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© 2014 Shanna Lea
Years ago, I found some old rusty cast iron skillets at an estate sale. At the time, I passed them up because I thought they were ruined. Have you ever done that? Do you have new cast iron cookware or a rusty old heirloom from your grandmother? Chances are you have questions on how to care for it. Now, I know how to clean and care for my cast iron cookware. Read on to find out how to care for your favorite cast iron pans.
Frequently asked questions about cast iron cookware:
Question: I was given a new cast iron skillet for my anniversary. The instructions say it is ‘pre-seasoned’ and ‘ready to use’. Is this true? There is so much information on proper seasoning, this just doesn’t seem right.
Answer: This is a tricky question, and it can be confusing. The answer is ‘yes’ and ‘no’.
Yes, you can cook in new ‘pre-seasoned’ cast iron without the seasoning process, but it is not truly ‘ready to use’. You still need to rinse the new cast iron pan under hot water. This removes the dust or dirt it may have picked up.
Next, set it over a burner on medium-high heat for about one minute to dry completely. After it is dry, allow it to cool and wipe down with a light coating of oil or fat with a high smoke point. Add the light coat after each use and it will build up a nice patina over the surface of the skillet or pan over time.
Question: My skillet used to have a nice seasoning built up on it, but now it is peeling and chipping. What happened?
Answer: There are two common causes for this—soap and acidic foods.
Soap: Washing cast iron with a harsh soap or soaking it overnight can soften the finish, causing it to peel or disintegrate.
How to wash: There is usually no need to use soap. I know, we are taught to use soap to clean everything. Cast iron is different. After you are done cooking with it, just rinse the skillet under hot water and wipe out with a paper towel. Then dry over a hot burner. Consistently washing it this way over time will maintain the patina on the cast iron.
Acidic foods or using metal utensils: Both acidic foods and metal cooking utensils damage the patina on cast iron pieces. Tomatoes are an example. If you cook something with lots of tomatoes, like spaghetti sauce in cast iron, it will distress and dull the finish. If you still need to cook these foods in your cast iron, be sure to cook other types of non-acidic foods in the pan often to combat the distress.
If the patina is well established, cooking a little bit of acidic foods once in a while won’t hurt it. It’s usually in the first stages of cooking with your pan that it might develop some softening or pitting. Try to avoid cooking acidic foods in newly seasoned cast iron pans.
Question: I found some of my grandmother’s old cast iron in storage and it has rust on it where the pots were stacked together. Are they ruined?
Answer: No, they are not ruined. With a little cleaning, your rusted heirlooms can be restored.
There are a lot of remedies out there for cleaning rust off cast iron that call for harsh cleaners. Be wary of any source that tells you that spray-on oven cleaner is the only way to clean an old rusted skillet.
The most natural methods to remove rust are the best and safest to use. Sprinkle salt onto the rusted area, then cut a lemon in half and rub it over the salt. Set the pan aside to dry. After drying, rinse the salt off under hot water. You may need to repeat the process a few times to remove any rust still remaining.
This process does not damage the pan and you can repeat it as many times as needed. The salt and lemon remove the rust without stripping any of the patina that has already built up.
Question: I just have a thing about using soap to get rid of germs. I know you aren’t supposed to use soap to wash cast iron, but what about germs?
Answer: Ok, I understand in our germ-phobic society how you feel. In a perfect world, we would never need to use soap on our beautiful cast iron skillets. But, in some cases, you might want to use a mild soap and a sponge. Just don’t overdo it with the harsh detergents. For really stuck on foods try using the Chain Mail Cast Iron Pan Scrubber. This unique pot scrubber is effective at removing the gunk from cast iron skillets without taking any of the seasoning off like steel wool will.
Watch the video below to see how to use the Chain Mail Cast Iron Pan Scrubber
Remember, soap isn’t the only thing that will kill those germs. Try this first: Heat the cast iron over high heat. Add some oil to the pan and allow it to heat just below the smoking point. Remove the pan from the heat, let cool and then wipe with a paper towel. No germs will survive that heat.
If you still want to use water, then add water to the pan and bring to a boil, pour off, dry on a hot burner, and wipe clean.
Remember to use soap sparingly. Wipe the pan with a non-abrasive sponge and a dab of mild dish soap. Rinse and dry thoroughly.
Always wipe some oil or grease onto the pan after each cleaning, no matter what method you use.
Different methods to care for cast iron cookware
Keep in mind that you will want to care for your cookware a little differently depending on what you cook in it.
- Acidic foods—season your pans more often.
- If you are frying eggs and bacon—you can just wipe it out with a paper towel and it’s ready for next time.
As you use your cast iron regularly, you will know just what kind of care it needs each time.
Check out these links for cast iron cookware and accessories: