Care for your cast iron skillet or dutch oven with these helpful tips
If the idea of cleaning and caring for a cast-iron skillet seems daunting, rest assured that it is a simple task. I find that caring for cast-iron is far easier than that of modern non-stick pans. Follow these easy tips and your skillet will develop a beautiful seasoning that will get even better over time.
Always pre-heat your skillet before cooking. A hot skillet will immediately sear the food and prevent it from sticking. Test the temperature with a drop of water; it will appropriately sizzle when the skillet is properly heated. Add an adequate amount of oil or bacon grease next (don't do it too early - the oil or grease will smoke), considering the type of food you are cooking. A fatty food such as bacon or ground beef does not need oil, while potatoes need a significant amount to cook properly. Wait until the oil glistens before adding your food.
Remove all food from the skillet immediately after cooking. Not only does a meal look more aesthetically pleasing when served on a beautiful platter, your cast iron pan will thank you for it. As the cookware cools, food adheres to the pan and becomes much more difficult to clean. Dispose of your oil or grease and remove as much of the food scraps as you can. Special case: some foods such as eggs or pancake batter are easier to get out of your cast iron if you cook them off. After removing your dish, leave the burner on and cook the grime to a crisp. Scrape off with a plastic or wooden spatula. THIS SAME PROCEDURE WILL DO THE OPPOSITE FOR SOME FOODS, making them extremely hard to get off. Use common sense, and do not try this unless you are sure it will help.
Get out your oil and salt. And a clean, DRY wash rag. They are your soap and water in the cast iron world. As soon as your cast iron is cool enough to handle, pour in a little oil and a sprinkling of salt. Use quality ingredients - your cast iron is an heirloom piece and what you use now is going to end up on your meals later. I use organic, extra-virgin olive oil and sea salt. Take your dry wash cloth and gently scour, being mindful of the seasoning. Add more salt and oil as necessary.
If the food is really stuck on, you might have to add a touch of liquid and simmer it off. I prefer using a bit of homemade chicken stock (I freeze it in an ice-cube tray and then transfer to a freezer-safe zip-top bag). Not only does the stock contain a light amount of oil, making it a gentle "moisturizing" cleanser, but it also contributes flavor to the seasoning unlike water. Simmer for a few seconds, wipe out and repeat if necessary.
Once your pan is free from grime, give it a last coat of oil.
Your cast iron is now ready for its next use!