How to keep your Cast Iron and Carbon Steel Cookware in Tip Top Shape

People tell me all the time that they find that using Cast Iron or Carbon Steel to replace non-stick cookware is a unicorn – they believe that only the lucky ones can make it happen. I can assure you that it doesn’t need to be like that for you. If you’ve had problems seasoning pans, this post is for you.

First off, just so that I am clear – Let’s make sure we get the lingo right. Cast Iron is just that, poured iron into a mold – cast. The finished result is usually a thick pan that has a textured surface. Carbon Steel pans are made from nearly pure Iron, which is more malleable than cast iron, so they can be thinner. Also, they’re made from sheet metal, that is comparably very smooth, and is bent into shape.

de Buyer Mineral B Carbon Steel Pans

There’s a load of information available online that will show you how to season an iron pan, and many Brands come pre seasoned – like Lodge for example. This is really great to help you get going but it does not set you up well for the long term. To be successful, it’s important that you learn the process of seasoning, and what happens along the way as you cook differently throughout the week as you cook.

‘Seasoning’ is making a hard nonstick surface on your pan, or in other words, creating a plastic-like non stick layer, which is very similar to teflon, or other coatings. However, unlike Teflon, this is done using natural ingredients where you polymerize (like hard plastic) the oil on the pan with a specific heat process.

The trick with seasoning properly is to get the heat hot, but not crazy hot. You want to brown the oil but not burn it, and allow it to cook on. The first time you season an unseasoned pan you will only turn the pan a little bit brown, I suggest to go a tad cooler than you think you might need and season for longer, which means to let the oil slowly come to a high temp. The pan will take several coatings to become fully seasoned – which means that food will slide right off and the pan cleans up easily.  

Our Howe St kitchen pans, ready to be seasoned

Seasoning is not hard if you follow these simple methods

  1. DO NOT USE OLIVE OIL, EVER, or any fruit oil for that matter. Only use seed oil to season and cook. Olive oil is the worst choice you can make for seasoning pans. NEVER USE OLIVE OIL ON A HOT PAN – ONLY USE SEED OILS.
  2. Medium to high heat
  3. Many light layers is better than a few thick layers
  4. Never put a dry unseasoned pan away
  5. Don’t use harsh cleaners – best practice is not to use soap

Let’s talk Maintenance

I’ve found that people get into trouble where the rubber meets the road. You have a nicely seasoned pan and then you start cooking. You clean your pan after cooking and put it away because, why not, you’ve already seasoned your pans, right?

No. Seasoning is an ongoing process, and how much you have to do depends on the state of your pans.

Daily Maintenance

The main issue that I hear from people is that their pans were never that good. I get concerned when I hear this as almost any cast iron or carbon steel pan can be excellent if seasoned well. The exception is light (super cheap) pans – they have a tendency to burn quickly.  From investigating this issue I’ve experienced that many people do not post season their pans. What does this mean to post season?

How to Postseason your pans.

Post Seasoning is keeping your pans ready to use.. Once your pan is seasoned, there are many foods, and cooking styles, that will degrade your seasoning. When this happens you will need to post season, which is to quickly and lightly season the pan after use. On the flip side, many things add to your seasoning and it’s simple to tell what does…greasy-fatty foods will help your seasoning while dry, moisture sucking foods will take the outer layers off.

Unless you have burnt your original seasoning, you will find that a quick post seasoning is easy and effective.

How do you know that you pan needs to be post seasoned?

Seasoned Cookware that is ready to be put away has a smooth, shiny glass like finish. Most times that you use your pans they will probably need some sort of care and attention.

Dryness is the indicator of is you pans need to be seasoned.  

This is the surface a dry pan

This a very dry, but seasoned pan, than needs to be post seasoned.

Below is a seasoned pan, ready to use

This 12” fry is seasoned and ready to be put away

The surface of the dry pan above will probably stick unless you use a generous amount of oil. The ready to use pan will only need a dab oil oil to be wonderfully non stick, and clean up easily.

Achieving the post seasoned results that I’ve shown is really easy, but just takes an investment of your time.  Here’s how:

Once you’re done cooking, rinse and wipe your pan under running water (cold or hot, it won’t matter to cast iron or high quality carbon steel as they will not warp). Use a cloth or scrubby, depending on how much food is on your pan. In certain instances, you may want to leave your pan to soak for a few minutes before you clean it. When clean, wipe out to dry. You will notice that your pan may still be a tad damp.

  1. You never want to put your pan away damp, or unseasoned, so the first step to post seasoning is to dry your pan by placing it on the stove at a medium heat for a few minutes.
  2. Once hot, add some grapeseed oil and wipe all over to leave a fine layer all over. Leave on the heat and the pan will start to lightly smoke.
  3. Remove from the heat
  4. If you have any excess oil in your pan, and see a bit of food residue remaining in the pan, then add some kosher salt and use a paper towel to scrub the surface. This will clean the pan, absorb the oil and help polish the seasoning.

Alternatively, you can use a high quality metal scrubber, like the Redeker Copper Cloth. This is our first choice for cleaning iron pans.

5. Put aside and let cool.

This pan is ready to use

When it’s ready to go away, the surface should look moist and shiny but not we wet or sticky (this is why we do not use olive oil – is will not harden and stays wet and sticky, which becomes a sticky mess when you cook on it). Wipe one more time before you put the cook pan away

Hint: some people keep their fry pans in the oven. It’s a good place for them to cool.  

Following these simple instructions above, your pans will be perfect, forever.

Dealing with a disaster – your pan looks ruined and never looks or feels clean

Dry pans get food stuck to them and when this happens over and over, you get a build up of hard carbon on the surface. Unfortunately, I can only get this off with a harsh cleanser and a wire brush.

Burnt on food that is now carbon, attached to the pan

Sometimes I use a bench scraper to take off the excess and then a deep scrub with a textured metal scrubby and Bar Keepers Friend (wear gloves, it’s harsh).

If you’ve really burnt something on then you may need to use a metal scrubby. The more you scrub off the seasoning, the more you need to re season. If you really want to get down to the metal, then oven cleaner may be your best choice – it’s basically the same issue.

Once you have a smooth surface, which may be to bare metal, you should build your seasoning like normal.

This is how you deal with a ‘situation’. Not hard but takes some time and elbow grease.

If you run into issues that you can’t solve then please visit us in store or reach out to us online.

Now that you are ready to invest in the worlds best pans, I will give you my recommendations. Without a doubt, there isn’t a better all around brand than de Buyer Mineral B. These pans are great for all use and are our recommendation to anyone that is trying to rid their kitchen of coated cookware.

Cast Iron is my second choice I prefer enameled Staub over anything else. I appreciate the designs and colours and a few of my pieces are central to how I cook at home – specifically my 4 quart oven and small open rectangular roaster. Many people believe that they don’t need to season Staub because of the enamel, but this is not true. Staub should be seasoned to work properly. Use the same seasoning instructions as above.

However, probably the hardest working, best valued cast iron cookware is still Lodge. Made in the USA, it may not be finished as well as I’d like, and it is somewhat bulky, but bang for buck, it’s the best.

We have gone deep in the video below that helps you see what needs to be done to be successful using iron cookware.

2 responses to “How to keep your Cast Iron and Carbon Steel Cookware in Tip Top Shape

  1. Thank you for the great information. I love my de Buyer Mineral B pans so much! It is amazing when they are well seasoned how everything slides out so easily. Clean up is so easy. I also love my Staub large round cocotte and frypan.

    1. Thanks Brenda. We will release a deep dive on stripping and fixing soon! Glad you liked it. Hope you’re well! Jed

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