- Cast iron pots and pans are safe to use on most cooktops, an outdoor fire, and in the oven at the highest temperatures.
- It’s easy to clean and re-season the cookware, and with proper care, cast iron is durable and lasts for generations.
- We break down how to clean cast iron cookware in a few simple steps.
- We also give our recommendations for the best cast iron cookware you can buy from Lodge, the Food Network, Le Creuset, and Staub.
Cast iron cookware is having a comeback. The versatile material has become popular among chefs and home cooks alike for its durability and long heat retention.
Cast iron is used to make everything from pans and skillets to Dutch ovens and muffin pans. You can use cast iron cookware on most cooktops, including electric, ceramic, and gas. You can also pop it in the oven at very high temperatures and use it to cook over an open fire.
Bare cast iron cookware usually is pre-seasoned, but you do have to re-season it from time to time to keep the non-stick cooking surface. Some cast iron cookware is covered with a coating of vitreous enamel glaze so that you don’t have to re-season it. Le Creuset is famous for its colorful high-quality enameled cast iron cookware, while Lodge is best known for its pre-seasoned bare cast iron cookware.
Once bare cast iron has been seasoned, it is very easy to maintain. Most clean up can be done with just a damp paper towel or sponge. The cookware will need periodic re-seasoning but that is as simple to do as hydrating your skin by applying lotion.
Cast iron can rust if exposed to water and humidity for too long. This does not mean it is ruined, the rust can be cleaned away and the metal re-seasoned if the damage has not gone too deep.
When highly acidic foods like tomatoes or citrus-based sauces are cooked in cast iron, the acid causes iron to leach into the food. This reaction turns the food a darker color, can add a metallic taste, and can damage the finish of the metal if the foods are left in the pan for too long.
Ideally, cast iron should be cleaned after every use. Never place cast iron cookware in an automatic dishwasher or leave it to soak in a sink of water.
How to clean cast iron cookware
- While the cookware is still warm, use paper towels to remove any excess food and oil.
- Use a soft-bristled nylon brush or non-abrasive scrub pad (no steel wool) to remove any traces of stuck-on food. I like to use the Scotch-Brite Dishwashing Wand because of its non-abrasive surface and because it keeps my hands out of the dishwater.
- If the cast iron feels excessively sticky, two or three drops of Dawn Dishwashing Liquid or another gentle dish soap can be used during the scrubbing.
- Rinse thoroughly under hot running water.
- Immediately dry thoroughly with a soft cloth or paper towel. Do not allow the cast iron to air-dry.
- Place the cast iron cookware over a cooktop heating element set to medium-low or in a warm oven at 250 to 300 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Add 1/2 teaspoon of any type of vegetable oil (corn oil, olive oil, coconut oil) to the cast iron and use paper towels to distribute it evenly over the entire interior surface. I have used all of them successfully.
- Continue to rub the oil into the interior surface until it is absorbed and the surface looks shiny and dark.
- Turn off the heating element and allow the cast iron to cool completely before storing.
How to clean enamel cast iron cookware
Enamel-coated cast iron does not rust and does not need to be re-seasoned. However, it must be cleaned correctly to prevent damaging the surface. While it can be placed in an automatic dishwasher, repeated cleaning in this manner will cause the enamel surfaces to lose color and appear dull.
How to clean enameled cast iron cookware
- Never rinse or soak heated enamel-coated cast iron in cold water. The surface can crack. Allow the cookware to cool before cleaning.
- Dropping or banging enamel-coated cast iron cookware against hard surfaces can cause chipping that leads to rusted metal.
- Wash with regular dishwashing soap and hot water. Use a plastic scrubber, never steel wool, to remove stuck-on food.
- For burned-on food, fill the pan with hot water and 1/2 cup baking soda. Heat on medium until water is boiling. Turn off the heat and allow the water and baking soda solution to cool before washing as usual.
- Always dry completely before storing the cookware.
How to restore damaged cast iron cookware
If you have received a vintage cast iron piece and see rusty areas, it can usually be saved. This method will work well if the rust is only on the surface and not severe enough to have damaged the integrity of the cookware.
How to restore damaged cast iron cookware
- Use a non-abrasive plastic scraper to remove as much loose rust as possible. You’ll find the Pampered Chef scrapers handy for cleaning and scraping batter from a bowl into baking pans.
- Make a paste of lemon juice and baking soda by mixing one tablespoon of lemon juice with one cup of baking soda.
- Apply the paste to the rusty areas and cover with plastic wrap.
- Allow the paste to work for at least 24 hours and then scrub the piece with a stiff-bristled brush to remove the rust.
- Rinse well with hot water and follow the steps to re-season the cast iron with vegetable oil.
The best cast iron cookware brands
If you don’t have cast iron cookware yet and you’re interested in buying a few pieces, we have recommendations for the best brands to shop below:
- Lodge Cast Iron ($10 to $150): One of the oldest cast iron manufacturers (founded in 1896) in the United States, Lodge Cast Iron offers the largest collection of unenameled cast iron cookware from muffin pans to Dutch ovens on the market. The pieces are extremely durable and affordably priced.
- Food Network Cast Iron ($14 to $50): Available in both regular cast iron and enameled cast iron, Food Network brand pieces are lighter weight and perfect for someone getting started with cooking in cast iron.
- Le Creuset Cookware ($75 to $425): Le Creuset set the standard for enameled cast iron cookware. Its pieces are prized by both home cooks and professional chefs for performance and beauty.
- Staub Enameled Cast Iron Cookware ($300 to $460): If you are looking for unique enameled cast iron pieces like a tomato or artichoke-shaped cocotte, Staub moves impressively from stove to table.
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