Caring For: Cast Iron

I can’t imagine cooking without cast iron. If I could only have one cooking implement, it would be my cast iron skillet.

Cast iron is the workhorse of the kitchen. Cared for properly, cast iron cookware will last generations. Yet we’ve all seen the cast aside cast iron at thrift and yard sales, and wonder, What went wrong? 

For the most part, these mis-treated skillets can be brought back to life. Cast iron is tough as, well, iron. But that is another issue for another day. Let’s start with the basics:

  • Do not wash cast iron with soap.
  • Do not scrub cast iron with steel wool.
  • Do not leave cast iron pots to soak.
  • Do not put cast iron in the dishwasher.


Yes, you are going to wash your cast iron by hand. This is a life-long relationship, so it’s worth it.

Use a mix of coarse (Kosher) salt and water to dislodge any stuck on food. Or use the scrubby side of a sponge. Clean after each use, ideally right after cooking while pan is still hot or warm.

Water is the enemy of cast iron, so do not leave it to soak in the sink. This will cause rust spots.


Once clean, immediately dry with dish cloth or paper towel.


Once dry, season immediately. Now this is where some people get nervous. Not to worry, it’s a process. When you get a new pan, even if it has been pre-done for you, season it. Seasoning creates a smooth, non-stick surface that over time—and the more you use it—will just get better and better. Repeatedly heating cast iron and rubbing it down with oil creates a thin layer of polymerized oil which means the oil has broken down into a sheer veneer-like stick-resistant surface and has bonded with the metal. (This is not Teflon-level non-stick, mind you).

METHOD: Pour a little bit (a teaspoon or so) of OIL or LARD into the surface of the pan, rub in with you hands (all cast iron surfaces including sides, handle, and bottom), and place upside down in a cold oven. Set temperature to 350°F. Slide a cookie sheet or bigger pan underneath to catch any oil drips. Leave it for an hour, turn the oven off, and let the oven and pan cool down together. 

A well-seasoned cast iron pan is a thing of beauty to behold. I keep mine on the back burner of my stove, so it is always within reach. Teach your family how to cook in cast iron (there is a technique) and how to care for it properly because you can pass it down to them; and they can pass it down…and a hundred years later, it will still be going strong.

Photo: A Salami Cheese & Spinach Panini made in my 10″ Staub frypan.

Staub purchased (here)




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Susan Written by:

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