How to Season, Clean and Care for your Cast Iron cookware

For the longest time, I shied away from cooking with cast iron as I knew there was a little more maintenance involved with is and without proper care and up-keep, it can be difficult to cook with.

Realising that my fears were irrational, I decided to take the plunge and invest in some cast iron. I scoured the internet for tips on looking after it, talked to friends about how they cook with it and keep it in good condition and now I absolutely love cooking with it.

The good news is, because I have spent all that time researching how to not f$*k it up…. I can pass on everything I’ve learned so you don’t have to do the same…. Good Times!

So this resource page will walk you through my seasoning process for a new piece of cast iron, some of my tips for cooking with it, how I clean it after use and how to store it.

If there is something you feel is missing from the page that everyone can benefit from… leave it in the comments and I can add it.

Seasoning Cast Iron

You’ve just bought a stunning new piece of cast iron, taken it out of the box and marvelled at it’s beauty for a few minutes….what now? Is it ready to cook with? Is there anything you should do before cooking with it?

Do I need to season pre-seasoned cast iron before using it?

Most cast iron manufacturers will ship their cast iron ‘pre-seasoned’ which means they have applied oil to the cast iron and baked it to form a protective coating. Most will state that the item is ready to use straight from the box, which is technically true – you could give it a wash, throw it on the BBQ and the world shouldn’t end.

There are very few companies (if any) who ship “Raw” cast iron these days. By raw, I mean without any protective coating – just bare cast iron. Depending on the price range and quality of the cast iron you have bought – the pre-seasoning will have either been sprayed on or applied by hand. Expensive cast iron tends to be finished by hand whilst the more affordable cast iron uses the spray on method.

So what’s the difference?

spraying the pre-seasoning onto the cast iron and baking it can leave a slightly textured surface. Expensive cast iron or really old cast iron will have a smooth, glass-like surface. So which is best? Well neither really… over time, the more affordable ‘sprayed on’ seasoning will start to get smoother as you build up layers of seasoning so the hand finished cast iron simply saves you some time.

For this reason, I like to get a head start by applying a few extra layers of seasoning while the cast is in it’s new state. The seasoning process takes time, and it’s something you will build on the more you use your cast iron.

How to season new cast iron

  1. Give your cast Iron a thorough wash with piping hot water then dry it off with a kitchen towel.
  2. Place the cast iron item on the hob and heat it up. This will remove any remaining moisture that has seeped into the cast. Your cast iron must be completely dry before you apply oil.
  3. Once dry, remove the cast iron from the hob and place it on a trivet to cool slightly. Let the cast iron cool enough that you can add the oil to it without it smoking. While it is cooling, pre-heat your oven to 175C.
  4. Add a small amount to oil to the cast iron – 1 teaspoon should be enough to coat an entire skillet. Rub it over the entire surface of your cast iron item using a lint free cloth (I use these Microfibre Cloths). Once you have rubbed the oil all over – turn the cloth to a clean side and clean off any excess oil.
  5. Place the piece of cast iron into the oven upside down on a wire rack to avoid any oil pooling inside the skillet / dutch oven. “Bake” the cast iron for around 1 hour before lifting it out and allowing it to cool on a trivet.

I repeat this process once more rubbing the entire surface with oil (including inside, outside and handles) then a third time coating just the cooking surface.

As I use my cast iron, I will re-apply the seasoning which means that over time it will develop and get better. The most important surface is the cooking surface as this will take the most abuse during use which is why I give it an extra seasoning at the start and I will re-apply every time I use it – the outside will be re-applied every 2-3 uses.

You can also buy cast iron care products which are a mixture of oils. I’ve been using the care product from petromax and I really like it. It’s easy to apply and seems to absorb into the cast iron quite well.

I’ve seasoned my cast iron and it feels sticky

Once the seasoning process is finished and your cast iron has cooled completely – it should be smooth to the touch and shouldn’t feel sticky. If you have seasoned your cast iron and it feels tacky after cooling – chance are you have used a little too much oil.

Good seasoning is the build up of multiple thin layers of oil that are baked which hardens them. You may be tempted to save time by adding a thick layer of oil and baking it on there but in reality, the cast iron can’t absorb it all and it will form that sticky layer on the surface.

If this has happened – don’t panic! Simply get the cast iron hot which will loosen that sticky layer then give it a scrub in the sink with some steaming hot water. Dry the cast over the hob and re-apply the correct amount of oil.

Tips for cooking with Cast Iron

Cast iron is a dream to cook with but if you are just starting out with it – it can be a little intimidating but it really doesn’t need to be. Here are a few tips to help you out.

Pre-heat your cast iron before adding food

Food placed into cold cast iron is much more likely to stick however a well seasoned piece of cast iron that has been pre-heated should never give you problems. Some foods will cause more problems than other (eggs being the famous one) but by maintaining your seasoning, pre-heating your skillet and adding oil to it each time – you should be able to cook almost anything!

Avoid using metal utensils

In an ideal world, metal utensils should never be used in cast iron as it can scratch and damage your seasoning. There are occasions when it doesn’t cause too many problems (flipping a burger or a pancake etc) however if you are mixing a sauce for example, the process of stirring and scraping any bits off the bottom can cause damage.

Try to use silicone or wooden utensils (some plastic ones can melt) where possible. These can be used to scrape stuck on food off the bottom of a skillet or dutch oven without damaging your pre-seasoning.

Give your cast iron and BBQ time to allow the temperature to settle

We are all familiar with allowing the temperature of our BBQ to settle before putting our food on, but cooking with cast iron means you will need to take the pre-heating of the cast iron into consideration too. A dutch oven or large skillet can take up to 30 minutes to get up to temperature so if you wait until your BBQ temperature has settled before you add your cast iron to pre-heat, you are adding to the cook time.

I’ve always found it best to add the cast iron as soon as I have tipped out my coals and put the cooking grates on. Large cast iron items can absorb a lot of heat from the BBQ, causing the ambient temperature to drop so bringing them both up to temperature at the same time should speed things up.

How to clean your cast iron after each use

So you’ve seasoned your new piece of cast iron, you’ve cooked your first awesome meal in it… now it’s time to clean it. Surely you can just throw it in the dishwasher and be done with it?? Well no…. rule number one is never put your beloved cast iron in the dishwasher. The high heat and dishwasher detergent will attack your seasoning…. cast iron needs to be cleaned by hand.

Can you use soap to clean your cast iron?

The short answer is yes…. however… it’s not something I recommend. Soap is designed to remove oil and grease from cookware which is what your seasoning consists of. Whilst most modern day dish soaps are not strong enough to cause any real damage, I would still shy away from using them.

To be honest, it’s a choice you can make for yourself but I am yet to come across a situation where the methods below have not been enough to get my cast iron clean… and none of them involve soap.

Cleaning your cast iron with hot water

This is my go to process for cleaning my cast iron every time I use it

  1. If your cast iron has cooled – heat it on the hob to loosen any residue then scrape it out with a wooden spatula (remember: Never Metal)
  2. Run your hot water tap until the water is piping hot. Your warm cast iron should never meet cold water as it can crack. The opposite is also true – cold cast iron should never meet hot water. Place your warm skillet under the hot tap and give it a scrub using a stiff bristled brush or non-abrasive sponge.
  3. If there are some stubborn, burnt areas – you can use a chainmail cleaner to get those off. Hold up! What happened to the ‘No Metal’ rule??? Chainmail cleaners have no sharp edges so they won’t scratch your seasoning – plus you don’t have to scrub that hard with them to get the burnt on crud off the surface.
  4. Once I’m happy that the cast iron is clean – I’ll roughly dry it off with a kitchen towel then place it on the hob over a medium heat. Get the cast iron hot to remove any excess moisture then lift it off and place it on a trivet.
  5. Finally, add some oil to the cast iron(a similar amount to what you used in the initial seasoning) and rub it all over with a lint free cloth then simply allow it to cool completely before storing.

This method of cleaning has never let me down and there have been a few times where I thought I’d never get my skillets back to their original condition.

If you are new to cooking with cast iron – it’s only normal that you might have some worries or questions, but I hope this page has answered some of them for you or at least give you the confidence to start using it more. As always, if you have any more questions, leave them in the comments of this page and I’ll do my best to answer them.