6 Essential Kitchen Tips To Care For A Cast Iron Skillet

There’s a reason you’ve been spotting so many chefs using cast iron skillets, be it in restaurants or in social media. Cast iron skillets are renowned for their exceptional ability to retain and evenly distribute heat. This makes them ideal for cooking tasks that require consistent temperatures, such as searing steaks, frying, and baking. Unlike other materials that may develop hot spots, cast iron provides a uniform cooking surface, ensuring food cooks evenly.

One of the standout features of a cast iron skillet is its versatility. It can seamlessly transition from stovetop to oven, allowing for various cooking techniques including frying, baking, broiling, braising, and roasting. This versatility makes it a valuable tool in any kitchen, reducing the need for multiple cookware pieces.

Cast iron skillets are incredibly durable. With proper care, they can last for generations, often becoming family heirlooms. Their robust construction makes them resistant to warping and damage from high heat. When properly seasoned, a cast iron skillet develops a natural non-stick surface. This is achieved through the polymerisation of cooking oils, which bond to the iron surface, creating a smooth, non-stick coating that improves with use. Here are some ways to care for your cast iron skillet.

Seasoning Your Cast Iron Skillet

Seasoning is the process of applying a layer of oil to the skillet and baking it to create a non-stick surface. This process is fundamental to cast iron care. Start with a clean skillet. If it’s new, wash it with warm water and mild soap to remove any factory residue. For used skillets, remove any old food particles. 

Ensure the skillet is completely dry, as water can cause rust, which is detrimental to cast iron. Rub a thin layer of vegetable oil, flaxseed oil, or melted shortening over the entire surface of the skillet, including the bottom and handle. Place the skillet upside down in an oven preheated to 375°F (190°C), with a sheet of aluminium foil on the lower rack to catch any drips. Bake for one hour. Turn off the oven and let the skillet cool inside the oven. This helps the oil to bond to the iron through polymerization, forming a smooth, non-stick coating.

Proper Cleaning Techniques

Proper cleaning is crucial to maintaining the seasoning and preventing rust. Generally, avoid using soap, which can strip the seasoning. Instead, use hot water and a stiff brush or sponge to remove food particles. For stubborn residue, sprinkle coarse kosher salt in the skillet and scrub with a damp cloth, as the salt acts as a mild abrasive. After cleaning, dry the skillet thoroughly with a towel, and place it on a stovetop burner over low heat to ensure it’s completely dry.

Re-Seasoning When Necessary

Even with careful use, the seasoning can wear down over time, especially if the skillet is frequently used or cleaned with soap. If the skillet develops a dull or sticky surface, or if you notice any rust spots, it’s time to re-season. Remove any rust using a mixture of equal parts vinegar and water to soak the rusty areas, scrubbing with a brush or steel wool. Wash the skillet and dry it completely, then follow the initial seasoning steps to restore the non-stick surface.

Preventing Rust

Rust is the enemy of cast iron, but it can be prevented with proper care. Always dry the skillet thoroughly after washing and store it in a dry place. If you stack skillets, place a paper towel between them to absorb any moisture. After each use, apply a light coat of oil to the skillet before storing it.

Cooking Techniques

Certain cooking techniques can help maintain and even improve the seasoning of your cast iron skillet. Preheat the skillet slowly on low heat before increasing to the desired cooking temperature to prevent warping and maintain the seasoning. Cooking acidic foods like tomatoes or vinegar-based sauces can strip the seasoning, so if you do cook these foods, ensure to re-season the skillet afterwards. Always use a sufficient amount of oil when cooking to maintain the non-stick surface.

Regular Maintenance

Regular maintenance ensures your cast iron skillet remains in optimal condition. Wipe the skillet with a paper towel after each use to remove excess food and oil. Perform a deep clean every few months or as needed, followed by re-seasoning. Regularly inspect the skillet for signs of rust or wear on the seasoning.