Your Cast-Iron Skillet Can (and Should!) Last Forever—Here's How to Turn It Into a Family Heirloom

2022-10-09 07:42:27 By : Ms. Angela Yang

If a cast-iron skillet is a fixture in your kitchen, then you already value its versatility. You have probably used it for frying eggs and plenty of bacon, baking cornbread or a tarte tatin, braising chicken legs, and searing a ribeye steak. (You may even have packed your cast-iron skillet into the back of your car and lugged it on a camping trip so you could cook directly over glowing coals.) If you rely this heavily on your pan, it's important you know how to maintain it—especially since your cast-iron pan can last for decades with the correct care.

In fact, you should treat your pan like the heirloom it could be: While it might not be a shiny gem or a framed piece of art, a good cast-iron skillet will take care of its owners. If you're wondering how to ensure your cast-iron skillet's longevity, you don't have to think far beyond daily maintenance (which isn't high maintenance).

So long as you keep it lightly oiled and ready to use, your favorite piece of cookware will be around even when you aren't, says Will Copenhaver, the vice-president of sales and marketing of cast-iron cookware company Smithey. "Cast iron should absolutely last forever and be handed down—that's what makes it so special!" he says.

Related: Our Favorite Recipes to Cook in Your Cast-Iron Skillet

On a daily basis, all your cast-iron skillet needs is a quick rinse with warm water and a wipe with something that's not too abrasive (just to remove cooked food off the surface). A wooden spatula or scraper works well, too.

Cast iron has only one known weakness: moisture. Watch out for water droplets before putting your cookware away. Make sure your pan is completely dry by placing it on a warm burner or in the oven to dry out.

After all the moisture has evaporated, pour a little oil—any oil you'd use for cooking works well—into the pan and wipe it around the surface.

The greatest cast-iron skillet care tip of all? Use it. The more you cook in your pan, the better the chance that it will last and last.

Related: The 7 Best Cast-Iron Skillets For Cooking Eggs, Making One-Pot Dinners, Baking Cornbread, and So Much More

Some cast-iron skillets are sold pre-seasoned—others require seasoning when you bring them home. Copenhaver explains that both iterations hold up: "Think of seasoning as a coat of primer paint on your house. New 'pre-seasoned' pans have this coat of seasoning primarily to protect the pan's surface, which is a good thing."

This pre-seasoning, however, is often confused with the seasoning that will ultimately develop after months and years of cooking. That seasoning—an oil and fat layer that bonds to the metal over many repeated heat cycles—is the goal, and you won't get that out of the box, notes Copenhaver.

"It's possible to build up too much seasoning on a pan, and if your skillet is sticky or a black crust has formed on the sides, it's perfectly fine to strip the seasoning completely off and start again," says Copenhaver. "Running the skillet through a self-cleaning oven cycle will often do the trick."

But first, you can try using a little bit of elbow grease. "Don't be afraid to scrub it off—a chain mail scrubber or steel scrubby is fine," says Copenhaver. "If you get down to the raw iron underneath, you'll want to coat the pan with a thin layer of oil and heat it up in a hot oven to start rebuilding the seasoning."

Related: How to Clean a Cast Iron Skillet

If you inherit a vintage cast-iron skillet, embrace it. Ditto if you spot one at an antique store, flea market, or yard sale.

A high-quality vintage cast-iron skillet comes down to its condition and individual design elements. "Structurally, it should be free of any cracks or major pits in the cooking surface," says Copenhaver.

"Rust is not a deal breaker—it can be removed," says Copenhaver. A seriously rusty pan will need to be stripped down with an electric grinder before it can be re-seasoned—so make sure that is a task you want to take on (or know someone who will tackle it for you).

In addition to making new heirloom quality cast-iron pans, Smithey owns a restoration shop; home cooks can bring in rusted or otherwise damaged cast-iron cookware for careful refurbishment. It's not a profit-maker for the company, but their respect for the material—and the craftsmanship used in production of older cast-iron cookware—make this task worth the effort.

If you're on the hunt for vintage cast-iron skillets, seek out pans made by one of the past's more reputable foundries, says Copenhaver; pans should be marked with these makers' identifiers, though the etchings might not actually be their names. "Apart from the actual maker names, like Wagner and Griswold, the word "erie," for example, was widely used by Griswold around the turn of the century to mark their cast iron," says Copenhaver

Whether your cast-iron skillet is new, new-to-you, or vintage, treat it right, and there is almost nothing it can't cook. If you care for it, it will outlast you—and might even become something your kids cook their kids breakfast in over the decades to come.

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