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How to Care for & Maintain Cast Iron

How to Properly Care for, Maintain, and Fix Cast Iron (The Gingered Whisk)

Let’s have a heart-to-heart for a moment. Do you have a cast iron pan? Are you using it? Because the answer to both of these questions should be “Yes”! Cast Iron skillets and dutch ovens have been around for hundreds of years, and are phenomenal tools that belong in every kitchen!

Lately several people have told me that they just don’t know how to take care of their pans, or even what to do with them! I grew up around cast iron skillets and dutch ovens, and seriously love them. I am not even going to tell you how many I own, because then my husband will find out. But I will tell you how to take care of them, because I truly believe that they are so important and so awesome!

I was lucky enough to come across a cast iron dutch oven in serious need of some TLC. This dutch oven sat in a church garage for about 30 years, where cling-on food particles were left to mold and get crispy from the last Boy Scout Troop that used it, rainwater rusted it in spots, and it was just plain gross.

Below you will find why you should be using cast iron skillets, how to season them, how to clean and maintain them, and what to do if you need to repair them. I’ve broken each topic down into easy to follow steps.

How to Care for & Maintain Cast Iron (The Gingered Whisk)

 

Why You Should Be Using Cast Iron Skillets

  1. They are economical! You really shouldn’t need to spend more than $40 on a cast iron, and that’s even for a giant dutch oven. And its even really easy to find these in second hand stores and garage sales.
  2. They save money! You don’t need any soap to keep these clean, so you don’t need to waste any money there. Ok, so that one was kind of a stretch, but the point is still valid. Right?
  3. They are vitamin rich! Yup, that’s right. Every time you use them you get a tiny bit of extra Iron in your diet. How awesome is that?
  4. These things last forever! You often hear that people have their grandmother or great-grandmother’s cast iron skillet. And its not just an urban legend, its fact. Cast iron skillets and dutch ovens are built to last. They will out-last every other piece of cookware in your kitchen. Your kids will be fighting over them when you are dead.
  5. They are the ultimate survival tool! Have you thought about what you will do when the zombie apocalypse happens? Yeah, you are going to want to take cast iron with you. Not only can it cook all the food you will need to survive, but it makes a handy weapon, too.
  6. They look really cool on your stove! Nothing says you have chops like having the know-how of awesome versatile, sturdy and
  7. They will make your arms strong! Not only do you get a nice work-out scrubbing all your dirty dishes, but you won’t need to waste money on dumbbells, either. Just lifting a 12″ skillet full of chicken between the stove and oven is enough to give you some killer guns.
  8. These things make a great hobby. Some people collect tea pots, and others collect nesting dolls. You can be awesome and collect all the cast iron you can find. There are so many different makers, sizes, shapes, and types of cast iron cookware. Plus, unlike collecting figurines, you can actually take yours out of the package and play with them!

 Want to know EVEN MORE reasons why you every kitchen should have a cast iron skillet? I mean, of course you do!

Read my Top 5 Reasons why Every Kitchen Should Have Cast Iron!

How to Season Your Cast Iron in 5 Easy Steps! Care and Maintenance Tips on Cast Iron (The Gingered Whisk)

 

How to Season Your Cast Iron in 5 Easy Steps!

Seasoning your cast iron skillet is seriously a piece of cake, and important for helping to create a non-stick surface on your skillets and dutch ovens. You want to turn your dull grey skillet into a beautiful shiny black skillet! Essentially what you are doing is cooking a layer of fat into the iron of the skillet. As it heats up, the metal expands and the iron absorbs the fat. Then as the metal cools, it becomes a shiny, smooth, and non-stick surface.

  1. Preheat your oven to oven to 250F.
  2. Rub a small amount of fat all over the surface of the pan.
    1. You can use canola oil or veggie oil, bacon grease or lard, or even olive oil (although olive oil will smoke!)
    2. Only wipe a small amount of fat onto the pan, too much will result in sticky patches and an uneven finish. Using a paper towel will help in applying just the right amount.
  3. Place the pan (upside down) into the oven and bake for 1 hour.
  4. Wipe down with paper towels and bake for another hour.
  5. Turn off the oven and allow the pan to cool down. Ta-Da! Done!
This skillet is ready to be stripped and re-seasoned! Tips on how to strip, re-season and clean your cast iron! (The Gingered Whisk)
This skillet no longer has a good seasoning. See how the seasoning is pockmarked and uneven? This comes from not cleaning it properly. But it can easily be repaired by stripping and re-seasoning.

5 Steps To Clean Your Cast Iron – Everyday Use

One of the benefits of cast iron is that its so dang easy to take care of! But before we talk about how awesome and easy it is to clean them, we need to get a few easy rules out of the way first.
And these are cardinal rules.
Never, ever, ever break them.
Ever.
  • Do NOT Use Soap. Soap will break down the seasoning you have worked so hard to add to your pan. This will mean that every single thing you cook on your skillet will stick. Everything. Nobody wants that. Don’t do this.
  • Do NOT use steel wool to scrub out burnt on bits and crusts on your pan. This will scratch and remove the seasoning. Again, everything will stick! I’ll tell you what to use in just a minute, so keep reading!
  • Do NOT even think about putting a cast iron in the dishwasher. This is like a cardinal sin. Not only will all your seasoning be washed away, but  you are just begging that wet, humid environment to turn your beloved pan into a giant rusty mess. Don’t even think about it. If you are feeling lazy and don’t want to wash your pan right away, just let it sit and take care of it the next day. Or the day after. It will be so much better than ruining it!
  • Do NOT soak your pan in the sink full of water. You are just asking for rust.
Ok, so now that we have gotten all the bad stuff out of the way, lets talk about how easy it is to clean your cast iron! ‘How easy is it’, you ask? SUPER easy!

5 Steps to Clean Your Cast Iron!

  1. Wash the pan in warm water and a soft bristled scrub brush to remove the remaining food. You can also use pan scrapers to remove anything that might be stuck on.
  2. Dry pan thoroughly (like, bone dry) with paper towels (the seasoning will stain kitchen towels, so use disposable here!).
  3. Heat for 10 minutes on medium heat (on the stove or in the oven).
  4. Apply a very thin layer of oil with a paper towel.
  5. Allow to cool all the way.
How to Clean Your Cast Iron (The Gingered Whisk)

How to Get Burnt & Stuck On Particles off Your Cast Iron

If you have some dried on or burnt on food particles that are just not coming off, you can use 1/2 cup of coarse salt and a half of a potato to clean it! Really. The salt is abrasive (but not abrasive enough to remove your seasoning), and the potato has just the right amount of moisture needed to create a paste with the salt. And it makes a nice handy handle for you to grab onto and really scrub your pan. When you have scrubbed to your hearts content, make sure you rinse the salt out and thoroughly dry your pan. Place your plan on the stovetop to heat over medium heat for about 5 minutes. Wipe down with a thin layer of oil on a paper towel. Allow to cool.
If your pan is really, ridiculously dirty and you just can’t get it clean, then you can try boiling water in the pan to soften and remove your burnt on bits. Add about 1-2 cups of water (depending on how much you need) and boil for about 5 minutes. Cool slightly and then scrub well with a soft bristled scrub brush. Dry well with paper towels and then heat on the stove for 5 minutes over medium heat. Wipe down with a paper towel with a small amount of oil on it.
Notes:
*If you cook something acidic (like tomatoes or citrus) make sure you clean your cast iron right away, because the acidity can break down the seasoning. 
 
**If you are making pancakes, grilled cheese or french toast and using butter to cook them in, make sure to use a paper towel to wipe the pan down when you are finished cooking. Butter seems to soften your seasoning if left on the pan for too long, and your seasoning could start to flake off. 
 
How to Restore & Maintain Cast Iron (The Gingered Whisk)

How to Repair Your Cast Iron

Occasionally, accidents happen. Maybe you inherited a gross and unloved cast iron skillet. Or maybe you got one as a wedding gift and promptly put it into the basement, where it sat in a musty old box for a few years. Or maybe you were even lucky enough to find a sad looking cast iron in a garage sale! Whatever the reason, sometimes a cast iron will need a little – or a lot – of TLC. The good news is that cast iron can take some serious abuse, and can easily be turned around into a gorgeous pan once again.
  1. Use warm soapy water and a soft bristled brush to wash your skillet. Use some elbow grease to get your cast iron nice and clean.
    1. This is the ONLY time its ok to use soap on a cast iron. You are stripping the seasoning on purpose, so
  2. Remove any food particles by scrubbing with a soft bristle brush, or salt if needed (see above instructions).
    1. When you have a lot of food particles you need to remove you can use some 1 TBSP baking soda and 1 tsp of water to form a paste. Use a sponge to scrub.
  3. Remove any rusty spots with steel wool.
  4. Follow the above steps on how to properly season your cast iron. You might need to repeat the seasoning 2 or 3 times to get a nice shiny, black season on your cast iron.
  5. Make lots of bacon. Bacon grease is awesome for cast iron! So is a campfire! The best idea would be to go camping and cook some bacon for breakfast over a campfire. Your cast iron will be amazing after that!
See how easy it is? Don’t let cast iron scare you. It is not difficult at all to use, maintain, and care for. And you will have a lovely piece of cookware that will last you for years!

Check out my Post on Weeknight Skillet Meals for great recipes that use your cast iron skillet! 

How to Care For & Maintain Cast Iron - easily!

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4 Comments

  • Reply
    Mantelli
    September 25, 2015 at 1:30 PM

    It took me a whole lot of work to restore a beautiful little Japanese cast iron teapot because someone used some kind of horrible tasting black stuff on it. It took gallons of hot water, diluted vinegar and baking soda to get it clean. It has a couple white stains from minerals on it, but is now otherwise in lovely condition. I'm slowly trying to get rid of those stains with strong black tea.

  • Reply
    multitaskingmissus
    September 25, 2015 at 3:39 PM

    This is amazing! I've always been scared of cast iron and so I stayed away from it. I guess I'll need to start hunting for it now in the thrift shops around here. 🙂

  • Reply
    TAMARA
    September 25, 2015 at 9:14 PM

    IF I COULD HAVE ONLY TWO COOKING VESSELS IT WOULD BE CAST IRON DUTCH OVEN AND FRYING PAN. I LOVE MY CAST IRON. I HAVE BOUGHT SOME AT THRIFT STORES.
    MOST OF MY COLLECTION WAS HANDED DOWN FROM MY GRANDMA.

  • Reply
    Val
    November 3, 2015 at 4:13 AM

    This is an awesome post! I have a a couple cast iron pans and one cast iron dutch oven. I love how they are so versatile. I learned a lot from the post, so thanks for sharing! Also, thanks for linking up to the Country Fair Blog Party!

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