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One of the most beloved items in many kitchens is the cast iron skillet. These cherished pieces of cookware are often passed down through generations and evoke memories of home-cooked family meals. If you’ve been given a neglected cast iron, purchased one from an antique shop and want to give it new life, or bought a brand new one, you’ll need to properly season it before use. 

When people talk about a cast iron skillet having “seasoning,” they’re referring to the coating created after repeatedly using the skillet to cook with oils and fats. This seasoned coating serves two purposes: It protects the iron from rusting and it creates a stick-resistant surface that makes cooking and cleanup a cinch. The coating also gets better with each cooking session. Here’s how to get your cast iron up to snuff as a vital workhorse in your kitchen.

  • Scrub the cast iron with a brush or scouring pad and some hot, soapy water. You’ve probably heard not to use soap on a cast iron pan, but it’s okay here because you’re going to add a new layer of seasoning. For general cleaning, soap is not necessary because high cooking temps sterilize the surface. In addition, soap will degrade the layer of seasoning.
  • Rinse and dry the cast iron with paper towels.
  • Apply a small amount of your favorite cooking oil. If you use too much, the finish will be sticky. Start with a little bit and work your way up to an amount that coats the skillet.
  • Place a layer of aluminum foil on the bottom rack of the oven to catch any drips.
  • Heat oven to 350-400 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Flip your skillet over and place it face down on the top rack of the oven. This prevents the oil from pooling in the pan and creating an uneven coating.
  • Bake the cast iron for about an hour, and then turn the oven off to let the cookware inside cool slowly.
  • When you’re ready to put the skillet away, keep it uncovered and place it in a dry, cool place.

If your cast iron has started to rust, never fear! It can be saved with a little extra scouring on the rusty spots and the above steps. When this process is complete, you’ll have a seasoned cast iron ready to serve you for years to come. 

After each time you use it, add enough water to coat the bottom of the skillet and bring it to a boil. You can use an old dish brush to knock the residual food and crumbs free, rinse the pan, add some oil and turn the burner back on just for a moment. Spread the oil around with a paper towel to make sure the entire surface of the skillet is coated. Turn the burner back off and leave the cast iron to cool before storing.

With a little care and scrubbing, you can turn a rusty antique store find into a treasured and valuable piece of cookware. You can continue to use the cast iron for as long as you keep it in good condition. When properly seasoned, the surface will be smooth and shiny. If food begins to stick to the surface or the skillet gets dull or rusted, it’s time to re-season again! Do you have a fun story of reclaiming an old piece of cast iron cookware? Share your cast iron re-seasoning pictures with us on social media.