You can cook just about anything in a cast iron pan – meat, vegetables, even cake and cornbread. As the name suggests, cast iron cookware is made from a molten hot alloy that is poured into molds, or casted. You can find the pans in all shapes and sizes and in an assortment of baking molds, from corncobs to hearts to stars. Cast iron is built to last and if you know how to take care of it, you can use the same pan for an entire lifetime.
The history of cast iron cookware goes back at least as far as 6th century China, but we are perhaps most familiar with its history in Colonial America. At this time, the majority of cooking was done in a hearth. Cast iron’s ability to hold high and even heat for an extended period of time made it ideal for cooking over an open flame. The handles on the pans allowed cooks to hang them above the fire. Because of its popularity, cast iron cookware was manufactured in huge quantities, which is why we see so much of it being sold at vintage shops and antique stores. You can get a great used cast iron for around $10 (sometimes even less). Clean it up, season it… good as new!
Here I will teach you a simple technique for cleaning and seasoning your cast iron pans. If you are in the market for a new cast iron pan, check out my recommendation below.
Do you cook with cast iron? Share your cast iron tips in the comments section!
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How to Clean a Cast Iron Pan
You will need:
- Cast iron pan
- 1 raw potato, sliced in half
- 2 tbsp salt
- 1-2 tbsp cooking oil with a high smoke point (flax, grapeseed and peanut oils work well)
- Paper towels
- Wooden or metal flat-edged spatula
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Start by using a spatula to scrape any food residue from the surface of the pan. If your pan is mostly clean it can be wiped out with a damp cloth. Never use soap on your cast iron cookware.
Sprinkle the salt into the pan.
Using the flat side of the potato, scrub the salt into the surface of the pan. The moisture from the potato, combined with salt, helps to remove any debris or rust that cannot be eliminated by simply wiping out or scraping.
Use a slightly damp paper towel to wipe the salt from the pan.
Once the salt has been removed and the pan is dry, pour in the oil.
With a paper towel wipe the entire surface of the pan, including the inner sides, edges and handle, with the oil. The surface should be lightly coated in oil, with no excess oil pooling anywhere. Wipe out all of the excess oil before placing in the oven.
Once the pan has been thinly coated with the oil, place it in the oven at 400 degrees F for one hour. Allow the pan to cool and wipe out any excess oil that may be left behind. For pans that have been completely stripped of their seasoning, you may need to repeat the oiling and heating process multiple times to build up a thicker layer of protection. Do not use too much oil on the surface of the pan– it should be thinly coated, not dripping.
Once your pan is cool and you’ve wiped out any excess oil, your cast iron is cleaned, seasoned and ready to use! Every time you cook with oil in your cast iron pan (deep frying, sauteing, etc.) you will continue to build the non-stick coating, making it better with age.
You do not need to re-season your pan each time you use it. Once you’ve cleaned it after cooking (using the instructions above), wipe it with a thin layer of oil before storing. This will help to keep the seasoning intact between uses. Re-season the pan once every 15-20 uses, or whenever you start to notice foods sticking more and/or the seasoning wearing away.