Cast Iron Care

Ahhhh, yes. Cast iron. The staple of a homestead kitchen. Much like sourdough, cast iron care is one of those things that folks are terrified of and don’t know where to even start. Much like sourdough, again, cast iron is very forgiving. Keeping in mind how these pans were used by your grandma is helpful when approaching your cast iron today. 

How Grandma Used To Do It

First, a single pan or dutch oven, or a pair of each, was likely used for every single meal, every single day. This means they got a lot of work and if you know anything about cast iron, it’s that it gets better the more you use it. 

Second and related, your grandma probably didn’t have to go through the hump of seasoning it enough for use. Cast iron is incredibly durable, so it was likely passed down from generation to generation. That’s a lot of meals. Getting a cast iron now means you’re likely buying one brand new. If you can find one at an antique or second-hand store that is in good shape, snag it. 

Third, cooking fats used then were very different than cooking fats now. Now, the American kitchen uses a lot of oil. Your grandma likely cooked every meal by starting that pan with a heaping scoop of butter or lard (pork fat), instead of the more lean options like olive oil.

Fourth, cast iron care isn’t a skill that is passed down anymore. Folks, mostly women, don’t know how to care for their cast iron and when non-stick requires literally zero care and you can throw it into the dishwasher, why wouldn’t you go that route?  

You just bought your first cast iron. Now what?

Alright, congrats! You’re doing this. I believe in you! Everyone says you need to “season” your cast iron. But, what does that really mean? To me, season just means to build grease over time. When you buy new, you’re starting with a blank slate. Without enough extra fat or oil, things are going to stick to your pan. Stick with it though, pun intended! The more you use your cast iron, the better it will be. 

Take it out of the box and wash it well with soap and hot water. You’re starting with a blank slate. Even though some say that are “seasoned”, they likely haven’t been, so it’s better to get a good clean to start off right. 

Next, set your oven to 350 degrees F. Put your pan on the stovetop and turn it on low. Take a tablespoon of lard or butter, drop it in the center of the pan. Let it melt a little so that it will easily spread. Remove it from the heat and use your hands to grease the entire pan. Once the oven hits 350 degrees F. Put the pan in and turn the oven off. Come back later in the day after the pan has cooled and wipe it with a dry paper towel and store it. 

Ideally, you would do this multiple times before you actually cook on it. I like to do this every so often when my pan needs a little extra TLC.  

If you want to start cooking, just use extra cooking fat (butter, lard, oil) to keep things from sticking. 


  • It’s always, always, always way easier to clean cast iron when it’s warm.
  • The only care item you truly will need is chain mail. Think of it as your cast iron’s own personal dish sponge. This will help get 99% of the gunk off with water alone. 
  • You really don’t want to use soap, ever. Unless you have something terribly stuck on and nothing below is doing the trick. Use some soap. The soap removes the grease that you’ve been working so hard to build. Best to use it sparingly. 
  • The handle gets hot, grab a handle cover or two. 
  • Besides my heirloom cast iron pieces, I really like Lodge cast iron. It’s durable, reliable, and affordable.
  • There’s nothing better than cranking up the temp, smoking up the kitchen, and getting an incredible cast iron sear on a steak. 

No-Time-To-Care Care

It’s Wednesday night, you threw together dinner and have to get everyone cleaned up and ready for bed. The last thing you can do is care for one more thing.

If your cast iron is warm, bring it to the sink. Use the chain mail and hot water to get everything out from dinner. Throw it on a drying rack or towel and you’re done. 

If your cast iron is cold, pour some water in the pan on top of dinner remnants. Put the cast iron on the burner and bring it back up to medium while you clean up other items from dinner. Trust me, this is better than fighting the cold stuck-on bits. Grab the warm pan and bring it to the sink. Use the chain mail and hot water to get everything out. Now is a good time for your drain catch to shine. Throw your cast iron on the drying rack or towel and you’re done.

A-Few-Minutes-To-Spare Care

You’ve done the steps above from “No-Time-To-Care Care” and have your cast iron cleaned out and wet. Put your pan on the stovetop on medium-low, dry or wet. Clean up the rest of dinner. Turn the burner off and leave the pan until tomorrow. 

Dad-Has-Bedtime-Covered-Tonight Care

Before you start cleaning up dinner, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. You’ve done the steps above from “No-Time-To-Care Care” and have your cast iron cleaned out and wet. Dry off your cast iron with a dish towel. Pour or place a tablespoon of oil, butter or lard in your pan and put it on your stove top on medium. When the butter/lard just  starts to melt or the oil starts to spread and shine, remove the pan from the heat. Take a paper towel, fold it up to protect your fingers, and rub the oil or fat all over the inside and outside of your pan. When your oven is preheated, put the pan inside and turn the oven off to let it cool as the oven cools. Remove the pan tomorrow before you cook again.

Grab a glass of wine, run the sink periodically, bang a couple dishes around, get into your secret chocolate stash. He’s got this, take the breather. 

Tough Spots

My go-to approach is to fill the cast iron with water, typically an inch, but feel free to add more depending on where the sticky gunk is. Bring the water to a boil. Turn the burner off and safely and carefully pour the water into the sink. Again, let that drain catch do its thing. With more hot water and your chain mail, scrub the bits. 

My last resort is to add a little soap to a sponge and spot treat stuck on areas, rather than putting soap in the entire pan. If you have to use a little soap in the entire pan this one time, it won’t be the end of the world.