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How to Easily Clean and Season a Cast Iron Skillet | The Old Farmer's Almanac

How to Clean and Season a Cast-Iron Skillet

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Heather Blackmore
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Keep Your Cast Iron in Good Condition

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A cast-iron skillet can last a lifetime—or probably several, if it’s passed from generation to generation! Here’s how to clean a cast-iron skillet to keep it in the best possible condition and not lose that all-important seasoning.

Cast-iron isn’t just renowned for its durability; cooking with it also comes with health benefits. Research has shown that cast-iron infuses food with a healthy dose of iron. And take it from me—an anemic gal—cooking on a cast-iron skillet is waaaay better than choking back liquid Geritol. It’s the most forgiving cooking utensil, able to withstand neglect and easily restored when it falls into the right hands. Anemic or not, an inexpensive and indestructible cast-iron skillet deserves a space in every cook’s cabinet.

How to Clean a Cast-Iron Skillet

First and foremost, do NOT use soap on cast-iron pans! The soap will break down the seasoning of the pan, dissolving its natural non-stick layer. 

Instead, if your pan is in good shape, follow these instructions after each use:

  1. Wipe the pan clean with a paper towel, preferably while it’s still warm, which will make it easier to remove bits of food.
  2. Using a non-metal brush or non-abrasive scrubber, rinse the pan under hot water (no soap!) and give it a good scrub. Alternatively, use a small handful of coarse salt and scrub with that. 
  3. Dry the skillet thoroughly with a cloth or paper towel—drip drying is a no-no—then heat it on a medium-low burner to evaporate any remaining moisture. (Rust will accumulate if water is allowed to sit on the pan’s surface.)
  4. Add a half teaspoon of oil (I used canola) to the pan when it’s cooled down a bit but is still warm to the touch.
  5. Using paper towels, spread the oil around so that the interior is coated. Continue to wipe down the pan with the oiled towels until the entire surface is smooth and there are no pools. Flaxseed oil, sunflower oil, soybean oil, and corn oil will also do the trick. 

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How to Season a Cast-Iron Skillet

Most cast-iron pans come with a factory seasoning that improves with regular use and proper care. Well-seasoned cast-iron skillets naturally become non-stick. Buh-bye chemicals. Basically, the more you use it, the more non-stick it becomes. How does it work? When heated to its smoke point, oil or fat oxidizes and forms a Teflon-like layer that seeps into the pores of the pan, creating a slick surface known as seasoning. With repeated use, the seasoned layer builds and less oil is needed for cooking.  

Sometimes a pan will need a bit of TLC, especially if it’s gone unused, to bring its seasoning back up to snuff. Here’s how to breathe new life into an old pan:

  1. Place the skillet over medium-high heat and get it good and hot.
  2. Using tongs, dip a paper towel in two tablespoons of oil and wipe the interior until it smokes and there’s no residue. Be sure to grasp the handle with a towel or oven glove.
  3. Repeat the smoking process three times, allowing the pan to cool a little between each application.  

Read more about why we love using cast iron for cooking!

2023 Almanac Club