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How to Clean and Maintain a Cast Iron Skillet

featured cast iron

Our very own Test Kitchen expert, Tim Hagedorn, personally loves cooking with cast iron pans. It’s what he reaches for in his kitchen at home, especially when he wants a golden, crispy crust on baked dishes or a good sear on a beautiful cut of meat.

And even though cast iron pans can’t go in the dishwasher, they have a natural, nonstick surface that’s easy to clean with a little hot water and a scraper. But should you use dish soap? How do you keep it from rusting? How do you oil the pan, and what cooking oil do you use? We have questions. So, of course, we went to our resident cast iron devotee for answers.

Tim explains, step-by-step, how to cook, clean, and season cast iron skillets.

Cast Iron Skillets

Cleaning Cast Iron

  1. Wash your cast iron with a nylon bristle scrub brush and hot water. If you still have stuck-on bits, use a pan scraper to get them off.
  2. If the food is extra sticky, simmer a little water in the pan for a minute, then use the scraper after the water has cooled.
  3. Thoroughly dry the pan right away with a dishcloth or paper towel.
  4. After the pan is dry, rub the pan with a very light layer of vegetable or canola oil while the cookware is still warm.
  5. Hang or store your cast iron in a dry place.

How to Remove Rust From Cast Iron

If you’re following the cleaning suggestions listed above, it’s unlikely your cast iron will rust. But if it does happen, it’s ok—you can’t ruin these pans!

Scour the affected area with steel wool, rinse dry, and rub with vegetable oil. If the problem persists, reseason the cast iron.

Chili Lime Pork

How to Reseason Your Cast Iron

Re-seasoning is a process you shouldn’t have to do very often, but if the pan is very rusty or is looking dull and splotchy, follow these steps:
  1. Wash the pan in warm water and then dry it.
  2. With a clean cloth or paper towel, thoroughly rub vegetable or canola oil all over the pan—inside and out. Continue to rub it, so there is no longer a greasy sheen. This step is important because excess oil can pool and form into hardened droplets or turn sticky.
  3. Put the oiled pan upside down in preheated 450°F oven for one hour. Place a sheet pan on the rack below to catch any drips.
  4. Remove the pan with oven mitts and apply oil thoroughly again, and place back into the oven. Repeat this two–three times.

Cast Iron Cleaning Q&A

What Utensils Can I Use With Cast Iron?

Use any utensils you like, even metal. There’s no chemical coating that the tools can damage.

Can I Use Soap on Cast Iron?

Soap isn’t always necessary, but if you like, a little mild detergent is okay. Stay away from dishwashers and metal scouring pads, which can harm the pan’s seasoning.

How Do I Keep My Pans From Getting Sticky?

Apply oil to a warm pan and don’t over oil your pan. The seasoning will build up over time.

What Type of Oil Should I Use?

Any food-safe cooking oil or shortening will work, but our Test Kitchen experts prefer vegetable oil or canola oil.

What's This Dark Residue I See When I Clean My Cast Iron?

Occasionally, you may notice some dark residue on your paper towel or cloth while cleaning it. The residue is just the seasoning (the baked-on cooking oil) responding to foods that may be slightly acidic (like tomato sauce) or alkaline (like spinach and kale). The residue will disappear with regular use and care.

Tim’s best advice for maintaining the seasoning on your cast iron skillet is to use your pans! Cooking in your cast iron regularly with any cooking oil is a great way to keep them looking great and performing well.

Tim Hagedorn, Pampered Chef Food & Trend Innovator. Tim worked at a number of Michelin-starred, fine-dining restaurants in Chicago before coming to Pampered Chef. He believes that cooking isn’t just about putting food on the table, but learning, exploring, and creating special memories that enrich people’s lives.

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