On a mission for the perfect kitchen

Seasoning, Cleaning and Maintaining Cast Iron Skillets

Seasoning, Cleaning and Maintaining Cast Iron Skillets

Seasoning, Cleaning and Maintaining Cast Iron Skillets

This is the third of a 4-part series of posts on cast iron:

Part 3: Seasoning, Cleaning and Maintaining Cast Iron Skillets

Part 4: Our 2 Essential Cast Iron Skillet Accessories (Scheduled publish date: Tuesday, January 29th, 2019)

Part 3: Seasoning, Cleaning and Maintaining Cast Iron Skillets

Like all good cookware, cast iron skillets require a degree of love and attention. While some might see that as an obstacle to acquiring and using cast iron, we don’t, and in our opinion, cast iron is no harder to maintain than Teflon anyway. There’s also something very satisfying about investing a bit of time and effort in a piece of cookware that will be with you for the rest of your life, and we’ve found that we develop an emotional bond with our cast iron cookware that is stronger than with anything else in our kitchen.


A friend of ours recently received a visit from his mother-in-law, who stayed at his place for a few days. One day, while our friend was at work, his mother-in-law found his cast iron skillet in the kitchen, and decided it needed a good cleaning. She mistook years of lovingly developed seasoning for unwanted gunk, and made it her mission to scrub that skillet until it was as clean as the day it was purchased. It is a cast iron horror story that has probably played out thousands of times over many decades.

When referring to cast iron, seasoning is the process of building up layers of polymerized fat and oil on the cooking surface. These layers not only protect cast iron from the rusting to which it is prone, they also create a stick-resistant coating that allows food to release almost as well as with Teflon cookware. Seasoning is a treasured process that continually improves the performance of cast iron over its lifetime.

In our experience, new cast iron skillets, although they usually come with a certain amount of pre-seasoning, require a kick-start before they are first used. Our preferred method for this initial seasoning is as follows:

1. Vigorously wash and scrub new cast iron skillets with soap and warm water. Dry thoroughly with a towel.

2. Rub the skillet inside and out with a small amount of oil. Flax seed oil seems to be a popular choice, but we have had great success with grapeseed oil, which we keep around the house anyway. Important: Don’t use too much oil. You should rub in just enough so that the skillet glistens a bit. The pan should be nearly dry, almost as if you painted it with the oil. Remove as much excess oil as you can. You can use paper towels for this job, but we don’t like the little bits of lint they often leave behind, so we choose soft cloths or shop towels.

Oil rubbed into cast iron
Rub in a very thin layer of oil, or you'll end up with a sticky skillet

3. Put the skillet in a 450F degree oven for 45 minutes, with the cooking surface facing down. We suggest putting a baking sheet or some aluminum foil on a lower rack to catch any oil that might drip off. It’s important to use a hot oven, as the process of polymerization requires high heat. After 45 minutes, turn off the oven, and leave the skillet inside until it is cool enough to handle with your bare hand (around 2 hours).

4. Repeat the above steps 2 or 3 more times.


We don’t rush to clean our cast iron skillets immediately after cooking with them. When we do get around to doing our dishes, we find it convenient to start with our cast iron, since there are a couple of simple steps involved:

1. After cooking, use a brush and hot water to clean the skillet. We prefer not to use soap, although some people insist that today’s soaps are gentle enough to leave the seasoning undamaged. Don’t scrub too hard. Our rule of thumb is to stop cleaning the skillet once the water that’s in it when we’re brushing runs clear.

Cleaning cast iron
It's clean when the water runs clear

2. Dry your skillet thoroughly. Proceed with the regular maintenance routine, as detailed below.


1. To ensure that your skillet is completely dry, set it over a burner or put it in a warm oven for a few minutes.

Cast iron skillet on burner
After drying by hand, drive off the last of the moisture by heating the skillet on a burner or in the oven

2. Give the inside of the skillet a light rub with oil, always making sure that you use just enough oil to barely coat the surface.

3. Return the skillet to the burner or the oven for a few minutes.

4. Remove from the heat source. When it is cool enough to handle with bare hands, put it away until next time.

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