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As one of the most durable, dependable cooking methods of all time, there's no reason why anyone should be intimidated by working with cast iron. After all, it's been time-tested and proven from Puritans to pioneers to professional chefs throughout the centuries. But before you jump into a lifelong relationship with a cast iron pan, you've got to learn how to season and clean a cast iron skillet first.
If you're buying a new pan from Lodge, you're already a step ahead: the American manufacturer pre-seasons its cast iron cookware with a thin layer of baked-on oil before each piece leaves the factory. However, even a brand-new pan needs a little TLC before it fries its first egg, and that goes double if you're snagging a vintage cast iron skillet at a tag sale or inheriting a secondhand pan.
How to season a cast iron skillet
Here's how to season your cast iron skillet to give it the perfect natural nonstick finish.
- Gently scrub the cast iron pan with dish soap and water, then rinse and let it dry completely.
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil and place it on the lower rack of the oven.
- With a paper towel, wipe the pan evenly on all sides (inside and out) with a very light layer of vegetable oil, canola oil, or melted vegetable shortening. These are all fats with high smoke points, which means they will bake on cleanly instead of turning sticky. Do not use olive oil or butter to season your cast iron pan—they're great to cook with, just not for initial seasoning.
- Place the pan upside down on the top rack of the oven and bake for 1 hour. Turn off the oven, leaving the pan in the oven to cool completely as the oven cools down. This process of baking on a layer of oil builds up the pan's naturally protective patina, smoothing out the rough texture of the cast iron and creating a nonstick finish without sprayed-on chemicals.
- Repeat as desired; a single round of seasoning is enough to get you started, and the pan will continue to build up its seasoning as you cook with it. For a seasoning bonus, cook bacon, thick pork chops, or a steak in the pan for its first go-round. The natural fats in these meats will work wonders on its finish.
How to clean a cast iron skillet
Cleaning a seasoned cast iron pan is as simple as rinsing it—wipe with a clean washcloth or soft sponge under very hot water, then dry thoroughly. To give the pan extra love, rub the clean pan with a very light layer of vegetable oil or canola oil and place over medium-low heat for a few minutes.