Cast iron is one of the few things in life that, when handled properly, truly gets better with age.
If you got your hands on some old rusted cast iron that needs some deep cleaning, or your cast iron just needs a good sprucing up, you've come to the right place. In this guide, I'll talk you through everything from regular cast iron maintenance to clearing away deep rust and gunk so your cast iron is in tip-top shape and ready to go.
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Cast iron basics
Cast iron is great for so many reasons:
- It is both stove-top and oven friendly. It makes it a breeze to start a dish on the stove and get it in the oven without having to transfer your food or dirty up extra dishes.
- While it doesn't necessarily distribute heat as evenly as other cookware materials, it retains heat like a dream. In most cases, it's best to preheat your cast iron on the stove for 10-12 minutes. Once it gets up to temp, cast iron stays right where you want it.
- Water will absolutely rust cast iron, but you can still clean your pieces with water. They need to be adequately dried and regularly seasoned.
- Both brand-new and heavily used cast iron can and should be cleaned with hot, soapy water. On a regular basis, skip the soap.
How to deep clean rusty cast iron
- Preheat the oven to 350º F and place a baking sheet or piece of aluminum foil on the bottom rack.
- Start by using a piece of fine steel wool and warm water to remove all of the surface rust on the cast iron.
- Once any rust has been scrubbed off, use hot soapy water and a sponge or cast iron brush to thoroughly wash the entire piece. Go back and thoroughly scrub the entire piece with hot water and a bristle brush (or clean sponge) to remove any soap residue.
- Dry the piece with a paper towel or kitchen towel to remove as much moisture as possible.
- Coat the entire piece- bottom, handle, and all, with vegetable oil or nonstick cooking spray. Only use a minimal amount (about one tablespoon for a 10" pan) or you'll end up with some seriously sticky cast iron.
- Place the cast iron in the preheated oven, upside-down, on the upper rack ( this ensures that any oil drips onto the cookie sheet or aluminum foil). Let the seasoned cast iron bake for 1 hour. Cool the piece(s) entirely before using it to cook.
How to season cast iron
- For a regular 10-12" pan, you really only need to use about one tablespoon of vegetable oil. Too much oil will gunk up and leave you with sticky cast iron.
- Make sure every bit of rust and gunk is removed before oiling your cast iron, and make sure it's totally moisture-free before baking.
- Use a paper towel or an old kitchen rag to rub the vegetable oil into the cast iron. Make sure to get every nook and cranny. If any rust is left behind, it'll spread.
- After seasoning the cast iron, bake it upside down in a preheated oven at 350º F for an hour. Stick a sheet pan or a piece of foil underneath to catch any oil that might drip off while the cast iron bakes.
- Set the seasoned piece on a wire cooling rack and let it cool completely before using it to cook.
How to maintain cast iron
- If you regularly use your cast iron, you'll want to make sure you give it a nice, deep scrub with soap and hot water once or twice a year. Follow this heavy wash by deeply scrubbing with only hot water. Dry the piece thoroughly with a towel before allowing it to finish drying on the stove over low heat. Once all of the moisture is evaporated, season the entire piece with a tablespoon or two of oil. Follow up with regular seasoning instructions.
- If your cast iron is just a bit gunky and only needs a quick cleaning, a paste of water and coarse sea salt works phenomenally. Buff the cast iron until any cooked-on bits of food are removed, then rinse the piece thoroughly to remove any salt and dry.
- Whenever you use water on cast iron, make sure to dry the piece thoroughly with a towel. It's best practice to allow the cast iron to dry completely on the stove over low heat for 15-20 minutes. Lightly spray the piece with nonstick cooking spray after all the moisture has evaporated.
My favorite cast iron
- If I could only use one cast iron piece for the rest of my life, it would be this one. This piece is so versatile, and I use mine almost every single day to bake sourdough.
- These mini square pans are great to have on hand. They're lighter weight, so they're easier to clean and maneuver, and they're perfect for smaller dishes like shakshuka. I have two and I use them at least once a month.
- This grill pan is perfect for getting a nice, seared finish.