How to Care for a Cast Iron Frying Pan

CC BY 2.0. David Reber

There's no need for a non-stick pan when you have a well-seasoned cast iron pan that's used and cared for properly. Here's how to do it.

My favourite kitchen tool is an old cast iron frying pan that my dad gave me years ago. He found it in the woods, rusty and caked with dirt from sitting outside. Despite the pan’s awful appearance, he believed in its integrity: “Just take it home, clean it up, season it, and you’ll have a great frying pan.”

I was skeptical, but my husband tackled the cleaning and seasoning of the pan with great gusto. After a few smoky hours of rubbing the hot iron with lard and baking it on, the pan was finally ready. (Find instructions here for how to season properly.)

That pan has gone above and beyond what I ever expected. Long gone is the Teflon pan I used to have, with its sketchy-looking scrapes and missing chunks of non-stick coating. I don’t miss it at all because the cast iron pan, if used properly, works just as well as a non-stick one. It even adds iron to one’s diet; anemics are told to cook their food in cast iron in order to benefit from the few milligrams of iron that leach from the pan with each meal.

In order for it to work well, however, you must take care to use it properly. Here are some tips for using cast iron after it’s been seasoned:

1. Never clean it with soap, and never use steel wool to scrub it. If you have some stubborn food, add a bit of water and heat until it softens, then use a stiff plastic brush to rub it, since that won’t destroy the seasoned surface.

2. Don’t cook anything that's acidic in the pan, such as tomatoes, lemon juice, vinegar. The acidity eats away the seasoning and leaves you with a brand new-looking pan, which is pretty but not the look you want. (Acid is fine in a ceramic-coated cast iron pan, such as Le Creuset.)

3. To get that non-stick effect, heat the cast iron first before adding anything. Add oil to the hot pan right before adding the food. This will result in perfect non-stick eggs that slip right out of the pan.

4. Never shock a hot cast iron pan with cold water because it can crack.

5. Don’t soak or leave a wet pan in the dish rack because this will promote rust. Always dry it over a low burner, then re-season with a quick wipe of shortening or vegetable oil on a cloth or paper towel before storing.

All of this may sound like a lot of extra work, but the result is worthwhile. You’ll have an amazingly flexible pan that can sear, sauté, simmer, bake, and broil, and you’ll feel better knowing that your family is eating food prepared in an all-natural, non-toxic way.