New pan, old pan, rusty pan, sticky pan — Best practices for using and maintaining cast iron pans
One of the most versatile pans you can add to your kitchen arsenal is the cast iron pan. From seared steaks to deep-dish brownies, this pan is the undisputed workhorse of the kitchen. Whether you have an old, rusted pan you picked up at a garage sale, or are in the market for a new one, we are going to show you how simple it is to season, care for and store your cast iron cookware. If cared for properly, these pans can last a lifetime.
When seasoned the right way, cast iron can be a great non-stick alternative to Teflon, which unlike cast iron, breaks down over time and needs to be tossed. Durable and affordable, cast iron works double duty, going effortlessly from the stovetop into the oven.
The science of seasoning
The surface of a cast iron pan is naturally "pitted" or porous. In order to create a non-stick surface you must season your pan. Seasoning consists of heating a polyunsaturated fat (flaxseed, sunflower, canola) to the smoking point, creating oxidation of the oil. As the oil oxidizes it re-organizes itself into a new plastic-like layer of molecules — thus, a non-stick, well-seasoned pan.
How to season a new cast iron pan
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- Meanwhile, wash your pan thoroughly, inside and out, including the handle, with soapy water and dry well.
- Use a clean rag to apply a small amount (about one tablespoon) of oil (flaxseed, sunflower, canola) to the entire pan. Too much oil with result in a sticky surface.
- Place your pan, upside down on a baking sheet set in the middle rack of your oven and bake for 1 hour. Turn the oven off and allow your pan to cool completely.
That's it. Seasoned!
How to fix an old, rusty or sticky cast iron pan
If you have a fixer upper, one that is in need of some TLC, simply add two tablespoons of coarse salt to your pan and use a scouring pad or stiff brush to remove any rust spots or caked on debris. Discard salt and residue and continue as above with seasoning method.
How to maintain a well-seasoned cast iron pan
- Clean it after every use: Wipe it out with a cloth (and coarse salt, if needed) to remove any debris or food particles. Using a little warm water is acceptable, but never soak or submerge your pan in water — rust is the enemy.
- Dry it well: Set cleaned pan on a hot stove until all water has evaporated.
- Reinforce your seasoning: Once your pan is completely dry, carefully rub in a little more oil with a clean rag and turn off heat.
What to cook in your seasoned cast iron pan
Above all, using your pan regularly is the best way to maintain it. To make the perfect steak, sear it first on the stovetop then transfer it into the oven to finish cooking. A standard 12" skillet is perfect for frying a small batch of fried chicken, given that it holds and maintains heat so well. A deep-dish pizza cooked in cast iron will yield a crust that's both crispy and golden brown yet airy and chewy. Finally, if you are short on baking dishes, a cast iron skillet can be used to bake cornbread, brownies and even berry crumble.
What to make first? Here's some inspiration!