How to Season and Clean Your Cast Iron Cookware

Have you ever wondered how to season a cast iron skillet? Or how to clean it between uses? Maybe you’ve just been given an old pan, or you’re thinking about buying a cast iron skillet. And maybe you’ve heard there are all these extra steps and rules to taking care of this cookware, and it’s put you off owning it.

It’s easier than you think. Whether you’ve just inherited a pan or bought a brand new one, it only takes a small effort to keep it in great shape. And you’ll be well-rewarded by the many benefits of cast iron skillets.

If you’ve gotten a pan from family or an estate sale, you can tell if it’s well-seasoned by looking at it. Does it have a dark, somewhat glossy finish with no rust spots? And does it feel dry to the touch, rather than sticky or greasy? Then it’s well-seasoned and ready for use.

Or if you just bought one, it will have been seasoned at the factory. But you may want to season it yourself again. Many people choose not to rely on the factory finish.

Cast iron skillet with spray oil and rag

The Initial Seasoning

The first seasoning is the one that takes the most effort, and it’s still pretty easy. Remember: If you’ve just bought a cast iron skillet, it’s already pre-seasoned from the factory and you can skip this step completely. But if you have an old pan that’s not looking so good, or you don’t trust factory seasonings to be enough, here’s what to do.

  1. Wash it in hot soapy water. You may have heard that you never, ever let soap touch cast iron, but that’s after it’s been seasoned. And also, once in a while, it’s a rule you should break.
  2. Dry thoroughly. You can towel dry, but it’s good to leave it on a warm stove for a couple of minutes to evaporate any remaining water.
  3. Rub oil all over the inside. You want a thin layer of oil. People debate which oil is best, but any vegetable oil will work – canola spray is super easy to work with. Olive oil and bacon grease work, too.
  4. Buff the oil, or wipe off the excess. Buff if until the pan no longer looks greasy or wet at all. Some sources don’t mention this step, and instead tell you to put something in the oven to catch the drips. But if you leave any oil on it at this point, it will start cooking in the next step and that could interrupt the seasoning process.
  5. Bake it upside down for 30-45 minutes at 350-400 degrees. There’s some possibility it will smoke, so keep an eye on the oven during this process.
  6. Repeat if needed. Chances are, the skillet looks dark and semi-glossy now, and that means you’re all done. But if it’s a very old pan that hasn’t been used in years, you may need to do this process up to 3 times to get it seasoned.

Buffing oil in cast iron skillet

How to Clean Cast Iron

After that, the way to keep your skillet seasoned is basically just to cook with oils and fats and clean it properly. Every time you do that, more fat gets cooked into the seasoning surface that keeps your pan at its best.

So the real trick is understanding how to clean your skillet. You may have heard all sorts of things, like that you must never let soap anywhere near your cast iron, or don’t let it soak in water (and they are definitely not dishwasher safe). So what do you do?

Step 1: Wash

Scrub your skillet with water and a pot scraper or silicone scrubber. You should never need to clean iron with soap, because it will eat away at your seasoning. If something is seriously stuck to it, try adding salt and scrubbing some more. If you decide you absolutely have to use soap on some rare occasion, choose a mild one.

Rinse and dry your cookware thoroughly as soon as you’re done. Don’t ever let soap or water sit on the surface of your skillet.

As with any cookware, cleaning is easier to do while the pan is still hot. But since iron retains heat for so long, you can wait until after dinner.

Step 2: Dry it

Dry your cookware thoroughly with a towel. You don’t want even a hint of water on it when you’re done, because it would get trapped under the oil in the next step and could start rust.

Just to be safe, let it sit and air dry for a few minutes while you’re dealing with the rest of the dishes.

Step 3: Oil it

Rub a very small amount of oil (or spray) all over the pan – the bottom and up the sides. You can use any oil or fat you cook with, from vegetable oil to bacon grease.

Now rub off the excess oil with a paper towel. And that’s it. Next time you cook, the heat will make the seasoning stick.

Seasoning Cast Iron is Easy

And that’s all you need to know. It sounds like a lot when you’re reading it, but once you do it a few times, it will feel natural and easy. And yeah, it’s more work than tossing a stainless steel or non-stick pan in the dishwasher, but your cast iron cookware provides better flavor and lots of flexibility in cooking.