Cast iron cookware has been around for thousands of years. In fact, the first known use was during the Han dynasty of China in 220 A.D. While it took a while for cast iron to become mainstream, what was made during the 16th century with then-modern casting techniques could still be in use today if properly cared for. You may not need your cast iron to last 500 years, but it can easily last a few lifetimes with a bit of TLC.
Why Cast Iron?
Cast iron has been around for thousands of years for a reason. It handles direct heat well, so it can be used on an open flame or in an oven. You can even use it directly on hot coals or over a campfire! Maintaining and caring for cast iron is different than other types of pans, but requires very little effort. Cast iron lasts for many, many years and can be handed down from one generation to another. In addition, they add minerals to your foods that other cookware does not. With all of these things considered, it’s worth making sure that your cast iron receives proper seasoning before its first use and periodically during its service years. But before you season, make sure to remove any rust it may have!
What Causes Cast Iron to Rust?
The easy answer is moisture. However, that moisture can come from many sources. If water is left in the pan or the pan does not have proper air circulation to dry completely, it will quickly rust. Sometimes moisture can easily be wiped away while other times it requires a bit more elbow grease—but only a bit.
How to Prepare the Pan
Cast iron skillets absorb rust into the pits and inconsistencies of the pan. To make sure you have an even surface for seasoning, use some sandpaper to lightly take the top layer off. When you no longer see any rust, you might notice that the pan has a dull finish rather than a rich deep shiny black finish. Now, it's ready for seasoning.
How to Season the Pan
The process is ridiculously easy. (If you’ve ever thrown away a rusty pan, you might find yourself a little embarrassed once you know how easy.) Are you ready for the secret? Oil. Any kind of oil will work, but the recommended types are soybean, vegetable, melted shortening, or canola oil. These options reduce your chances (slim as they are) of creating a rancid flavor in your pan. After sanding the surface of the pan to remove the rust, apply a thin but consistent layer of oil across the bottom and up the interior sides. Bake in a 350-400 degree oven for about one hour.
Proper Care and Maintenance
Once you’ve purchased and seasoned your cast iron, or re-seasoned grandma’s favorite pan, it’s important to provide proper care so they last for the next generation. The easiest way to remove stuck-on food from the bottom of your well-seasoned cast iron skillet is to add water and boil it. Within minutes, the use of a metal spatula will leave the pan ready for a quick rinse. Do not use dish soap on cast iron. Instead, wipe it clean with a cloth or use a dish scrubber. Ensure the pan is completely dry by turning it upside down on a warm stove burner for one to two minutes. Warning: Make sure to set a timer to remind yourself to turn off the burner off!
Intermittently, treat your pan with another thin layer of oil after a wash and thorough dry. If you notice your pan beginning to get a thick, goopy black layer, it may be accumulating too much oil on the surface. Solve this problem by placing the pan upside down on top of foil in a 400 degree oven for about one hour to allow the excess oil to drip off. When storing your cast iron pans, place a napkin between those stacked together to absorb moisture.