Cast iron cookware has been used for hundreds of years by generations of cooks who love its versatility and even cooking. Cast iron cookware is still popular today with chefs and home cooks. Although cleaning cast iron cookware takes a little longer than other pots and pans, it’s definitely worth the effort. Properly cared-for and cleaned cast iron cookware can last generations.
The first step in cleaning cast iron cookware is to season it for the first time when you purchase it. Cast iron cookware today is covered in the factory with a protective coating, either wax-based or shellac, that must be removed prior to the first use. The easiest way to remove this coating is to scrub your cast iron cookware under water with steel wool and a very small amount of dish soap. This will be the only time you will ever use dish soap on your cast iron cookware as it will interfere with the seasoning process later on.
Once the protective coating has been scrubbed off the cast iron cookware, rinse it thoroughly and empty out the water. Heat the pan on a hot stove until every drop of water has evaporated. A cast iron pan will rust if left wet or damp for any period of time. When the pan is dry and has cooled down, rub the cast iron cookware with either a cooking oil, such as vegetable or canola oil, or vegetable shortening. Do not use butter as it will go rancid. Coat the pan inside and out with the oil and rub off the excess with a paper towel. Treat the pan lid the same way. The oil fills all of the little nooks and crannies in the surface of the cast iron which protects it from water and air and, over time, creates a naturally non-stick cooking surface. If you have ever heard someone complain that food sticks in a cast iron pan, it is because it has not been properly seasoned.
Store the cast iron cookware in a dry cupboard with the lid off to prevent moisture from building up. The cast iron pan is now ready to use the next time.
After you have used your cast iron cookware, remove the food immediately otherwise the food will continue to absorb iron and can pick up an off-flavor. Scrape out any stuck food with a spatula. If food remains in the cast iron, you can soak it in water for no more than 15 minutes, then scrape with the spatula again. Pour a few teaspoons of table salt into the wet pan and scrub with a nylon scrub brush until no food remnants remain. The cast iron pan will still feel and look a bit greasy, but that’s alright as it means that some of the seasoning is still in the pan. Rinse the cast iron pan thoroughly and heat on the stove and re-season as above.
After several uses and seasonings, the cast iron cookware will take on the smooth black appearance of a well-seasoned pan. If cared for properly, your cast iron cookware can last long enough for your children to pass them on to their children and beyond.