One merry little morning, I was looking through our cupboards and saw the dusty, rusty ole cast iron skillet. And I said to myself, “Self, we are going either love this skillet, or lose it.”
A challenge? I love a good challenge! Right then and there I decided to give our skillet one week to prove it’s amazingness. If at the end of the week I felt no love, she would get the boot.
So this is a story of the tips, tricks and skills I’ve acquired over the last week as I fell slowly, and very madly in love with my cast iron skillet.
You might be here with a used and abused cast iron skillet. In that case you need to do some damage control. Check out this video for a super simple way to restore your skillet. Then meet me below to get started.
How to love your cast iron skillet in 5 simple steps!
1. Season Your Cast Iron Skillet
Can we all agree that “seasoning your skillet” is a really misleading term for the process. When I would look into cast iron skillets, all I would hear is “you must season!”
BUT WHAT DOES SEASON EVEN MEAN???
The first time I heard this term I literally thought I should be adding some herbs and rubbing them in. That to me is seasoning. But actually it’s just greasing with oils and fats, cooking with oils and fats and baking with oils and fats.
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There are a million different suggestions from a million different people on which oils to use on your cast iron skillet. Such as factual data on smoking points of oils, whether or not to use animal fats, there’s even recommendations on buying special (and sometimes pricey) seasoning kits.
Here’s my theory.
Ma from The Little House on the Prairie can master and use a cast iron skillet for every meal while camping on the High Prairie. Therefore I should be able to master a cast iron skillet in my modern day kitchen.
Be like Ma.
Most importantly, we aren’t going to get fancy here. Think of seasoning your skillet as these three steps: preseason, season, and reseason.
Preseason your cast iron skillet when your skillet:
- is brand new
- has been unused from some time
- is dried out
- just got a major bath and repair
First, grab your clean and dry cast iron skillet. Grab your oil of choice. Rub your oil into, on and around your skillet. Get the front, the sides, the back, tops, bottoms, handles, all of it. And rub it in.
Second, heat your skillet up! You can heat by baking the skillet in the oven, or simply heat it on the stove top.
Lastly, let it cool, and if desired, repeat.
In short, our goal is to basically bake the oil into our skillet. In thin layers. Multiple times over, again and again. This is preseasoning. Not complicated, right?Why can’t people just say this!
Grease and heat. Repeat. Simple.
Keeping preseasoning in mind, our first few meals in our cast iron skillet used simple, naturally greasy ingredients. Think ground beef, bacon, all the good stuff.
When cooking in your cast iron skillet, make sure to use oils or drippings (animal fats/grease) to keep the skillet seasoned as you cook.
To clarify, if you’re sautéing some veggies, use olive oil. Baking brownies? Grease with butter before pouring the batter. Cooking up some deluxe chili cheese fries? Coat your pan with bacon grease first.
Re-Season (not just pre-season)
Moreover, I have major issues with this term “season” as it lead me to believe this wasn’t something I had to do regularly. Let alone when I was all done cooking. Part of my success with our cast iron skillet rests in knowing I need to re-season after each use.
Dirty, Clean, Re-seasoned
Long story short, after the cast iron skillet is washed and dry, I grab a paper towel (in our kitchen, we prefer reusable swedish dish cloths instead of disposable paper towels), a dab of whatever oil is readily available, and I wipe it down so it’s conditioned thoroughly.
Just make sure you only apply a thin layer, wiping off any excess oil, before you store your pan.
2. Preheat Your Skillet
Furthermore, preheating is the glue that holds the nonstick piece to the puzzle. Quite literally. If we preheat the cast iron, food cooks more evenly, you avoid hot spots on the pan, and food is less likely to stick!
While baking with cast iron, simply stick the cast iron in the oven during the preheat phase. If I’m on the stove top, I let it sit on the burner while I prep my food, rotating a few times, to ensure an even heat on the pan.
3. Use Low Cooking Temps
Another great cast iron tip is to keep your cooking temperature low. Never once have I gone past low/medium on our range to cook in our cast iron skillet.
Because skillets obtain and hold heat so well, a high temperature will just cause your food to cook too quickly, as well as stick to the cast iron skillet. So remember to always keep your stove top temperature low when cooking.
Check out this pancake experiment. Top plate, medium heat. Bad choice. Bad. My pancakes started to burn. They stuck to the pan like glue. I turned the heat down to low. And as the skillet cooled to temp, those glorious golden pancakes started to slip off my cast iron skillet like butter.
4. Clean Your Skillet While Hot
After you’re done cooking on your cast iron skillet, don’t wait, clean post haste. Cleaning the cast iron while it’s still hot means food doesn’t have time to dry to the surface. Just add water, scrub if needed, rinse and wipe dry.
Bonus if you clean while still hot, it takes no time at all to care for our pan!
Don’t believe me? Check the clock! Four minutes to rinse, fully dry, and re-season the skillet.
After I’ve hand dried, I set it back on the still warm stovetop burner. This step heats the pan slightly, drying off any excess water. Water left on the skillet will cause it to rust. Heating the skillet to dry is a great way to prevent and care for your pan.
For really tough stuck on spots, I’ll follow up the scrub with a little coarse ground kosher salt rub down. The salt scrubs the leftover residue off. Then I simply rinse and dry. But in all honesty, since I’ve learned to preseason, preheat and cook with low temps, I haven’t used salt once.
The Great Soap Debate
To soap or not to soap, that is the question. Generally, some people use soap on their cast iron skillet, evidence and modern research points to soap being okay. And if you use soap, you do you!
In my experience, a hot mess skillet was never saved by soap any more than it was by the hot water and salt method (and in my experience the hot water + salt was more effective than soap, as well as left my preseasoning layers better in tact).
5. Use Your Cast Iron Regularly
The more you use your skillet, the more you season it. The more you season your skillet, the more it’s natural nonstick surface is maintained. If you season your skillet and leave it in a drawer for months, it won’t contain the same properties as a skillet used a few times a week.
Skillet brownies slip right out of the pan when your pan is kept seasoned and healthy.
Bake with it, cook with it, you can even grill with it or use it on your smoker. The options with your skillet are virtually endless.
Our skillet did not require a large investment. Getting to know the skill required meant we wanted to go easy on our wallet. We have this simple 12″ skillet, and we are loving it!
We love our cast iron skillet. The flavor it adds to our meals is something other cookware simply does not provide.
So don’t be afraid. Season. Preheat. Use low temps. Clean while still hot. And keep cooking and baking!
Use these five simple tips and you’ll be falling in love with your cast iron skillet as madly as I am.
Cast Iron Skillet + Ceramic Cooktop Tips
Cook at your own risk. Per most ceramic cook top instructions, cast iron is not recommended as it can scratch the surface of your cook top.
If you do choose to cook with a cast iron skillet on your ceramic cook top:
- Always lift your cast iron skillet on and off your ceramic cooktop. Be sure to set your cast iron skillet gently on your cooktop whenever placing it to cook.
- Never slide cast iron skillet across cooktop. If food particles are stuck between the skillet and surface, or your skillet has a rough texture, they could scratch your ceramic cooktop.
- Choose a cast iron skillet that has rounded edges on its bottom. Our 12″ skillet has rounded edges and a smoother finish. These characteristics mean there is a lesser chance of scratching our ceramic cook top.
- Cook at your own risk! Understand that choosing to cook with cast iron on your ceramic cooktop may be against your manufactures recommendations.