Not many things in the kitchen get better the more you use them. You have likely worn the non-stick coating off more skillets than you can count. Cast iron, on the other hand, improves every time you use it. If properly taken care of, cast iron will outlast most other pots and pans in your kitchen.
With cast iron, rust is your arch-nemesis. To properly fight rust, season your skillet before using it the first time. Seasoning is simply baking a coat of oil on the pan’s surface. This baked-on layer or layers helps create a non-stick coating and prevents the pan from rusting due to exposure to air and water. You will also need to reapply a thin coat of oil after each use. Don’t be intimidated by the upkeep requirements. The process is straightforward, as you will find out here.
Washing a cast iron skillet is not like cleaning your other dishes. The goal is to remove any food particles and excess grease, not to sanitize the skillet.
Clean your pan while it is warm-You should always try to wash your cast iron when it is still warm. This is the easiest way to clean the pan before food can stick to it. If you let the pan cool while enjoying your meal, you can always warm it again on the stove or boil some water in it before trying to remove stuck-on food particles.
Scrub with salt and a brush-If you have put your pan through it, salt can be used as a mild abrasive in conjunction with a soft scrub brush to loosen up any food particles that need to be removed.
There are several things you want to avoid when washing your skillet. First, you do not need or want to use soap. Soap can break down your pan’s seasoning. You should also never soak the pan since this will allow water to penetrate the skillet and can cause rust. Finally, don’t use steel wool or harsh abrasives on your pan. Your goal is to protect your seasoning and ensure you don’t allow rust to take over.
Always actively dry your cast iron. Do not simply leave it out or in a drainer to dry. You want to dry the skillet with a lint-free towel or even a paper towel and then heat it on the stove for about 10 minutes to ensure all the water has fully evaporated. You are fighting rust, so you have to ensure no water is left over on your pan.
Once you have heated all the water out of your skillet, you need to rub a quick coat of oil on the surface. You can choose any oil on hand, but canola and vegetable oil are widely used and commonly available options.
If you had to resort to scrubbing with an abrasive such as steel wool to get the pan clean, you might need to reseason. Place the oil-coated pan in a 350-degree oven for about an hour. Once the time is up, let the pan slowly cool in the oven. Depending on how badly the seasoning was stripped, you may need to repeat this process once or twice. Once these steps are complete, hang your skillet up, so you don’t allow moisture to settle on any surface.
Your goal is always to keep your pan dry and oiled. If you do find that it starts to show signs of wear, rust, or degradation in the seasoning, you can always start over and reseason the pan from scratch. With a bit of care at each use, your seasoning will improve, and your pan will continue to get better.