Cast Iron Skillet 101: Benefits, How to Season & More

Publish Date May 20, 2024 3 Minute Read

Cast Iron Skillets: Everything You Need to Know

There’s a reason every seasoned chef has at least 1 well-seasoned cast iron skillet in their culinary toolkit, but what makes this cookware such a great addition to your kitchen? From the right way to season and wash it to its various uses, let’s iron out the benefits of this must-have cooking instrument.

Why Should I Buy Cast Iron?

Useful on the stovetop, in the oven, over a campfire or on a grill, cast iron can be used just about anywhere. The material heats slowly and maintains a consistent temperature for as long as you need it to, making it great for edge-to-edge, even cooking.

You might have noticed how porous cast iron is. The microscopic holes that cover your pan are meant to be filled with cooking oil – this is what’s commonly known as “seasoning.” It protects the cast iron and gives it its nonstick properties. When taken care of properly, cast iron cookware can easily last decades.

How to Season a Cast Iron Skillet

The term “seasoning” actually refers to a layer of carbonized oil that sits on the cast iron and gives it a natural, nonstick cooking surface. The more you use your skillet, the thicker this layer of oil becomes, transforming your pan into an accessory you’ll be relying on for years. Even pre-seasoned cast iron, which comes with a degree of seasoning on it, can benefit from a home seasoning.

It might seem intimidating, but learning how to season cast iron is simple, and the results make it worthwhile. Here’s a step-by-step guide to prepping your new piece:

  1. Preheat your oven to 350-400°F.
  2. Using a cloth or paper towel, apply a thin layer of cooking oil to the surface of your cast iron. Any cooking oil or fat can be used for seasoning cast iron, but high-smoke-point oils or vegetable shortening work best.
  3. Place a baking sheet on the bottom rack of the oven to catch any excess oil drippings. On the center rack, place your cookware upside down so it drips into the baking sheet below. Bake for 1 hour.
  4. Let your skillet cool in the oven. Repeat these steps until your pan is dark black, shiny and smooth to the touch.

Types of Cast Iron Cookware

Cast iron cookware goes beyond your standard skillet. Here are a few different styles you might consider adding to your collection, and how to best use them:

  • Cast Iron Skillet: With its great heat retention and distribution, this kitchen staple is a versatile workhorse. Grab a single pan or pick up a whole cooking set.
  • Cast Iron Grill/Griddle: Use this large, flat version to make pancakes, eggs, chicken or steak.
  • Cast Iron Grill Pan: Great for cooking smaller portions, the grill pan does everything a griddle can do, and it takes up less space.
  • Cast Iron Dutch Oven: Ideal for maintaining an even and low temperature for prolonged periods, this single appliance can replace your slow cooker, pressure cooker, stock pot, loaf pan and deep fryer.

How to Clean a Cast Iron Skillet

You might think that cast iron is high maintenance, but it’s surprisingly easy to care for. Let’s go over how to wash a cast iron skillet to increase its longevity.

The most important thing to remember is that you don’t ever want your skillet to soak in water. Cast iron is still iron, and too much exposure to water can lead to rust, which won’t hurt the underlying pan but will require scouring and re-seasoning. Let your cast iron sit until dinner is over, then simply scrub it clean using a stiff brush and hot water.

For stubborn, caked-on food, you can use a nylon or chainmail scrubbing pad, or pour in a bit of coarse salt and scrub with a kitchen towel before cleaning with hot water. You’ll want to avoid using soap with cast iron, since it can damage your seasoning. Once your cast iron is washed, immediately towel-dry to prevent rusting. If your pan still feels damp, place it over a burner on low heat for several minutes to dry completely.

Cast Iron Skillet Recipes

You can use your cast iron to cook almost anything. Browse our full recipe collection to find our favorite cast iron recipes to try. For more meal inspiration, check out our trending recipes and see how many of them you can make in your new cast iron. For more kitchen tips, visit our Pots and Pans guide and our cheat-sheet for Cooking tips.

Cast-iron Chicken and Red Pepper Pizza

Roasted red peppers make for a delicious sauce with chicken and cheeses.

Pellet Smoked Skillet Chocolate Chip Cookie

Sink a spoon into this cast iron skillet cookie, served warm and topped with vanilla ice cream.

Cast Iron Potato Kugel

Baking this dish in a pre-heated cast iron skillet helps to make the edges extra crispy

Filet Mignon with Brandy Peppercorn Sauce (Steak Au Poivre)

Tender filet mignon crusted with black peppercorns is the foundation for this French dish.

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