Professional chefs and home cooks alike often say their favorite piece of kitchen equipment is the cast iron frying pan. This humble tool is versatile and extremely long-lasting, as long as you maintain it well, which isn’t hard if you know what to do.
Tips for maintaining cast iron cookware:
1) Iron is a metal that rusts easily, so the number one thing to keep in mind is that you should never soak a cast iron frying pan in water or leave it with standing water or liquid in it. After it’s washed it should be fully dried with a towel or placed on the stove top or back in the warmed oven to let all the water fully evaporate.
2) Next, you should always use wooden utensils with cast iron, or silicone if you don’t have a wooden option. Metal tools can damage the surface and remove the natural non-stick seasoning.
3) Third, avoid using soap on cast iron, simply wash with water. If you used the pan to cook something with a strong odor like fish or onions, simply wash it with water and then heat the pan to medium on the stove top (for about 10 minutes) and the smell will disappear. If food gets really stuck on the pan you can use coarse salt as an abrasive instead of steel wool.
4) Fourth and final tip (the most important one): keep your cast iron frying pan well seasoned. Seasoning cast iron means giving it a natural non-stick finish by warming the iron with a light coating of oil on it. The oil will absorb into the pan and keep it from rusting and give it a natural, healthy non-stick surface. For anyone worried about the detrimental health effect of using non-stick cookware (like Teflon), naturally seasoned cast iron is the healthy alternative for you. Olive oil is considered a perfect oil for seasoning cast iron because it has a very high smoke point and so it sustains high temperatures well.
How to oil (“season”) cast iron:
1) When the pan is clean and room temperature, brush a light coating of olive oil onto the cooking surface (never the parts of the cookware that touch the burner).
2) Warm the pan to medium heat either on the stove top or in the oven. Leave it for about 10-15 minutes. Then allow the pan to naturally cool. Do not wipe away the oil.
Usually pans need to be re-seasoned after about 10-30 uses, but you can tell with the eye. If you start to see dry looking areas, then it’s time to re-season it with olive oil. If you accidentally get a rusty spot on your cast iron cookware, you do not need to stop using it. Re-seasoning with olive oil makes the rust go away. It’s like magic!