Learn how to season this Southern kitchen staple.
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Cast iron skillets are staples in a Southern kitchen. This versatile tool can withstand extreme heat and cooks food evenly on its highly durable surface. Cooking everything from meat to vegetables maintains an evenly distributed and high temperature, so your food is prepared with the same attention as a professionally trained chef. 

Unfortunately, if you don't make the necessary preparations to care for your cast-iron skillet, it will eventually lose its sheen and, as a result, its super non-stick powers. Bringing back its luster and protecting it from rusting is as easy as scrubbing, oiling, and baking. Here's how to season your cast-iron skillet.

What It Means To Season a Cast Iron Skillet

Seasoning is a protective layer of oil baked into the cookware's surface to make the equipment durable, produce heat, and prevent rust. Cast iron and carbon steel skillets and pans require this treatment. Seasoning or curing a skillet transforms a thin layer of carbonized oil or fat to make it more water-resistant and prevents foods from sticking when frying, roasting, and baking. This protective layer increases with every use, so it's essential to care for cast iron properly. 

Many manufacturers pre-season their cast iron before selling it, but it's still a good idea to know how to prepare because it's recommended maintenance two or three times a year. Without this protective coating, the combination of water, cooking, moisture, and exposure to oxygen can rust the cast iron. 

How To Season a Cast Iron Skillet

Before cooking:

  1. Spread a thin layer of melted shortening or vegetable oil over the skillet.
  2. After applying vegetable oil to the cooking surface, preheat the pan on low heat, increasing the temperature slowly. You can place the skillet upside down on a middle oven rack at 375 degrees.
  3. Place foil on a lower rack to catch drips.
  4. Bake the cast iron for about an hour and let it cool entirely in the oven. 

Never marinate food in cast iron. Acidic mixtures will damage the seasoning. Re-season if food particles start to stick, rust appears, or you experience a metallic taste.

Cast Iron Cleaner Kit
Credit: amazon.com

How To Care for Cast Iron

There are a few steps to clean a cast iron skillet properly, but it's worth the effort to maintain this universally-adored kitchen utensil. The first rule about cast iron is never to soak it or leave it in water—this can create rust, which renders your pan useless.

Clean After Use

To remove rust, rub a carborundum rust eraser on the stain and re-season the pan. Find it at hardware stores, bike shops, or woodworking shops. To clean, use a stiff brush or plastic scrubber under running water while the cast iron is still warm but cool enough to handle easily. You want to clean cast iron immediately after use—it should still be warm. Wear protective gloves if the pan is still too hot or the water you are using is warm to the touch.

Scrub With Water

Scrub the cast iron with water and a sponge, but don't add dish soap to the mix as it removes the pan's seasoning. (Also, never put cast iron in the dishwasher for the same reason).

Add Kosher Salt

Kosher salt is also a good scrubbing agent for baked-on stains. The most important tip is never to use soap! If you struggle to remove food particles or residue, add coarse kosher salt to some water and gently scrub with a sponge to release it. Another option is to boil water until you can repeat the cleaning process with only water after the food dissipates or loosens.

Always Dry

Always dry cast iron entirely with a towel or place it over low heat, causing water to evaporate. Before storing your cast iron skillet in a dry place, you can prepare it for its following uses by coating vegetable oil with a dish or paper towel to cover the skillet's surface.

What You Need To Clean Cast Iron

Lodge Seasoned Cast Iron Care Kit

This kit created by Lodge Manufacturing, one of the oldest cookware manufacturers in the country, includes seasoning spray, a pan scraper, a brush, and a silicone handle holder. The seasoning spray is 100 percent vegetable oil, and the handle holder protects heat up to 500° F.

Cast Iron Pan Scrapers

Pan scrapers set that is safe for the dishwasher and resists food particles.

Red Chainmail Scrubbing Pad

Stainless steel chainmail pads will remove every last drop of food stuck to your cast iron—it's dishwasher safe, too.