Practical DIY No. 7: Caring for A Cast Iron Skillet

Do you want to cook with a cast iron skillet but don’t know how to clean it? Have you heard that a cast iron skillet is easier and healthier than traditional cookware, but then somebody says you have to “season” it and you’re checked out?

Me! I was that girl and I’ve learned how to competently cook with a cast iron skillet, so I’ll share what I’ve learned. (I’m no expert, but the food is edible and the skillet is surviving.)

A few don’ts… Never soak it. Never put it in the dishwasher.

Cooking With and Cleaning a Cast Iron Skillet

My skillet was preseasoned when I got it, so I didn’t need to do that but I do have to reseason it to keep it in good shape. Seasoning just means a protective coating that is over the ‘raw’ surface of the skillet. If you buy one that is black and has a gritty feel, that’s your seasoning, otherwise an unseasoned skillet would have a nice smooth and polished feel.

I have found that cast iron is not completely non-stick, especially with higher temp cooking like chicken, as opposed to pancakes.

If I’m cooking something that is not too messy, like pancakes or grilled cheese, I’ll take a damp paper towel and just wipe out the residue to clean it and then put it back on the hot eye to dry it. Always make sure your skillet is completely dry before storing it or seasoning it.

If I’m cooking something messy, like meat or eggs that needs better cleaning than just a wipe down, I use a chainmail scrubber, kosher salt, and a wooden spoon for this. First, if there is is any grease in the pan, I’ll absorb it out with a wad of paper towels and throw them away. (Always use caution anytime you are cooking or cleaning with an iron skillet, especially when grease is involved.)

Anyway, once I’ve absorbed out any grease, I sprinkle a hefty amount of kosher salt into the bottom of the pan and then with my wooden spoon, push the chainmail scrubber all around to lift up residue. I may add a small amount of water and more salt if needed. I’m using a wooden spoon because I’m doing this in a hot pan, right after I’m done cooking. Also, note a silicone handle cover or equivalent is a must. Use the heat to your advantage. Like any cookware, it’s easier to clean before food has a chance to dry and cook on the surface.

Next, I’m going to take my hot skillet to the sink and spray it out. If there is still residue, I can repeat the salt and scrub step and rerinse.

Now I have a clean, wet skillet. It needs to go back on the hot eye to dry completely, especially if you need to reseason it and, truthfully. it probably takes more time to read all of this than it takes to actually do it. Don’t fret. Once you get it, it’s incredibly easy. There is a video archived on my Instagram that shows this cleaning process.

Seasoning My Skillet

How do you know when to season your skillet? I find I need to do it every few times I cook. The short answer is, you’ll just know. Once you are used to cooking with your skillet, you’ll be able to tell when the finish seems dull. I don’t think you can over season a skillet, but you might not need to do it every time because it is an extra step.

I was taught that to season it, you should coat the whole thing with a thin layer of cooking oil, flip it face down in the oven and heat it at 375 for an hour, but I’ve also coated the inside and heated it on the eye of the stove for what may be a ‘quick seasoning’ when the cooking surface gets dull.

Once my skillet is dry and cool, I coat the inside of the pan with about a teaspoon of cooking oil and rub it with a paper towel for a thin coat. Main thing is to not have a pool of oil. Then, I turn the eye on my stove to med-high and let the oil heat up in the skillet for several minutes. This makes the kitchen smokey and I usually open a door or window. Essentially this is recoating (reseasoning) the surface by cooking that oil on to the surface from what I understand. I let it completely cool before I store it and it’ll be ready the next time I cook.

So there you have it. It’s just a little change of pace to use cast iron. No soaking, no crazy detergents needed, but still a fairly easy process, and all seasoning means is recoating and cooking on a thin layer of oil. Not too scary, just be careful when you do it.

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