The cast iron skillet is a pretty amazing kitchen tool. Use it to bake brownies or mac and cheese, to roast Brussel sprouts or sear chicken thighs — the uses are pretty much endless. As a material, cast iron is dense and heavy, meaning it holds in heat and distributes it evenly, making it perfect for all sorts of recipes.
Washing and seasoning a cast iron skillet takes a little practice, though. Seasoning refers to the layer of oil that gets baked onto the surface of your skillet, forming a protective layer and a slick surface for cooking. While many cast-iron skillets come pre-seasoned, you can also season a cast iron skillet yourself, and then maintain it through cooking with the pan regularly. Dishwashers and rough handling can damage this layer, so it’s important to clean it properly to get the most out of your pan.
For everyday cleaning, wash by hand with warm water. For day-to-day cleaning of your skillet, wash it in the sink with warm water and a non-abrasive sponge. It’s okay to use a little bit of mild dish soap, too, if you’re worried about getting it clean. If you’ve just finished cooking, let the pan cool off before running it under the tap, otherwise the drastic change in temperature could damage the cast iron.
Use a wooden spatula or scrub brush for stubborn food residue. For those stuck-on bits of food that won’t come off, use a wooden spatula or scrub brush to gently scrape it off. Another trick is to add a few tablespoons of kosher salt and a few drops of warm water to the pan while it is still warm from cooking. The salt will dissolve into the water, forming a scrub that helps clean the cast iron without damaging it.
Really stubborn residue? Try simmering water. If the food still won’t come off, try putting the pan back on the stove and simmering water for a few minutes. This should release even the most steadfast gunk.
Make sure to dry it thoroughly. After washing, dry off your pan with a paper towel or dishcloth. It’s important to get the pan as dry as possible in order to avoid rust. (While rust isn’t the end of the world, cleaning it off can be tough and can strip off the layer of seasoning). You can also heat the pan on low heat on the stovetop, or stick it in a warm oven, to dry it further.
Oil your pan. Once it’s dry, rub a very light layer of cooking oil over the entire surface of the pan, including the handle. You only need a couple drops. Any neutral cooking oil, such as canola or grapeseed, will do the trick.
Cook with your cast iron regularly to build and maintain seasoning. Using your skillet to fry, bake, roast — and everything else it’s good for — helps to keep your pan seasoned and in good shape. Oils from cooking and cleaning the skillet help give it that glossy, black finish.
You can also season it in the oven. If the layer of seasoning gets damaged, it’s no big deal. You can easily re-season your cast iron skillet. After washing, drying, and oiling your skillet, simply place it upside down on the top rack of your oven, and bake it at 450 degrees for one hour.