A cast-iron pan is a great tool for any kitchen, but cleaning and storing them correctly is paramount.

There has been a resurgence in the popularity of cast-iron pots and pans, and for good reason. Cast-iron cookware is affordable, virtually indestructible, naturally nonstick, and has excellent heat retention for even cooking and baking. Plus, many home cooks are switching to cast iron as a healthy alternative to aluminum and traditional nonstick pans.

However, cast iron does have a reputation for being difficult to clean. That’s because if it’s not properly maintained and seasoned, cast iron will rust and food will stick. And to make things more complicated, there’s much confusion about the best way to clean cast iron and whether or not you should use water or soap.

So we’ve broken down the process into three easy steps: Cleaning, Seasoning, and Storage. Follow these simple rules and your cast-iron pots and pans will remain in like-new condition for generations.

Most often you can clean a cast-iron pan by simply wiping it down with a dry paper towel or cloth. If the pan is well seasoned, bits of burnt, stuck-on food will come right off. If any stubborn bits remain, scrape them off with a plastic spatula.

If dry wiping doesn’t get the pan clean, use a scrubber and some water. Many people would shriek in horror at the thought of washing cast iron in water, mostly because of the increased risk of rusting, but when properly done, there’s nothing to worry about.

Place the pan in the sink, add about ½ inch or so of warm water, then sprinkle in a half cup of coarse salt. Immediately scrub the pan with a nylon scouring pad. The salt will act as an abrasive to cut through food remnants. Rinse the pan clean with water, then—to prevent rusting—place the pan in a 350-degree oven for 10 minutes or so until it’s completely dry.

The Field Company raised more than $1.6 million on Kickstarter to bring to market a lightweight, smooth, and pre-seasoned cast iron skillet. 

Lodge is classic. Though the name says “seasoned,” the pan is by no means non-stick out of the box.

Thanks to the pan’s black enamel surface, Le Creuset's cast-iron skillet is fairly non-stick—not to mention super smooth.

Using a potholder, remove the pan from the oven and allow it to cool slightly. Then, while it’s still warm, drizzle into the pan a little flaxseed oil, soybean oil, or other neutral-flavor vegetable oil.

Fold a paper towel into a small square and use it to wipe the oil into the surface of the cast-iron pan. Wait a minute or two, then use a second paper towel to remove any remaining oil from the pan.

The salt-scrub technique mentioned above can also be used to remove light surface rust. However, for heavily rusted cast iron, try this: Fill the pan with hot, soapy water, then scrub with a steel-wool pad or, better yet, a metal chain-mail scrubber. If that doesn’t work, take the pan outside and spray it with oven cleaner. Wait 10 minutes or so, then scrub off the rust with steel wool and soapy water.

It’s important to season cast iron before using it the very first time, and again after cleaning with hot, soapy water or oven cleaner. Seasoning makes the pan easy to clean, keeps food from sticking, and prevents rust.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Wipe down the pan with vegetable oil, then pop it into the hot oven for one full hour. Remove the pan, let it cool slightly, then rub a bit more oil into the warm pan. Wait a couple of minutes, then wipe down the pan with a dry paper towel.

The last but important rule is to always thoroughly dry cast-iron cookware before storing. Even the slightest bit of dampness will cause the pan to rust. In fact, it’s smart to place paper towel into the pan to absorb any moisture or humidity.

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