Cast iron skillets are one of the most durable, longlasting pieces of cookware you can own, but they are tricky to clean and maintain, particularly if you have never cooked with one before.
There are varying opinions about how to properly care for and maintain a cast iron skillet, and it can be difficult to find and determine fact from fiction. I will focus only on the methods generally agreed upon by researchers.
You must season cast iron skillets before you use them as this helps the pan develop a non-stick surface. Most cast iron skillets that you purchase today already come pre-seasoned. However, if you are not sure if the pan has been seasoned, you can do so yourself. There are several different ways, but they all involve heating the skillet in an oven using high temperature oils such as canola, sunflower or safflower for anywhere between one to two hours.
You should clean a cast iron skillet immediately after use to maintain the pan’s seasoning. Acidic foods like tomatoes can remove the seasoning if they remain in the skillet for too long and letting grease stand overnight can result in unpleasant flavors.
To clean a cast iron skillet, wait for it to cool down and then run hot water over it in the sink. Do not let the pan soak in water. If immersed in water for too long, cast iron will rust. It’s up for debate whether to use soap when cleaning. Some researchers say a mild soap will not harm the seasoning; however, others say any detergent is harmful. All agree that you should not run your cast iron skillet through the dishwasher.
To remove food that is stuck to the skillet, you can use a stiff dish brush, soft sponge or chainmail (stainless steel) scrubber. I like to sprinkle a small amount of coarse salt in the skillet and rub with a dishrag or paper towel. Do not use scouring pads or steel wool on cast iron skillets, as these will remove the seasoning.
Dry the skillet immediately with a clean rag or paper towel to prevent rust. Do not let your cast iron skillet air dry. Lightly oil the skillet using a small amount of your high temperature oil on a paper towel once it is dry. It should be shiny, but not sticky.
For more information, contact the Letcher County Extension office.