5 Tips for Cast-Iron TLC

cleaning cast iron skillet
There are two tools you need if you own cast-iron pans: a soft scrub pad and a plastic scraper.David Draper

1. Buy Pans Pre-Seasoned: Unless you found a rusty Dutch oven at a garage sale or are rehabbing your grandma's Griswold, there's no reason to start with a bare metal pan. Today's pre-seasoned pans are worth their extra cost, just for the jump-start they give you on the non-stick surface.

2. Seasoning Is Simple: The seasoning process isn't hard. Sure, it seems like magic, but it actually just takes time. First, make sure the new pan is clean of any residue, like wax or grease from the factory. Then, wipe the entire pan inside and out with a thin layer of vegetable oil and place it upside down in a hot oven. By hot, I mean 450 degrees or better. The oil is going to smoke, so I suggest using your grill instead of the oven if you want to keep the peace in your house. Every hour, use hot pads and a set of tongs to carefully wipe the pan down with a paper towel saturated in oil. Repeat this process four times. At the end, you should have a skillet smooth enough to fry eggs.

3. Cleaning Cast Iron: There are two tools you need if you own cast-iron pans: a soft scrub pad and a plastic scraper. With those two items, along with some Cast Iron Cleaner from Camp Chef, you should be able to easily wipe your pan or Dutch oven clean with little to no effort. For stubborn stuck-on food, simmer a bit of water in the bottom of the pan and use the scraper to pull it up.

4. Go Ahead and Use Soap: That old timer's tale about soap stripping the seasoning from cast-iron? You can forget that. Every cast-iron expert I've ever asked has said soap will not damage the coating of a properly seasoned pan. During the seasoning process, the oils are turned into a polymerized material. If it can withstand such high temperatures, it can also resist the effects of a little soap. The origins of this idea probably lie with the, well, lye used in soap back when cast-iron cookware came to prominence. Today's soap is much more gentle, so if you want to use it, go ahead. (But really you shouldn't need to.)

5. Post-Wash Maintenance: Probably the fussiest part about caring for cast iron comes after you clean it. Never put cast-iron away wet. Even with the best seasoning it can rust in the blink of an eye. I always wipe my just-washed pans with a dry paper towel and set them over a low burner for a few minutes to evaporate any water that may remain. Then, while the pan is still hot, I apply what I consider a bit of magic in the form of a drop of Camp Chef's Cast-Iron Conditioner. Ever since I started using this blend of palm, coconut, and sunflower seed oil, my everyday cast-iron skillet as turned into virtual Teflon.