Give Your Cast Iron a Little TLC

With proper maintenance, cast iron cookware improves with age.

| January/February 2010

Cast iron

In this age of gastronomic toys, cast-iron cookware still rules. This affordable option has two qualities that make it peerless: It can withstand high heat, making it perfect for searing and frying; and its heavy weight traps and maintains temperatures, which is ideal for braising. Properly cured and maintained, cast iron also can develop a wonderful nonstick surface, but you must follow a few simple rules.

The Cure

Step 1

You’ll need:
• A scouring pad or wire brush
• Natural dish soap

New cast-iron cookware comes with a coating, either shellac or wax, that you must remove before curing. A scouring pad or wire brush and warm water with a little dishwashing soap will get the job done. Once the coating is removed, you should never again let soap touch the iron. Let’s repeat that. Do not use soap on seasoned cast iron. The cure (seasoning) is based on grease, and soap’s job is to remove grease. So if you wash your iron with soap, you’ll destroy the very effect you are aiming for.

Step 2

You’ll need:
• Vegetable oil

Cover the pan’s surface, inside and out, with a liberal coating of vegetable oil. Put the pan in a cool oven. Turn the oven to 300. The pan should remain in the oven during preheat, then an additional 30 minutes. For extra insurance (against burns, too), let the pan cool inside the oven once you’ve turned it off.

Care and feeding for your skillet

Clean gently. Properly treated, your pan will never be bright and shiny. Over-scrubbing ruins the cooking surface. Gently remove food particles with a scouring pad, then rinse with water. Soaking it could remove its protective surface. Always dry immediately. Never clean cast iron in the dishwasher.

Keep it dry. Cast iron’s nonstick surface can be damaged by frequent exposure to water. Even making soup a few times can remove the coating. The best practice is to cook with dry ingredients or fry between liquid cooking. If you lose your coating, re-season the pot following the directions at left.

Cool down slowly. Never hasten the cooling process by exposing a hot pan to cool water. It can damage or crack the surface.

Watch it improve with age. Chefs and foodies often brag about their decades-old or inherited cast-iron pans. Thrift shops and garage sales are often good sources for similar vintage finds. If it’s a little rusty, just scour well and re-season.

For more information, visit  Mother Earth News and search “cast iron.”

jerry wiley
2/9/2013 3:06:41 PM

Jerry Wiley I got and old 10" skillet cast iron i ruin the inside i want to know what to do about reseasoning it

kassi meek
2/8/2013 12:46:24 PM

I dry mine on high heat on the stove as soon as it's washed, then i use just enough oil to give it a light coat all over with a paper towel, I'm old, had my pans forever and no one has gotten sick from them.

kayla engle lewis
2/1/2013 2:54:51 AM

I have been caring for my cast iron pan as recommended, but I worry that bacteria could be left without using soap to wash it. Any explanations about that? Does cooking automatically destroy any bacteria that was left?

rose schlem
1/31/2013 9:01:31 PM

Vegetable oil can become very sticky & hard to remove after "baking". Having used old & new cast iron for approximately 50 years, I recommend using lard, the original coating long before there was vegetable oil. You can buy a 1lb box of pure lard @ supermarkets. Keep it in freezer or refrigerator & use when needed, will last for years and will not spoil when kept this way. Hope you enjoy your cast iron as much as I have over the years!

vicki schoenwald
1/31/2013 7:37:26 PM

Rebecca, Take care of your pans and they will reward you with many, many years of service, in fact, they can be handed down to family. I have my great grandmothers, grandmothers 100+ year old Lodge and Wagner pans and bread pans and they are black and slick with use. Enjoy your pans

rebecca simpson
1/31/2013 4:43:36 PM

Thanks for the tips! Just bought my first cast iron pan a few weeks ago and have been curious how to take care of it. Loving it so far! :)

elderberry, echinacea, bee hive


Feb. 17-18, 2018
Belton, Texas

Sit in on dozens of practical workshops from the leading authorities on Natural Health, Organic Gardening, Real Food and more!