How To Clean and Season Your Cast Iron

Does your cast iron need to be cleaned and/or seasoned and this sounds intimidating?

clean season cast iron

Even if you didn’t grow up using cast iron at home, there is no reason to be scared of using it at the campsite. There are so many benefits to cooking with cast iron – it heats evenly and holds heat well so food cooks more consistently. And because it’s made from metal instead of plastic or other materials that can release harmful chemicals into your food over time, using a cast iron skillet is actually better for your health than using nonstick pans.

However, while cast iron is great for cooking, it can get rusty or dirty. This means it’s important to clean and season your cast iron so it lasts longer. It might seem like an intimidating process at first, but once you understand the steps, cleaning and seasoning your cast iron will become second nature. You’ll wonder why it ever worried you!

So what are you waiting for? Instead of focusing on the don’ts, just read along for a list of dos when it comes to cleaning and seasoning your cast iron.

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Cleaning Cast Iron:

Step 1: Wash

After using your cast iron, wash it by hand. You will need a pan scraper to remove any stuck on food. If it is stubborn, simmer a little water for about 5 minutes, then use the scraper after your item has cooled. Sometimes even simmering water and using a scraper isn’t quite enough. That is when a safe for cast iron scrub brush can help. Additionally, if your item is well-seasoned, some mild soap may be used with no damage. However make sure to rinse it well and follow the rest of the steps.

Step 2: Dry

Dry the item immediately and with a lint-free cloth or paper towel. Try to not leave any drops on there at all. And don’t worry about any black residue on your drying cloth. This is just the seasoning and this is completely normal.

Step 3: Oil

Take some cooking oil and rub just a little bit onto the surface of your cookware. Then use a paper towel to wipe the surface until no residue remains.

Seasoning Cast Iron:

Step 1: Scrub and Dry

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees F. While this is happening, place the item in some hot, soapy water and scrub thoroughly. Next dry the item completely with a lint-free cloth or paper towel.

Step 2: Spread oil

Apply a thin, even layer of cooking oil to your item, inside and out. Do not use too much or your cookware may become sticky. While any cooking oil or fat could be used for seasoning cast iron, it is best to use something with a high smoke point. Industry expert Lodge recommends vegetable oil, melted shortening, or canola oil.

Step 3: Bake

Place the item upside down in the middle of the oven (putting something underneath to catch the drips) and bake for one hour. Then let cool inside the oven.

Questions Answered:

Why should we cook with cast iron?

Cast iron can be used anywhere which makes it a great tool while camping. It doesn’t get damaged over a campfire or on hot charcoals or even atop a gas grill. Additionally it can be used to sear, to saute, to grill, to fry, even to bake. What more could you ask for from cookware? Furthermore it has amazing heat retention which aids in the cooking process making everything taste better! After that it can be used as a serving dish. Plus, if you ask us, it just looks good.

What is seasoning?

The short answer is that it is a layer of carbonized oil. The longer answer is that seasoning occurs when we bake oil onto cast iron or carbon steel. This is what gives that cookware the classic black patina which then forms an easy-release cooking surface. Properly cared for, this can last for generations. We have some pieces that are so old we aren’t sure who in our family owned them first. Others are first generation and we are looking forward to passing all of them along to our child.

Are there any things I should NOT cook in my cast iron?

As long as your cast iron is well seasoned, there isn’t much we would recommend avoiding. Sticky foods, including eggs, might cause a problem until you have sufficient seasoning. Buying a quality preseasoned pan makes that point moot. Others recommend avoiding stinky foods such as garlic, peppers, some fish, and even stinky cheese. If the smell lingers longer than you would like, we have had success baking the dish in the oven on high heat, say 400 degrees F, for about 10 minutes. The last thing we would avoid would be delicate items. That wonderful heat retention that causes it to be able to sear and saute, to fry and bake? Well it can destroy delicate items unless you are an experienced cook.

What do I do with rusty cookware?

You will need to remove the rust using one of the following methods: scrub with steel wool, sprinkle with a thick layer of salt and rub it with raw potato, or sprinkle with baking soda and again use the raw potato. You will then need to re-season the item.

Why do we recommend potatoes for dealing with rusty cookware?

Potatoes contain oxalic acid which is a non-toxic acid that forms compounds with the iron ions in rust. This enables them to remove the rust from cast iron items which makes them perfect for making those items look like new.

How often should I season my cast iron?

This can vary depending on a couple of factors, including how long it takes your item to lose its seasoning and what you are baking. Some people recommend seasoning every time after you wash it. We are less strict on this, typically because we can’t season while camping and we do clean our cast iron between dishes (especially if we are moving from dinner to dessert).

Tools:

  • Scraper: We keep a scraper or two around to remove stuck on food at all times. They are just useful to have on hand.
  • Scrub brush: Sometimes the scraper doesn’t have quite enough friction and then a scrub brush geared towards cast iron is the perfect tool.
  • Seasoning Care Kit: We also love this kit from Lodge for an all in one solution to keeping cast iron in great shape.

Other Items:

If you are interested in other items that can complement your collection of cast iron for the campsite, we use the following items almost every time we are out.

  • Silicone handle holders: While we do love our heat resistant gloves these silicone handle holders come in handy for moving items around to a different spot on the fire or to bring them over to the table.
  • Silicone brushes: When it comes time to brush your pieces with oil, these handy brushes make it simple to get every area covered.
  • 4 in 1 Camp Dutch Oven Tool: I’m not sure we can say this any better than Lodge’s marketing piece: “The 4-in-1 is the ultimate multitasker for campsite cooking. It protects your hands from heat, keeps your cookware off the ground, and maximizes your cooking area. Use as cook stand, a lid lifter, lid stand, and bail lifter.”
  • Foil or Parchment Paper Dutch Oven Liners: Sometimes you just don’t want to have to clean your Dutch oven at the campsite. These liners help keep the food contained so you can reuse the same piece or just pack it up to take home for cleaning. However, do not think you won’t need to clean them properly before storing. Otherwise you will find yourself cleaning and reseasoning prior to your next trip.

Favorite Recipes in Cast Iron:

The best way to maintain and clean your cast iron cookware is to use it.

Not just occasionally but regularly. A well-seasoned pan will provide great flavor and non-stick cooking. The combination of fats, proteins and the gentle abrasion of frequent use will assist in building a smooth and matte finish on your cast iron cookware.

This means that camping doesn’t have to be the only time you use your cast iron! Within reason, if it can go into the oven or be used on the stove (gas or electric heating elements), then it should be fine for use in your home kitchen. Exceptions should be made for pieces too large to fit inside that oven (such as our pie irons with non-removeable handles). Tag us on Instagram @campinganswer and let us know what your favorite piece of cast iron cookware is or let us know if you have any other questions.

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