9 Tips for Caring for Cast Iron Pans

Quick and Dirty Tips
by Quick and Dirty Tips
Proper care of your cast iron pans can provide years, even generations, of use. Domestic CEO shows you how to take of these long-lasting kitchen staples.
Cast iron pans can be a great investment for your kitchen. Not only are they extremely durable, but they also allow you to create some unique dishes and flavors. Cast iron is great for when you want a crisp edge on pan-fried foods, and when you need to perfectly sear a slice of meat.

Despite all their benefits, you may have heard that cast iron pans are delicate and require special care. While there are a few dos and don’ts when it comes to caring for these items, these pans are actualy about as far from delicate as you can get - and in fact, are extremely durable, and can even be restored.

Today, we are going to focus on the everyday cleaning and care of cast iron pans. Let’s get started with talking about the seasoning process.
Before and after. Image via Fourthord
Tip 1: Start with Seasoning

All cast iron pans need to be “seasoned.” This has nothing to do with actual seasoning herbs; rather, it's the process of creating a non-stick layer of polymerized oil on the surface of the pan.

Even cast iron pans that come pre-seasoned should go through a couple rounds of seasoning to ensure that the surface is set. The process is very simple, and involves coating the pan with grease or oil, heating it to allow the oils to set on the surface, cooling, and repeating. Sounds easy, right?

To start, preheat your oven to about 300 degrees. Put the pan in the oven for about 10 minutes to get it warmed up, then pull it out using a thick pot holder, and set it on your stove top. Pour a little oil or grease (bacon grease or lard) into the pan. Allow it to melt and become very thin, then rub it all over the inside surfaces, including the sides, of the pan.

Next, put the pan back in the oven for about an hour. When the time is up, pull the pan out again, allow it to cool, and wipe it out with a clean paper towel. Repeat the process another 3-4 times, until the surface of the pan is shiny and smooth.

During the seasoning process, and any time you are using your cast iron pans, it’s important to remember that the handles are also made of iron, so they get very hot. Be careful any time you are about to touch a cast iron pan handle - and always assume it is hot!
Image via R/DV/RS @Flickr
Tip 2: Clean With Warm Water

The best way to clean your cast iron pan is also the simplest. Allow your pan to cool slightly, then use a plastic scraper to loosen any chunks of cooked on food stuck on the pan. Once you have everything loosened, run some warm water over the surface of the pan to rinse it out, then wipe the surface clean with a scrubby sponge if you need to (not steel wool, which is too rough.) Finally, rinse it again.

Be sure to then wipe the surface with paper towel and allow it to set until it is completely dry. If you put away a pan that still has moisture on it, you risk the pan rusting, so always make sure the pans are completely dry. You can even put the pan on a hot stove or back in the oven to ensure that all the water has evaporated.
Image on naturehacks.com via macheesmo.com
Tip 3: Clean Cast Iron After Every Use

I used to have a roommate that left her cast iron pan sitting on the stove for weeks. Her reasoning was that the pan didn’t really need to be cleaned, so it was easier to just leave it on the stovetop until the next time she wanted to use it.

While that may seem logical, if you don’t clean your pan after each use, you are leaving all the food remnants and grease out for dust, bugs, and other gross stuff to fall in. I don’t know about you, but I prefer to know that the only ingredients in my foods are ones that I put in! Make sure you aren’t getting any unwanted extras in your meals by always cleaning and storing your pans.
Tip 4: Avoid Soap

The seasoned surface of a cast iron pan is essentially a layer of oil, and if there’s one thing that oil doesn’t like, it’s soap. One of the main functions of dish soap is to break down food oils, so protect your seasoning and avoid dish soap as much as you can. The more seasoned your pan is, the more durable it is, but it’s a good idea to only use small amounts of soap to clean your pans - and to never let the soap sit in the pan.

Tip 5: Avoid Soaking Water

Remember high school chemistry class where you learned that water + iron = rust? This applies to cast iron as well. If you allow water to remain on the surface of your cast iron pans, you risk them rusting.

To avoid this, never put cast iron pans to soak in the sink, or pans of water to sit on the stove. It’s better to just let the dirty pan sit until you have the time to fully clean it, rather than letting water touch the surface for any amount of time. Just don’t let it sit for too long, because like I said above, that can be pretty gross!

Tip 6: Hot Pans Need Hot Water

If you need to immediately rinse your pan after cooking, make sure to use hot water. There are few things that can cause permanent damage to cast iron, but immersing a hot cast iron pan in cold water can cause it to warp, or even crack. Remember to use hot water with hot pans, or allow the pan to cool substantially before using cooler water to clean it.
Tip 7: Never Use the Dishwasher

Now that you’ve learned that both soap and extended exposure to water are bad for cast iron pans, you’ve probably figured out that sticking them in the dishwasher is a doubly bad idea. These pans need to be hand washed every single time. Besides, those little wire prongs that help organize the dishes in your dishwasher are no match for a big, heavy thing like a cast iron pan. Prevent them from becoming bent and rusty by hand washing your larger, heavier pans.
Original via Harsha K R @Flickr
Tip 8: Season Cast Iron Pans on a Regular Basis

Once you have a clean, dry pan, take a look at the surface. If it’s starting to look dull or rougher than normal, it is likely time to season the pan again. This has to be done on a regular basis, but not necessarily after every cleaning. As you get more used to using your pans, you’ll start to be able to tell when they need another seasoning session.
Image via Slick-O-Bot @WikimediaCommons
Tip 9: Storing Cast Iron Pans

Once your cast iron pans are clean, dry, and seasoned, it’s time to store them. If you have multiple pans, place a paper towel in the bottom of each pan, then nest the pans inside each other. Keep them in a place where you can safely move the heavy pans when you need to use them again, and also where they don’t risk being exposed to moisture.

Proper care of your cast iron pans can provide you years, and even generations of use. Whether you have a new set of cast iron pans, or you have one that someone passed down to you, following these easy steps to keep them clean and dry will keep your pans useful for years to come.

This originally appeared at http://www.quickanddirtytips.com/house-home/housekeeping/9-tips-for-caring-for-cast-iron-pans
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