If you’ve already jumped on the iron pan train, then this article is for you. I’m going to lay down how to care for iron pans and how to avoid some common problems. And if you’ve been thinking about purchasing an iron pan, but still have some reservations, we’re going to address those as well. I firmly believe that a good iron pan is an essential kitchen kit investment that will last your (and likely your whole family’s) entire life. Ready? Let’s get to it!
Some Common Cast Iron Pan Misconceptions
First, let’s delve into the three major reasons why people shy away from iron pans and attempt to alleviate some of that worry.
1. They’re so heavy!
Yes, iron pans can be quite heavy, but no one said you had to wrist-flip a stir-fry in them! In fact, once you plop it on your stove, you don’t even have to move it if you don’t want to. Grab your favourite lifetime guaranteed spatula or flipper and go to town. Most of them are so lovely once cleaned that you can even leave them on your stove top, ready for your next meal. Bonus: a few bicep curls with an iron pan can be a great workout, and you don’t even need to leave the kitchen. #winning
2. But don’t they rust easily?
Yes, they rust, but not easily. We’re going to show you how you can avoid this in just a few simple steps. No rust, no problem.
3. Okay, well, they’re too much work!
So is a puppy, but you aren’t going to shove him in the cupboard and forget about him simply because little Fido watered the carpet again, are you? Iron pans may require a little extra love in the beginning, but if you put in the time and effort, the subsequent tasks will take all of five minutes and you’ll have a well-behaved pan for the rest of your life.
A Few More Reasons to Swap to Cast Iron
Durability. Iron and iron alloys account for over 90 percent of worldwide metal production and have been used for centuries to craft objects we needed to last – everything from weapons to ship hulls to engines to railway tracks to building structures have been made from iron. So if this metal is trusted to keep a building upright, I think we can trust it to survive a few Christmas dinners.
Health properties. Iron is an essential mineral in the human diet; without it, we are at risk of iron deficiency and anaemia, irregular heartbeat, pregnancy complications and delayed growth (in children). It might sound impossible, but cooking in an iron pan can actually increase your iron absorption. The Journal of the American Dietetic Association published an article that found “the iron content in 100 grams of spaghetti sauce jumped from 0.6mg to 5.7mg after being cooked in a cast iron pot” (source). Furthermore, iron pans are seasoned with natural cooking oils to create their non-stick surface. This removes the danger of releasing harmful fumes into the air while cooking.
Versatility. An iron pan can move easily from hob to oven to grill to open fire pit, serving up endless possibilities for all your foodie needs.
Heat retention. Have you ever cooked something, forgot to keep it in the oven on the warm setting and then ended up serving lukewarm (read: cold) food to your family or guests? You won’t have that problem with an iron pan. Not only does it conduct heat better while you’re cooking – providing you with more evenly cooked food – it also retains heat better than most cookware, meaning your food should arrive on the table piping hot.
How to Take Care of Your Cast Iron Pan
Step one: Season it
Most iron skillets will come lightly pre-seasoned, but for best results you should always season your pan two to three times more before cooking with it the first time. This will provide a solid non-stick foundation going forward and make cleaning a lot easier.
Unless you have an extremely well-ventilated kitchen, we recommend seasoning your pan in the oven. While stove-top seasoning is slightly faster, it also creates a lot of smoke. To perform a seasoning cycle:
- Preheat your oven to its maximum temperature (250°C, gas mark 9) and open all your windows.
- Using a food grade oil (rice bran or flaxseed are best), rub a couple tablespoons of oil all over the pan.
- Wipe this oil clean using a lint-free cloth until only a very thin layer of oil remains.
- Place your pan upside-down on the middle oven rack for 1-2 hours.
- Switch off the oven and allow the pan to cool in the oven for 1 hour.
- Remove the pan and swipe on a second layer of seasoning while the pan is still warm.
You will want to repeat this cycle two to three times before you use it. After that, this cycle will only be required once a month or so to maintain the non-stick.
Step two: Clean it
People tend to panic when it comes to cleaning their iron pans. Do I use soap? Am I allowed to let it air dry? I think I read somewhere not to put it in the dishwasher…? But it’s actually very easy to clean your pan.
- Once you’re done cooking, wipe out the pan with a lint-free cloth. Most of the food and oil should come free if you’ve kept the seasoning up to date.
- If your pan requires a little more elbow grease, wash it under hot running water using a medium bristle brush or sponge. Try not to scrub too much and do not use soap as this can strip the seasoning.
- Once the pan is squeaky clean, wipe it dry and place it back on a medium heat to fully dry and avoid rusting.
- Never put your iron pan in the dishwasher or allow it to air dry as this can cause rust.
Step three: Maintain it
Contrary to what people believe, this is the easiest step. Once you’ve cleaned your iron pan and it’s dry, rub a very light layer of oil inside the bowl of the pan to prevent corrosion. Sort of like you would apply a layer of moisturiser after a shower. After that, just keep an eye on the non-stick ability of your pan. If you find your food starting to stick more readily, perform a couple rounds of oven seasoning to get it back up to scratch.
Amanda Saxby hails from the frozen tundra of British Columbia, Canada, and now works as Digital Marketing Manager for BuyMeOnce in London. When she’s not analysing the latest Twitter trends or decoding the optimal time to post an Instagram, she can be found with a whisk in her hand baking up whole food desserts for her colleagues. So far, no complaints.
Images by Marc Bates.