Proper Care and Seasoning of Cast Iron Cooking Equipment

Joseph Gionfriddo

For this post I want to address a question received by one of our readers regarding the proper seasoning and care of cast iron cooking equipment. But before I provide my answer I must take the time to reference the cookbook that really got me into cast iron cooking in the first place, Seven Fires, Grilling the Argentine Way, written by Argentina’s most famous chef Francis Mallmann.  Throughout this book full of wonderful recipes there are many side notes, quotes, and chef tips related to all things having to do with wood-fire cooking.  One of these particular side notes is Chef Mallmann’s perspective on proper care and seasoning of cast iron pans and it is so perfect that I want to share it for this post.

While reading this quotation keep in mind that Chef Mallmann has multiple restaurants and cooks more in cast iron than anyone you know or ever will know.  However, the general idea and romance of cast iron cooking is absolutely there, so check it out, and then read my more practical approach.  In the end do whatever you feel is best for your personal style of cooking.

“I depend on cast iron, and I respect it, but I don’t go through the elaborate steps that some aficionados do when cleaning it. I know that many people never wash their cast-iron pans with soap and water, scouring them instead with coarse salt, then oiling the pans to develop a nonstick patina that’s equal to Teflon. I’m not one of them. I find that a pan that is oil-seasoned often smokes while it’s heating up; I prefer to oil my ingredients just before putting them on to cook. As far as cleaning off the sticky bits, pouring boiling water into a pan or dousing a very hot pan or skillet with a ladleful of warm water shocks them so you can easily scrape them off with a big spoon, spatula, or-my favorite chapa tool- a wide putty knife (the kind used by housepainters and plasterers).

I confess that my pans often show rust and some even crack from time to time but I just chalk that up to paying my dues.”

My personal philosophy regarding proper care and seasoning of cast iron boils down to one basic philosophy: don’t wash it, instead wipe it down thoroughly with a clean dry towel while the pan is still hot after each use.  The resulting temperature of cooking with a cast iron pan on medium/high heat will sanitize it thoroughly and the same heat will loosen any of those aforementioned “sticky bits” so that they can be easily removed with your spatula prior to wipe down.

When you purchase a new cast iron skillet or pan what I recommend you do is apply a teaspoon or two of vegetable oil (not olive oil as it can not stand up to the same level of heat that vegetable oil can) to your pan and with a clean paper towel rub it into the entire surface area of the pan (both sides). Really take your time and massage the oil into the cast iron until the whole thing is evenly saturated.  Now what you need to do is add some heat.  This is a great time to see how your pan heats up.  Start at medium heat for about 10 minutes, notice if your pan smokes, how hot it feels, how a drop of water sizzles on it, etc.  Next increase the heat to medium/high and let sit for another 10 minutes.  What you have now essentially done is fired on your new pan’s nonstickiness!  Let the pan cool somewhat, but while still warm, carefully wipe the entire pan thoroughly with a clean kitchen towel.  You have now successfully seasoned your cast iron and will not need to do it again.

While I do oil season my pans unlike Chef Mallmann, I do agree that the initial best way to keep food from sticking (even in a seasoned pan) is to oil your ingredients prior to adding them to a hot pan, and it is something that I do every time I cook.

To summarize what you must do to keep your cast iron pan performing to its utmost potential thoroughly scrape down and then while still warm, wipe your pan clean after each use.  Personally, I do not feel that water is needed to clean these pans at all, but it can be helpful if you have an extreme case of “sticky bits”.  Regular practicing of these few steps will help your cast iron maintain its wonderful non-stick properties for as long as you own it!

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Photo Credit: cinnachick

  • Melissa Hobbs

    Thanks for the info! I just bought my first cast-iron pan and am eager to break it in correctly. I’ve also heard that “baking” it in the stove is a good way to first add heat…have you heard of that?