Cast Iron Care Basics

Cast iron cookware has a knack for developing a natural non-stick surface that’s called seasoning. A cast iron pan with great seasoning will perform as well as or better than a non-stick pan—and foods like scrambled eggs and pan-fried fish will release with ease.

illustration of different seasoning surfaces

Getting your seasoning to the point of slick durability requires some time, use, and care. Luckily, the more you use and care for your pan, the better your seasoning will become. And no matter what you do to your cast iron pan, from a little bit of rust to burning some forgotten pancakes to ashes, you can almost always get your pan back in top form.

Table of Contents

What is Cast Iron Seasoning?

Cast iron seasoning is the build up of multiple interconnected layers of natural polymers and carbon. Polymer sounds fancy, but it’s just a slick, hardened, glossy coating that’s formed by heating up some cooking oil—which then bonds to the surface of a cast iron pan.

The most important thing to know about seasoning is that the best seasoning is always a result of lots of use and cooking. 

Breaking in a New Cast Iron Skillet

The Field Skillet comes pre-seasoned with two coats of grapeseed oil. This gets you off to a great start, but building an even, durable, dark, non-stick seasoning is only achieved through time and use. The big rules for breaking in a cast iron skillet:

  • Be generous with cooking oil (3-4 tablespoons)
  • Try to stick to Low to Medium heat as you build up seasoning
  • Preheat your pan for 5 minutes at medium temperature before cooking for even heat distribution. Cranking the heat to high immediately will just give you a hot spot in the middle of a cast iron pan.
  • Try to avoid acidic foods which strip seasoning (tomatoes, wine, citrus, vinegar)
  • Contrary to popular belief, most proteins (including bacon) may stick a bit in the early stages before your seasoning builds up.

How to Clean and Maintain a Cast Iron Skillet

Cast iron care and maintenance can be controversial—at least on the Internet—and there’s a lot of misinformation floating out there. As an example, there are well known people in the food world that recommend using dish soap to clean cast iron cookware—and there are also many people that would have a heart attack if you suggested the same. Often, the efficacy of either side of these stances boils down to how well you know your pan and your level of expertise with it. We’ll try and lay out the principles at work so you can become your own guide.

  1. Cast iron can rust. Do not put your cast iron pan in the dishwasher. Do not leave standing water in cast iron for longer than 10-15 minutes trying to “soak off” debris.

  2. After cooking, gently scrape and smooth the surface of the pan with a spatula or scraper.

  3. Wipe out excess oil and food residue with a paper towel or cloth. Often times, this is all the clean up needed before you cook your next dish, assuming the flavors work.

  4. If you decide to clean with water, always dry the pan immediately with a towel and then heat on the stovetop to evaporate any remaining moisture

  5. Always leave your pan with a thin coat of cooking oil or fat on the inside and outside. A bone dry pan is an unhappy pan. We recommend saturated fats as they are more stable at room temperature and less likely to turn rancid (oxidize). If you’re cooking in your cast iron daily, use any oil you’d like. If you’re going to put a pan away for a week or more, use a saturated fat like coconut oil, lard, or butter.