How to maintain a cast iron pan
People have been using cast iron pans to cook food for thousands of years, and with good reason. Before non-stick teflon pans, our ancestors used cast iron that is naturally non-stick thanks to the process of seasoning (and we aren’t talking about with herbs). If you like to cook and bake, then investing in a good cast iron pan is a non-negotiable.
However, cast iron requires special care when it comes to cleaning. You can’t just stick it in the dishwasher. So, what is the easiest way to clean your cast iron pan? And how can you maintain it so you can continue to use it for years to come?
The benefits of cast iron
Cast iron pans are becoming more popular as people are rediscovering all the benefits of using cast iron cookware. Here are some of the reasons why you should start using cast iron in your kitchen:
- Using a cast-iron pan does not require as much oil as regular pans as it’s naturally non-stick. As a result, you can lower the fat content of your meals.
- Because cast iron is naturally non-stick (after it’s seasoned) it doesn’t need to be lined with Teflon. Teflon is a non-stick coating material that is harmful when ingested and it often finds its way into food when you cook using Teflon-lined pans.
- You can save money on soap as well, as cast iron doesn’t require soap to clean. We’ll describe the non-soap cleaning methods later in the article.
- Cast iron pans heat up evenly, rather than only where the fire/heat source is concentrated to ensure that your food is always cooked evenly.
- Cast iron pans can also keep food warm for longer, even though they aren’t meant for long-term food storage. You can transport your food in cast iron and it will stay warm until you’re ready to eat.
- They can be used for both stovetop and oven cooking, and have no parts that will melt or get denatured when used in an oven, making them extremely versatile. You can use them to bake cinnamon buns or sourdough bread, or you can use them stovetop for stirfries and curries.
- Cast iron pans are so sturdy and durable, that they are practically indestructible. Once you buy one won’t need to replace it for life (provided you take proper care of it).
How to season a cast iron pan
Before using a cast iron pan for the first time, you will need to coat the inside using a process called “seasoning”. Seasoning involves coating your cast iron pan with a thin layer of fat or oil and processing it with high, consistent heat to form a hard, protective covering. This process ensures that food does not stick to the pan and the pan does not rust.
What you’ll need
To season a cast iron pan, you’ll need:
- Vegetable oil
- Aluminium foil
- A clean towel
- Some dish soap
- A stiff brush
Steps for seasoning a cast iron pan
- The first step in seasoning your cast iron pan is to ensure it’s thoroughly cleaned. Any dirt still on the pan when you season it will likely stay on the pan for a long time. You can clean the pan with warm water and a little dish soap. Scrub thoroughly and ensure that the pan is completely dry. You can heat it up on the stove to evaporate any water that may be left on the pan after washing.
- Take the vegetable oil and rub it on the inside and outside of the pan, coating thoroughly. Then buff it into the pan using a clean towel. Keep buffing the lightly applied oil into the pan until the pan appears dry. It’s important to buff the pan completely dry to avoid oil bumps after the seasoning process is done.
- Line one of your oven racks with aluminum foil and preheat it to 450°F. Once preheated, place your cast iron pan into the oven, upside down on the aluminum foil. Bake for a minimum of 30 minutes, flipping the pan towards the end. Flipping will help to get rid of any excess oil that might have escaped the buffing from stage one.
- After the first thirty minutes in the oven, take the pan out and repeat the entire process a few more times to complete the seasoning process (make sure you let it cool down in between).
Can you use anything else to season a cast iron pan?
Vegetable oil is a great option to season your cast iron pan but you can use other types of oil like grapeseed oil or flax seed oil.
Traditionally people would use a thin layer of lard to season their cast iron pans, but we would always recommend using vegetable oils as they are the more ethical option.
How to clean a cast-iron pan
When cleaning a cast iron pan, you can leave out soap altogether. But if you prefer, you can use a tiny bit of mild detergent without damaging the seasoning.
That said, avoid using anything that will adversely affect your seasoned layer. So avoid scouring pads made of metal or scouring powders. And never wash cast iron pans in a dishwasher.
Here are some simple steps to take when cleaning your cast iron pan:
- Once you are done cooking, clean the pan immediately by rinsing it to get rid of any food particles left in the pan. Do this to avoid the food particles getting stuck in the pan.
- Next, pour in some hot water without soap to dislodge any leftover food particles that may be stuck in the pan. Let the hot water sit only long enough for the food to come loose.
- Ideally, you should only need to use a dish cloth to clean the pan, but if there is anything stubborn you can use a soft cast iron brush to dislodge particles. Don’t use anything coarser though as it could scratch the seasoning, meaning you’ll have to re-do it.
- Rinse the pan again with hot water to make sure all the food particles are gone.
- Immediately dry the pan with a hand towel, and then over a little heat, to make sure the water dries completely. Always make sure it’s thoroughly dry to prevent any rust on parts of the pan where seasoning may be thin or scratched.
What to do if your cast iron pan rusts?
If your cast iron does get rusty, don’t fret. It doesn’t mean your pan is ruined. You can clean the pan and get rid of the rust to reclaim your prized cast iron pan. If your seasoning comes loose and your pan rusts, here’s what to do:
- First, soak the pan in a solution of water and vinegar for up to 8 hours. But if it’s just mild rusting it may only need an hour of soaking.
- After one hour of soaking use a hard brush or a ball of steel wool to scrub the pan and rid it of as much rust as possible. If it really stubborn then you can leave it to soak for as long as needed, checking every 30 minutes. You will need to scrub really hard to get all the rust to flake off.
- Once you’ve removed the rust, follow the instructions above to re-season your pot.
How to maintain a cast iron pan
By properly maintaining your cast iron pan you’ll ensure you can continue to bake and cook with it forever. Properly seasoning and cleaning it will help you avoid rust, avoid damage, and avoid food getting stuck to it. We use cast iron to bake many of our goods here because it helps use cook everything evenly and to perfection. Definitely include a cast iron pan in your home bakeware essentials. You’ll thank us later!