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Cast Iron 101: Cooking, Cleaning and Seasoning

Cast Iron 101: Cooking, Cleaning and Seasoning

Cast iron seems quite intimidating — and time-consuming to the unfamiliar. And, while it does take more care than your average stainless steel skillet, it’s not nearly as scary as it sounds.

When to Use: Cast iron is perfect for cooking dishes that need time both on the stove and in the oven. But that’s not all — any stovetop dish that would benefit from cast iron’s even heating is great!

When Not to Use: Boiling water isn’t a great idea — it can cause rust to build-up.

How to Use: You can preheat cast iron in the oven for ideal heating. Start it on a low heat on the stove, and, when it’s hot (it will take longer than other materials), start cooking. The handles will be hot, so always use an oven mitt or a towel when picking it up. Also, don’t use metal spatulas or other utensils on the surface — use plastic or wood instead.

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When to Season: You’ll want to season, or coating the skillet with oil and baking it in the oven to create a nonstick surface, if your newly-purchased cast iron was not purchased pre-seasoned. If you see rust developing, if food is sticking to the surface, or it’s been washed improperly, you should re-season it.

How to Season: Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Using a paper towel or cloth, lightly coat the cast iron with a cooking oil. Place a drip pan on the oven’s bottom rack, and place the oiled skillet, upside down, on the top rack. Let cast iron bake in oven for one hour. Word of warning: doing this might make your kitchen smoky, so open a window!

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How Not to Clean:

  • Never run cast iron through a dish washer.
  • Never submerge in water.
  • Never run cold water over a hot skillet — it can actually cause the cast iron to warp.
  • Never use steel wool to wash cast iron.
  • Never put wet or damp cast iron away. Always dry it (and dry it well) with a towel. Cast iron can stain towels, so you might want to have a special one reserved just for drying it.

How to Clean: Try to wash cast iron as soon as you’re done using it. Hot water is best. Use a mild abrasive to scrub food residue. If the residue isn’t coming off, use a coarse salt to help lift it. If it’s still not coming off, it’s okay to occasionally use a few drops of dish soap. The more you use soap, the more often you’ll have to season the pan, but a few drops here and there won’t ruin cast iron for good. If your cast iron has a lid, store it without it on.

The Best Part About Cast Iron? Cast iron is very, very forgiving. If you make some sort of fatal error,  you can always re-season it.


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Katie Waldeck

Katie is a freelance writer focused on pets, food and women’s issues. A Chicago native and longtime resident of the Pacific Northwest, Katie now lives in Oakland, California.


+ add your own
1:19PM PDT on May 7, 2013

I have cast iron skillets that belonged to my grandmother as well as a Dutch oven and a gumbo pot, and I have to dispute some of the advice given in the article.

Do NOT use plastic implements - the heat retention will melt them. Use bamboo.

Do NOT use soap - ever. Use hot water. If a bit of food is stuck, use steel mesh (NOT Brillo or other soapy steel wool - just plain steel mesh) gently on the stuck bit.

Do NOT dry with a towel. Place the clean, wet pan on the stove, and turn the burner on, and burn it dry. While it's still hot, if you see any spots that need to be reseasoned, brush with a bit of oil.

4:06PM PDT on May 6, 2013

Now I feel bad about getting rid of my cast iron skillets.

11:13PM PDT on Apr 22, 2013

We love our Cast Iron! It is really old and will last longer than us!
I bake in it slide it right into the oven! Just Love it! always dry it well!
Don't use abrasives on it!

9:48AM PDT on Apr 10, 2013

Good advice from Kelly C. about never putting tomatoes in cast iron. She's definitely right!

1:55PM PDT on Apr 8, 2013

And never cook tomatoes or tomato-based sauces... the acid will ruin your cast-iron pan's seasoning. (It doesn't just taste bad, it wastes the time you put into seasoning your pan properly.)

7:06AM PDT on Apr 8, 2013

A way of life

9:26PM PDT on Apr 6, 2013

They are the best!

8:52AM PDT on Apr 6, 2013

Thank you for info.

8:51AM PDT on Apr 6, 2013

Thank you for info.

8:15PM PDT on Apr 5, 2013

Love all my cast iron skillets, they can go right into the oven to bake with, clean them and make sure they are dry. I just set them on a burner for a few seconds to dry, ready to go again, Never use abrasive materials on them. They last longer t han any lifetime! The older the better they are.

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