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Everything You Need To Know About Cooking With Cast-Iron Pans

If you follow this guide, cooking with cast iron will be a breeze!

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What's so great about cast iron?

Cast-iron pans are basically indestructible. Even if they're old and rusted, they can be repaired. And if you take good care of cast-iron cookware, it can last you a lifetime! Some people in the Tasty kitchen even have cast-iron cookware that has been passed down to them by their parents or grandparents.

You can also cook quite a variety of things in your cast-iron skillet. They're great for searing meat and roasting veggies, but you can also make a ton of sweet recipes with them. And the more you use cast-iron cookware, the better it gets!

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You want to season your cast iron whether it's old or new. New cast iron typically has a coating to protect it during shipping and storage. And old, rusty cast iron can be restored through the seasoning process. Either way, you always want to season your cast iron before using it for the first time (or if it's just been a while or needs some damage control).

If this isn't your first time seasoning the pan and you're just adding a maintenance layer, skip steps 1 and 2 and start with step 3.

*Note: This guide features a cast-iron skillet, but these methods will work for any bare cast-iron cookware.

1. Scrub your skillet down to its base layer.

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First things first, you want to scrub your cast iron down with steel wool, hot water, and a mild dish soap to get it to the base layer. Scrub the entire pan, including the handle and the bottom and sides of it. These pans are actually one piece of cast iron, and you want to season the whole thing, not just the inside.

*Note: You only want to do this if this is your first time seasoning the pan or if you're trying to get rid of rust and residue and bring it back to its base layer.

Once you've finished scrubbing the pan, rinse it under hot water and continue scrubbing with a non-metal scouring pad or the tough side of a sponge.

2. Completely dry the skillet to prevent rusting.

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Towel-dry the skillet after rinsing. Then, place in a hot oven or heat on the stovetop to dry completely. This will ensure that any excess moisture boils off and the skillet is completely bone-dry. This is the most crucial step to prevent rusting.

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3. Add a thin layer of oil.

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Pour a small drop of oil into the skillet and spread it around with a paper towel or dish towel, covering the entire pan. Then take the clean side of your towel and wipe off any excess oil. Cast-iron cookware is porous, and the oil works to fill those pores and create a smooth, nonstick surface. Enough oil soaks into those pores during the initial coating, so you can go ahead and wipe off as much as you can. Leaving too much oil on is a common mistake that will leave your skillet sticky.

*Note: Flaxseed oil is the new standard, since it dries the hardest and creates the best, longest-lasting nonstick seasoning, but it's also pretty expensive. If you don't want to spend that much money, canola oil will also work just fine.

4. Heat in the oven.

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After coating the skillet in oil, place upside down in your oven at the highest temperature it can go — between 450°F and 500°F. The high heat allows the oil to break down and bond with the cast iron. If your oven isn't hot enough, the oil won't break down and your skillet will come out sticky. This process takes about one hour. After that hour is up, turn off your oven and let the skillet cool off in there.

The result:

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Seasoning will give you that hard, glassy layer that protects your skillet and makes it nonstick. The more you do this, the better and more effective the seasoning of your pan will get.

For regular maintenance, do this process at least twice a year. If this is the first time you're seasoning your skillet, it's best to do this process twice in a row. If this isn't your first time seasoning, skip steps 1 and 2 and just start with adding a thin layer of oil and heating it past the smoking point in the oven.

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With good seasoning and the right cooking technique, your skillet will be nonstick and easy to work with (not to mention it'll help you make some pretty delicious food).

Preheat your skillet before adding any oil, fat, or food.

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You always want to preheat your skillet before cooking with it on the stovetop. Putting cold food in a cold cast-iron pan will make your food stick.

Cast-iron skillets don't heat as evenly as nonstick or stainless steel pans, but they keep their heat very well. So preheat the skillet on low to medium heat for 5-10 minutes, until it's evenly heated. You can carefully hover your hand over the pan to feel when it's hot enough and ready to go.

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Let the food sit! Don't move it around too much.

After the pan has preheated, add your fat or oil. Then add whatever food you're working with. If you're searing something like a steak, resist the urge to move it around! You want to let it sit and wait for a caramelized crust to form. When you see that crust forming around the edge, it's ready to flip. If you're trying to flip it and it's sticking, that just means it's not ready. It will self-release when it's ready and be easy to flip.

Other tips:

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Starting things on the stove and finishing them in the oven is a great use for your cast iron. It allows you to get that caramelized crust from the high heat on the stovetop, while finishing with a gentler, more radiant heat in the oven.

People often hear that you can't cook acidic foods in cast iron (like tomatoes, lemons, wine, etc.), but you actually can in small amounts if you have a good layer of seasoning on your pan.

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Plenty of people have horror stories of times when cleaning their cast iron was the worst because the food was sticking so much. But it can actually be really easy to clean with this technique.

Don't wait too long to wash your skillet.

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You want to wash the skillet pretty soon after you're done cooking. If you let it cool down too much, the food will stick to the pan. If you wash your cast iron while it's still warm, you'll avoid that!

For a gentle and very effective cleaning method, scrub your skillet with salt and hot water.

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Scrubbing your skillet with salt and hot water with a non-metal scouring pad or the tough side of a sponge is the gentlest way to clean it. The salt works as an abrasive to scrub off food without damaging the seasoning.

*Note: If the salt and water method isn't working for you, you can actually use a little bit of soap. It's a common myth that using soap on your cast iron will ruin the seasoning, but if your skillet is seasoned properly, you can use a mild dish soap to clean it without doing any damage!

Completely dry the skillet on the stovetop or in a hot oven.

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After you scrub it with the salt and water, rinse off and towel dry. Again, fully dry the pan in a hot oven or by heating it on the stovetop to evaporate any excess moisture and prevent rusting.

Add a protective layer of oil.

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Once the skillet is completely dry and still warm, carefully spread a very thin protective layer of oil along the inside of the pan. Heat the pan in a hot oven or on the stovetop until the oil begins smoking. You want to bring the oil to its smoking point so that it doesn't turn rancid.

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