I love cooking in my cast iron skillets. Not only are they versatile, inexpensive and pretty, they last forever — in fact, the more you use them, the better they get. Well-cared-for cast iron pans have a natural, non-stick finish and, unlike most nonstick pans, you can use any utensils you like, even metal, as there is no chemical coating to damage. They can also be used on any cooking surface, even the grill. However, cast iron does require a little TLC when cleaning to maintain the non-stick coating, known as the “seasoning,” and also to prevent rusting. But if you take good care of your cast iron, it will perform beautifully and last long enough to pass on to the next generation, just like a well-loved family recipe.
There’s a lot of mystery surrounding cast iron, but cleaning and caring for it is really easy — I promise! To start, you’ll need a clean dishtowel or paper towel, a soft sponge, coarse salt (if necessary), and a bit of vegetable oil.
After you’ve used your skillet, use a sponge to scrub it with water. But don’t let it soak in water, as this can cause rusting.
If it still needs a bit more attention, add some kosher salt to the pan and scrub with a damp sponge. The salt acts an abrasive cleaner without disturbing the seasoning.
If there are still stubborn bits clinging to the pan, try bringing just a bit of water to boil in the skillet. Let it simmer until the water evaporates and then wipe out or scrub the pan again. Soap isn’t usually necessary, but contrary to popular belief, a little mild detergent won’t strip the seasoning. (Just stay away from dishwashers and metal scouring pads!) Once the skillet is cleaned to your satisfaction, rinse it well and then set it on the stove over medium heat for a few minutes to dry.
Finally, when the skillet is completely dry and still warm, use a cloth or paper towel to coat it very lightly with vegetable oil (you’ll need about 1/2 teaspoon for a 10-inch pan).
Continue to wipe the surface with oiled paper towels until it looks dark and smooth, and no oil residue remains (I rub the handle and outside of the pan too). You may notice some dark residue on your paper towel or cloth when cleaning. This is just the the baked-on cooking oil, or seasoning, reacting to foods — don’t worry, it will disappear with regular use and care. Let the pan cool completely before storing.
Note: Most new cast iron pans come seasoned and ready to use, so if you’re using your cast iron pan for the time, simply give it a quick rinse and hand dry with a dish towel. But older pans may need to be restored or seasoned before using.