Food/ How-To

Caring for Cast Iron & Why it’s the Best

CARING FOR CAST IRONCast iron skillets are the bomb. Seriously, they are bad ass beasts and everyone should have one. Sadly, a lot of people seem disinterested because of the “maintenance” and misconceptions, such as “They rust easily!” (not if you take care of them) or “You’re not supposed to clean them, so that’s gross!” (No, you’re gross.)

I have two cast iron skillets and I use them for just about everything. Everything except stir frying, because you would need Hulk wrists to quickly flick a cast iron skillet in order to get the proper motions for stir frying.

Why is cast iron the besty best and better than the rest?

Cast iron is durable. Cast iron cookware is fabricated with the same base material that builds engine blocks. (WHOA!) So, it’s safe to say that they will last a very, very long time. A lifetime, maybe. You might want to put your cast iron skillet in your will.

Cast iron boosts iron absorption. Cast iron skillets are fabulous for pescetarians like myself, or people who are on plant-based diets. Even though it sounds myth-erific, cooking in cast iron does, in fact, boost iron absorption making it a great vessel for cooking non-heme iron sources (along with sources of Vitamin C, which can increase your absorption up to five times). SCIENCE.

It’s a safe non-stick surface. Unlike Teflon, which offers the possibility of releasing dangerous toxic fumes when overheated, cast iron offers a non-stick surface that won’t harm you or your pets. As long as you take care of it and season it properly, your cast iron skillet should be your go-to for non-stick needs.

It retains heat. If you’re making something in your cast iron skillet and you want to also serve it in your cast iron skillet–because it’s all beautiful and rustic and shit–you’re in luck. Cast iron retains heat much longer than other cooking vessels and your food will likely stay hot for the entire meal.

The older, the better. I tend to believe that–like all things old school–the older the cast iron, the better the quality. Things were crafted with care back in the day. One of my cast iron skillets is from my late grandmother and it’s still in tip top shape. The other one is newer–we’ll see how that holds up. Basically all I’m saying is that if you can get your hands on a hand-me-down, AWESOME. If not, no big deal. Cast iron is cast iron. I’m just a sucker for good craftsmanship.

They are versatile as f*#!. I use my cast iron for pretty much everything. Frying, roasting, baking, broiling, sautéing, searing… everything. You can put it on the stove top, in the oven, on the grill, or over a campfire. If an intruder breaks into your home, you can also use it as a weapon and whack them over the head with it. If you aren’t sold yet, then I give up.

I couldn’t think of any real justifiable cons for cast iron myself, but I figured there had to be some. So, I hit the trusty World Wide Web and found some humorous cons to share.

They are heavy. Do you even lift?

It’s easier to burn yourself. Maybe you should exercise caution in the kitchen and not be a total n00b, huh? How’s that for a burn?

They are susceptible to rust. Well, humans are susceptible to stink but we avoid that by taking care of ourselves, right?

They require more maintenance. Ah, the reason why I wanted to write about Caring for Your Cast Iron and Why it’s the Best in the FIRST place. The “maintenance”, which basically includes salting, wiping, rinsing, drying, moisturizing, and putting it away. Hard tasks are hard. We get it.

Finally–to use soap, or not to use soap. There are two types of people out there: people who believe you can use soap on cast iron, and people who believe you shouldn’t. I was taught under the old school belief that you should not use soap on cast iron because it meddles with the seasoning of the pan. My method has served me well and my cast iron skillets are still looking brilliant, so I’ve happily stuck to my routine. Some say that scrubbing with a bit of soap will not interfere with the seasoning. Part of me thinks that this idea comes from the brigade of paranoid anti-bacterial folk out there. I’m 110% cool with using a natural salt scrub and heat to kill bacteria, but hey–it’s your cast iron.

One thing you truly do need to avoid, and even the pro-sudsy people will agree, is letting your cast iron soak in water. This is a big HELL NO. It will damage your skillet and can cause rusting.

K, let’s do this.

Dirty skillet is dirty.

Cleaning Cast Iron 1  Here is my skillet, after use, once it’s cooled down.

The first thing I do is throw approx. 1 tablespoon of coarse salt into that bad boy.

Cleaning Cast Iron 2Then I take a sponge or coarse cloth (don’t use steel wool or anything of that sort), and I rub the pan down in a circular motion to pick up all of that grease and grit.

Cleaning Cast Iron 3It stinks, but look, it works!

Cleaning Cast Iron 4After a nice salty scrub down, I rinse the skillet with water. If I still see some grub, I scrub it off and rinse again until the skillet is grub-less.

Once the pan is cleaned, I dry it thoroughly with a towel and place it on the stove top over a low flame for a few minutes to lend a hand in the drying process. Heating it up also kills bacteria. A salt scrub + heat = bye, bacteria! So soap can “gtfo”, if you know what I’m sayin’.

Skillet over heatThat is not a “low flame”, but it looked cooler.

After allowing the skillet to sit over a low flame for approx. 5 minutes or so , I turn off the heat and let the skillet cool down again.

Next: it’s moisturizin’ time! I treat this step as the post-shower lotioning. Nothing feels better after a hot shower than lotioning yourself, right? Well, the skillet agrees.

I use approx. 1 tablespoon of vegetable shortening to moisturize my skillets. You can also use oil. With a paper towel, I rub it in, moving in a circular motion.

Cleaning Cast Iron 5Make sure to grease up the edges as well as the bottom surface.

How happy and clean does this skillet look?

Cleaning Cast Iron FinalSee? No soap used and it’s sparkly as f^$*. 

Store it in a dry place until next time.

My placement of choice is inside the oven.

Cast Iron Dry Place

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20 Comments

  • Reply
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    CARROT CASHEW ZOODLES WITH CRISPY SESAME TOFU - Justine Celina
    March 10, 2016 at 9:22 pm […] eaters to add more iron to their diets. My blogging chum Dana over at Killing Thyme recently wrote a super helpful (and hilariously written) post about caring for your cast iron — hop over there if you’re looking for more information […]
  • Reply
    Gloria @ Homemade & Yummy
    March 1, 2016 at 2:20 pm I love my cast iron skillet and cleaning it properly to maintain it's wonderful properties is crucial.
  • Reply
    Sam | Ahead of Thyme
    March 1, 2016 at 11:05 am Thanks for the great tips on taking care of cast iron pans. I actually don't have one (yet) and am looking to buy one this week. These tips will really help!
  • Reply
    Vicky @ Avocado Pesto
    March 1, 2016 at 10:56 am Loooove cast iron skillets! They are the best. Have one from my great grandmother that stills works perfectly. Loved seeing your cleaning method!
  • Reply
    Sherri @ Watch Learn Eat
    March 1, 2016 at 10:49 am First of all, I must say I thought I was looking at a picture of my own oven with two baking sheets and a cast iron pan stored in it! :) Anyway, my husband is totally obsessed with using our cast iron pan. I will have to share all of your awesome cleaning tips with him. I'm sure he will love this! Great post!
  • Reply
    Shreyashi
    March 1, 2016 at 10:47 am Dana, This is an excellent post. co-incidentally this week, I was talking about cast iron skillets too. I do adore them so much. :) Even I am partial to the no suds technique. Although, I do like to clean it up with soap if I am switching between sweet and savoury dishes. How do you tackle that? Or do you reserve separate skillets.
  • Reply
    Kavey
    March 1, 2016 at 10:30 am We have an old black cast iron casserole dish with lid that my mother gave me, she'd had it years. Durable, great heat distribution and retention, and beautiful too!
    • Reply
      Killing Thyme
      March 1, 2016 at 10:37 am That is awesome, Kavey! I'd love a cast iron casserole dish with a lid. I can't even say I've ever seen one!
  • Reply
    Amanda | The Cinnamon Scrolls
    February 29, 2016 at 5:52 pm I LOL'd so hard at this article! What a brilliant piece! You've totally convinced me that I need a cast iron skillet now. If only I could convince my wallet to produce the funds...
    • Reply
      Killing Thyme
      February 29, 2016 at 8:36 pm Haha, I'm so glad! Thanks, Amanda :) You can get some decent ones on Amazon for under $40 -- sometimes under $30! Great investment that will last you a life time, promise!
  • Reply
    Lindsey
    February 28, 2016 at 10:23 am Well, you've convinced me. Time to go out and buy one ;P Great read. I'd love to see a follow-up to this on how to properly season your cast iron for us n00bs out there! :D <3
    • Reply
      Killing Thyme
      February 29, 2016 at 5:40 pm Right on, sisterfriend! To "season it" is to coat the cast iron with the fat (shortening/oil) to prevent any rusting and offer a reliable non-stick surface for cooking... so basically the vegetable shortening process you see here is the "seasoning" :)
  • Reply
    Ian Tewksbury
    February 28, 2016 at 10:20 am You sold me. I'm going to find mysef a hipster cast iron pan made by some rustic person who wears flannel and mines their own ore. But I still love my Demeyere Industry5 pans and pots. I would be curious for comparisons or use case differences between the cast iron and stainless steal.
    • Reply
      Killing Thyme
      February 29, 2016 at 5:35 pm Yay! \o/ Nick likes to use the Demeyere Industry5's but he burns meat in them and smokes out the kitchen every. damn. time. Haha. So I boycott the buggers.
  • Reply
    Sofia | From the Land we Live on
    February 27, 2016 at 10:03 am This is hilarious!! I've been using my cast iron pans for a few years and LOVE them! I do use a little bit of soap not to disinfect but to dissolve any excess grease and it's fine....hasn't ruined my pans yet. I am curious about the salt method though and will try it next time. The only downside I can think of is the excess iron for men. It's probably not be a big deal, but men don't usually need the extra iron, especially if they're eating meat. I don't know how much is actually leached from the pan but I sometimes think about it and have bugging my husband to get his iron tested just to be sure it's in an ok range (he thinks I'm crazy, which is probably true). Anyway thanks for all the tips and Saturday morning laughs :)
    • Reply
      Killing Thyme
      February 29, 2016 at 5:31 pm Thanks, Sofia! I'm glad the soap hasn't ruined your pans. I'm sure you take excellent care of them! And you're right, I hadn't thought about the excess iron for men. I'll have to be mindful of that--thanks for bringing that up! My husband is the same. Who knows what his iron is like...or anything else for that matter, lol. I'll have to read up on symptoms for iron overdose! Happy to offer tips and, most importantly, happy to make you laugh! Thanks for stopping by, Sofia :)
  • Reply
    Elaine @ Flavour and Savour
    February 26, 2016 at 3:41 pm These are all great tips! I love my cast iron pans and am often tempted by the soap . . . but I know that it really isn't necessary. Best part? These things will last a lifetime if you look after them as you have suggested.
    • Reply
      Killing Thyme
      February 29, 2016 at 5:28 pm Thanks, Elaine! The longevity of these babies really is impressive :)

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