralize the vinegar and help remove the rust.
- Next morning, take it out and scrub it well with soap and hot water. I’ve never had to repeat this step, but if the rust is still there, start over with the steel wool and then go back through the steps again.
- Now you need to season it.
I decided to see what a new one would cost and you can imagine how shocked I was that the cheapest one I could find was $112!
Seasoning Cast Iron
- Be sure that each piece is completely dry
- Wash a new piece in hot water, and treat a rusty piece like we said above.
- Towel dry it and place the piece on medium-low heat on your stove until it’s thoroughly dry.
- Never air dry your cast iron pots or pans.
- Grease the inside and outside of your pan
- Don’t forget the lid if it has one
- Put a light coat of lard or coconut oil over every surface of your piece. I use organic, coconut oil. Other oils are carcinogenic at high temps and they don’t adhere to form a coating.
- Preheat your oven to 275 and put the pan upside down in the oven and bake for 8 to 10 hours.
- You may want to put a cookie sheet on the shelf below to catch any oil that drips.
- Now I know some people will very strongly contradict this way of seasoning. They will insist that you should bake it at 400° for 2 to 3 hours, but at hot temps, the oil often glazes and burns and can ruin the pot. I know this from personal experience.
- Let it cool on its own
- When the time is up, carefully remove it from the oven and let it cool on your stovetop or in the oven.
- Repeat if needed
- If the coating is spotty or you’re just not happy with it, you can repeat this procedure until you are satisfied.
Care of Your Cast Iron
Congratulations! You’ve seasoned your pots or pans and you’re ready to cook.
Proper cleaning of your cast-iron is important.
- Don’t use a scraper or metal scouring pad on it because you will gouge off the coating and create deep scratches in the surface.
- If something sticks to the pan, let it cool and add water to the pan to cover the stuck-on food. Put it back on the stove and bring the water to a boil. Continue boiling until the food lifts off.
- If you do want to scrub the pan, use a non-scratch plastic pad or one designed especially for this purpose.
- The scraping may remove some of the coating, but no worries, just reason it.
There are two schools of thought on washing your cast iron.
Some people say to wash it with soap and water, while others say you must never use soap, only hot water.
Personally, I never use soap and water on mine. Most of the time I just wipe it out with a clean, damp dishrag.
If there’s something that has to be washed out, I just use hot water and then heat dry.
If you wash a piece and it looks “dry,” put a thin layer of coconut oil or lard on the inside of the pan and leave it.
I do this quite often when I don’t like the way a piece looks. I have a small skillet that I’ve had for 20 years that I frequently do this with.
The longer you use your cast iron, the darker it will get. This is normal so don’t worry.
We won’t take the time to talk about the history of cast iron or the changes in its production over the years. We are focusing on what you need to know in order to be able to enjoy its versatility and durability.
Do’s and Don’ts of Cast Iron
- Don’t leave it on high heat for long. It will get red-hot and crack.
- Don’t submerge a hot pan in water. It will crack.
- Don’t use it for storing food. Your food will taste “funny,” kind of metallic.
- Don’t use stainless steel to scour it unless you are removing rust (see above)
- Do preheat your skillets. This is the key to your food not sticking, especially eggs, cornbread, and meat.
- Do add butter and oil after your pan has preheated. This keeps them from smoking and burning when you add it before they’re hot.
- Do check that it’s preheated thoroughly – especially your griddle. Drop a few drops of water onto the heated surface. If they bounce and roll around while evaporating, it’s ready. If they sit and boil, let it heat a little longer then retry.
- Do know that foods high in acid will remove the seasoning. You’ll need to reseason after cooking any of these foods, like tomato based meals.
- Do wipe dry with a towel and reheat the pan to dry completely. This prevents rusting. I find that if I only towel dry without reheating to dry thoroughly, they have to be reseasoned more often
Now you have all the know-how you need to properly use and care for cast iron cookware. I hope all of your questions have been answered. Enjoy and happy cooking!
As always, we’re here to help.
Cynthia O'Keeffe says
I have been collecting some good cast iron to use —- and give to my kids when they need pots n’ pans. The old stuff seems to have the best quality iron. This is an extremely useful post I’m sharing with my family. EVERYone needs to know how to properly clean and season a cast iron pan! Thank you, Rhonda !
Cynthia, Thanks so much for letting me know you found the article helpful. I appreciate your sharing it too! You’re right about the old cast iron. The techniques and materials were different for casting years ago. I find you can tell the difference when you hold them in your hands. Finding old pieces is a hobby for me. They’re treasures! I know your family appreciates such timeless gifts.
Good tips for using cast iron. I love, love, love your breakfast pan. I’ve never seen one like that. I have an old cast iron waffle iron that you use on a stove top. Reading this makes me want to season it again and put it back into use.
Thanks so much Chris for stopping by! You should totally get that waffle iron going. We gave one to our oldest son for Christmas year before last and he loves it! He’s getting married in December so I’ll have to share with her how to care for it too.
Carol Ann says
When my daughter and her husband moved into their first house I went to visit and noticed a rusty cast iron grill pan in the garden. When I left I couldn’t resist asking about it, the result being I went home with a very rusty pan, left behind by previous tenant. I showed it to my partner saying I was going to clean it up, thinking he’d say why did you pick up that junk. But no, a look of elation appeared on his face, he said I’ll clean it you season it, what do you want to try in it first, chops or gammon steak (ham). That was over 20 years ago and that pan has never needed to be reseasoned, is used frequently and puts a smile on his face every time I suggest he use it and gets me out of cooking for that night! Who knew a pan that leaves stripes on the meat would bring such joy?
Carol Ann, What a treasure you and your husband have! I also like your cooking arrangement with it 😉 I know what you mean about not being able to resist asking about it. Most people think they’re a lost cause when they are in that condition. I’m glad you saw the gem in it. Thanks so much for sharing your delightful story with us.
This post came at the perfect time.Thank You.
Hugs from Oklahoma,
Cottage Making Mommy
Valerie, I’m so glad! Thanks for letting me know and for the hugs! I needed them! Hugs back to you.
Janet Garman says
Congratulations on being in the top five posts on Simple Saturdays Blog hop! We hope you will link up again this week. your post will be pinned to our group board on Pinterest too!
Janet, You are so kind. Thank you so much. I really appreciate the honor.
Elaine @ Sunny Simple Life says
Hi Rhonda I picked yours as my favorite from the hop last week and pinned it. This is perfect because I inherited an old pan that needs cleaning and reseasoning.
Elaine, Wow! Thanks so much. I so enjoy the blog hop. It’s such a blessing to inherit old cast iron and bring it back to life for your use. I’m glad for you. Thanks again for the honor.
I have several pieces. Before I got a stove with an oven, I used my cast iron dutch oven on top of my woodstove to bake in. My favourite piece is a small griddle a friend gave me. I treasure it because of her generosity and because it makes the best pancakes and tortillas. – Margy
Margy, Oh how nice. I really like cooking on a woodstove with my cast iron. Besides my stainless steel coffee pot and 1 qt boiler (haven’t been able to find one in cast iron) I only use cast iron. The pieces that are given to us do seem be our favorites and you’re right of course, I just made tortillas on my griddle yesterday!
Great tips! Thanks for laying it all out. I just seasoned a pot today actually but I never knew the proper way to clean a rusty one.
Thanks so much Kim. I’m glad you enjoyed the post. So glad you stopped by to comment!
8) Do wipe dry with a towel and reheat pan to dry completely – this prevents rusting. I find that if I just towel dry mine they have to be re-seasoned more often.
Is this correct, or did you make a boo-boo?
Just wiping with a dry cloth shouldn’t make them require seasoning MORE often, it should be LESS often, I would think.
I found a great cornbread cast iron, in the shape of corn….but it is rusted pretty badly. I tried using steel wool, but it didn’t help. I may try the vinegar, but I’m not sure it will work, either…
Carol, you can’t put it past me to make a boo-boo, actually it’s what I do best! 🙂 I guess I need to word that better. I meant to say that towel drying alone can cause it to have to be reseasoned more often. Even though it appears dry, there is moisture trapped in the metal and heating it after towel drying removes any residual moisture. You are so kind to bring that to my attention, thank you. And thanks for taking the time to let me know.
That corn shaped cornbread pan is one of the trickiest to care for. I have one too and only use it for special occasions. Try the vinegar treatment and rebuff it. If most of the rust comes off try seasoning it and rubbing it down after that. I hope you can save it, at least for a conversation piece. 🙂 Be sure to let men know how it turns out.
Thank you for the clarification!
I, too, love cast iron! I think there are many out there who look for it at thrift/antique store now, as I have trouble finding it …but when I do, I BUY it!!! I do all of my cooking in cast iron, as it is great for just about everything, MUCH healthier than ‘non stick’ pans which are coated with toxic stuff that gets into your food and causes many health issues. Unfortunately, most people still use non stick because as you mentioned, they think cast iron is too difficult to clean and keep seasoned. I find that if I scrub it out with a hard, dry brush, and maybe rinse with hot water, then as mentioned, put it back on the heat to dry out, then re-coat with more oil/grease/lard/etc. it will last forever.
LOVE Cast Iron! (We should form a club!!!)
Carol, I’m like you. I don’t pass up a savable piece at flea markets or antique stores. Even if I don’t need it, they make great gifts once they’re cleaned up and seasoned. I think you should start that club! I would join. 🙂