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How To Make Your Cast Iron Skillet Last Forever

How to care for a cast iron skillet

Image source: SheKnows

What would you choose — a rusty cast iron skillet from a garage sale or a shiny new stainless steel or aluminum pan from a kitchen store? Ignoring the cost difference ($100 vs. a few dollars for a used cast iron skillet), there are many reasons I’d choose a cast iron skillet.

First, with some care, cast iron skillets last forever. They evenly heat food and can be used in the oven to finish off a steak or bake cornbread. They can also be used over a campfire or a cook fire. Another benefit is that a cast iron surface gives a nice brown or crusty finish (e.g., on corned beef hash or cornbread) that’s hard to replicate with non-stick cookware. Finally, unlike some high alloy alternatives, you don’t have to worry about toxic fumes that may be released.

So if cast iron is so great, why don’t more people use it? Probably because in this fast-paced, hectic, sleep-deprived society, people simply don’t want to deal with the “s” word. Yes, that’s right, the “s” word, short for “seasoning.”

However, those of us living off the grid are frugal and willing to work a little to derive the benefits that come from doing a job right.

Seasoning and Why It’s Necessary

Without seasoning, food will stick to the cast iron surface. Seasoning refers to a process where fat breaks down into complex carbon chains and forms a hard, smooth fat-resistant surface that rivals the performance of high-end non-stick pans. Seasoning also prevents the cookware from rusting.

How to Season

As with most topics today, you can go on the Internet and get lots of advice about how to season cast iron cookware. The method I provide here works well.

The first step is to prepare the cast iron surface. I’m assuming you bought your cookware from a garage sale or inherited it, but if it’s new then skip this step. Your used cast iron skillet probably has some rust or other unidentified substance on it. Take some steel cloth and gently remove the substance.

Next, gently wash the skillet with warm soap and water. Dry and then place over low heat for a few minutes to make sure all the water is removed.

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Turn on the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and let it preheat. Line one of the oven trays with aluminum foil. Meanwhile, rub a thin layer of vegetable shortening all over the skillet, as evenly as possible. Place the skillet upside down on the aluminum foil. This allows any excess shortening to drip onto the aluminum foil.

You can use other oils like vegetable oil or linseed oil, but I’ve had the best luck with vegetable shortening. Lard also works, and some even use olive oil.

Leave the skillet in the oven for four hours, then turn off the oven and let the skillet cool in it overnight. The next morning, take a paper towel and rub off any extra shortening. The skillet should have a nice sheen on it.

Caring for a Seasoned Skillet

There are many great debates these days. Arguments rage between liberals and conservatives, pro-lifers and abortion advocates, and Israelis and Palestinians. But there’s another debate that has raged for decades in modern society: the best way to care for a seasoned cast iron skillet. Although it’s not up there with some of the global disagreements listed above, there are people on both sides of the argument with strong feelings.

Instead of telling you the “right” way to care for your skillet, I’m going to give you three different ways. I’m sure there will be comments excoriating me for my audacity in being reasonable and flexible, but the reality is that there are different ways to care for your seasoned skillet.

Image source: DianesFoodBlog

Image source: DianesFoodBlog

What’s important is that you do care for it. Over time, especially with skillets recently seasoned for the first time, the seasoned coating will break down and have to be renewed with another seasoning.

So here are three ways to care for a seasoned skillet.

1. Traditional Method

My grandfather’s cast iron skillet has a place of honor in my kitchen. It was one of his few possessions during the Great Depression, and he cared for it his entire life. My grandfather followed the traditional method for cleaning a cast iron skillet after use. After it cooled, he would pour some salt into the pan and gently rub it around the surface with a soft brush. The salt would absorb any remaining food residue (i.e., fat from fried sausage or steak). He would dispose of the salt, and rub the skillet with a towel to ensure all the salt was removed. Then he would rub a thin layer of oil over the pan and put it away. Using this method, my grandfather maintained a seasoned skillet for years. He never washed the pan with soap and water.

2. Modern Method

The traditional method is not for everyone. When I first inherited the skillet, I used the traditional method, but frankly it seemed like a waste of salt and I didn’t feel good about putting greasy salt daily into the garbage, which went into landfills. Others, like chefs in restaurants, have to use water to wash their cookware; otherwise, the health inspector will have an issue.

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With the modern method, use warm water, soap and a sponge to gently clean the cast iron skillet. Dry thoroughly and then rub a coat of oil on the pan. After a month or so of moderate use, you may need to season the cookware again.

3. Non-Traditional, Not Recommended Method

This method is for those who simply can’t be bothered with hand washing a dirty pan and insist on using a dishwasher for everything. (For those cast iron skillet purists out there, please don’t leave hateful comments on this post — I’m just providing information here; you may not like it but some people simply won’t use a cast iron skillet if they have to wash it by hand.)

I tried this method for a month (not on my grandfather’s skillet) and it seemed to work OK.

After use, put the cast iron skillet in the dishwasher. After it has been cleaned and dried, rub a coat of oil on it. You may notice a spot or two of rust. Just rub oil over it and it will be OK (for a short time).

With this method, you can only use the skillet a few times before having to remove the rust and season it again. Again, I don’t recommend this method, but if you insist on using a dishwasher for everything, you can still enjoy the benefits of cast iron.

A cast iron skillet is inexpensive and provides a superior cooking experience. Treat it right and it will last you a lifetime.

How do you season your cast iron skillet? Tell us in the section below: 

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  1. Here is a different method for cleaning your cast iron that wont ruin the seasoning, however you do have to deal with it hot. I used this method with my grandparents and it worked all of the time even on the rough stuff. After cooking start the kettle with boiling water and heat the skillet to medium high, once the skillet is nice and hot slowly pour enough boiling water to cover the bottom about a 1/4 inch. them use a soft green pad on the end of a spatula and clean out the skillet, dump the debris in the sink or strain from water and put in the trash. Use the hot water again cover the bottom of the skillet swish to rinse. Place the skillet back on the warm burner ( you can tun it off now ) until it is dry and cool. Use a light coat of veggie oil and put it away. We just heated it back up and cooked eggs in it the next morning though.

  2. I wash mine in soap and water right after use and then place on stove to heat it up to dry then spray with pam (or rub with oil). It’s the best pan for frying eggs and the best non-stick pan I have ever used.

    • Never will I use water on iron cookware or leave hateful comments on the proper use and cleaning of iron cookware. I am so glad you qualified your statement with “not recommended” cleaning method.

  3. I have my Great Grandmother’s cast iron skillets, passed down to me from my Mother. I still use the method I watched when growing up….fire pit out back….after minimal cleaning after use….rub some lard and place it on the fire….leaving it for hours.

  4. water never touches my cast iron.After cooking if cleaning is needed I pour a little oil in the pan, warm it up and scrub it out, then wipe the pan clean,give it a fresh light coat of oil and store it in a plastic bag.After a few uses usually a wipe out is all thats needed. In our hunt camp we have a skillet thats been there 50 years, the rule is you wash it you die.We cook everything on that skillet and by now it is so seasoned nothing ever sticks..Use it wipe it out hang it on the wall thats it

  5. Never “will” I use water on iron cookware or leave hateful comments on the proper use and cleaning of iron cookware. I am so glad you qualified your statement with “not recommended” cleaning method. I did use water for awhile but quickly realized rust would take over and destroy the cookware. Removed the rust and cleaned properly after that.

  6. For the Modern Method, I wouldn’t recommend using any soap. Some hot water and a dedicated scouring sponge (the “natural” ones work well) that never touches any soap is all that’s needed. That’s what I’ve been using for years and its kept my iron cookware nearly as slick as my high-end non-stick skillets. I re-season mine once or twice a year depending on how its performing (some meals can quickly eat thru the seasoning).

  7. I usually pour off any grease into a can and wipe it out. I heat it till it begins to smoke and if there is stuck on bits I run water onto it and let the steam do the job. If needed I use a green scrubby (scotch brite) to remove whatever might be stuck on. Reheat to dry and put away in the oven. I may wipe more oil on if needed however it’s not needed always.

  8. I think that my Mom always cleaned hers with the first method, but she used baking soda instead of salt.

  9. My well over 100 year old cast iron skillet have never seen soap. They are non stick and can make a perfect egg, pan of fried taters, or bake cornbread to perfection. I scrub if needed with a scrubber, ( usually not necessary) use a cloth to clean out, usually hot water. Put on the burner to dry the water. Done. Frying bacon in it occasionally helps to reseason.

  10. Well y’all, to each his or her own. I do use soap and water and have not had any issues with losing the seasoning. It is all in how and what you cook with. I do use quite a bit of oil, butter, or shortening/lard in my cooking methods so and that seems to be enough, along with at least weekly use to fry bacon. I have a 100 year old Griswold with a cast iron lid (you don’t find that any more) that I inherited from my grandma, who was born in 1886. And another one from her which I don’t know the manufacturer that has no lid and is treated same way, soap and water, dry on the stove. NPs. At all. Actually the ONLY time I had an issue was when my husband used it to make blackened pork chops on an electric (traditional electric-coils) stove. It got so hot the seasoning burned off the bottom. (But the insides where he cooked the chops wasn’t harmed even after washing in hot water AND using a steel-woold scrubber on it.) The seasoning is deep deep in the iron pores and no issues with it.

  11. Thank You for this awesome article,
    I remember my grandmothers cooking and her pride in her perfectly seasoned cast iron cookware. I believe you have convinced me to start searching out garage sales for cast iron and start my own set of perfectly seasoned and maintained cast iron cookware and enjoy those old flavors I remember from my youth at grandmas and grandpas house.
    Thank you again

  12. Here is a method I’ve been using for three decades.
    When ready to clean your pan, wipe out loose material with a paper towel, put about an inch of water in the pan (never put cold water into a hot pan, the pan could crack), bring the water to a boil and scrub with a brass kitchen brush. Brass is a non ferrous soft metal and will not contribute to rust. Pour the pan water down the drain, rinse the pan, place it back on the burner, turn the burner off. When the pan is dry and still warm, sprinkle with vegetable oil. Wipe with a paper towel and your ready for your next meal.

  13. I soak my pan for about 5 min. in warm water. Scrape the pan with a plastic spatula and use a non scratch scotch brite pad. rinse it real good, dry it and turn on the burner on the stove to med. heat up the pan til its dry and nice an warm. get out the Crisco shortening, wipe down the whole pan real good and then i wipe it off. I sometimes will put it back on the burner heat it up again wipe it again. And thats all..

  14. I’ve recently purchased a Lodge cast iron set. Since the company mentioned that all their cast iron cookwares are supposed to be pre-seasoned, I took for granted that it will be when I received it. But I was quite disappointed as it fails the first time I put it to the test. I tried to cook a simple fry egg and it stuck quite badly. I had to do the seasoning again but has so far had little luck to get it done properly. I noticed that there’s black ring in the middle of the skillet. Do you have any idea what went wrong?

    • I too have Lodge cookware that is supposedly pre-seasoned. I also had my food stick the first few times and the dreaded ” black ring” . After some seasoning and time the pan now performs well and I’m looking forward to a lifetime of cast iron cooking goodness! The oven method mentioned above sounds like a great idea , I just cooked a lot of bacon 🙂

  15. Flaxseed oil, the only edible self hardening oil, is without a doubt the best oil to season your cast iron with.

  16. The easiest way to season or re-season a cast iron pan is to heat it up on your Bar-B-Que grill. When it is good and hot rub it down with lard and put back on the grill upside down so the excess oil drains off. If it ie not completely seasoned, just put on another coat of lard. You will have properly seasoned and slick pan – ready to cook what ever you want. Do not use this method indoors, it produces a great amount of smoke.

  17. I wipe mine out with a paper towel. If there are stuck bits I dry scrub with a natural home grown loofa. No water, no soap.

  18. Thanks. My wife has doubted my cleaning techniques for cast iron cookware for over 30 years. I learned these methods while in the Boy Scouts in the late 1960’s. I will have her read all of this tonight. Thanks to all for having my back on this.

  19. Hi – what about seasoning with coconut oil?


  20. To season, rub with Flaxseed oil. Wipe it off. Place in oven. Turn oven on to highest setting. Hold at highest setting for 1 hour. Turn off oven. Let cool in oven. Repeat process until desired blackness is reached. 6 times for my preference. I wash as normal. Hand dry.

  21. After washing my cast iron with whatever method that works best for the kind of food stuck to it, I just rub down with shortening or spray with Pam spray and let it sit over the pilot in my stove. I store my cast iron inside my stove and just rub with oil whenever it’s looking dry. I use at least one of my four pieces every day and I’ve raised 8 children cooking on these pieces and I’ve never, in 20 years had to reseason my pans or seen a spot of rust on them. I Love my cast iron pans. I bake bread, make cakes, fry eggs, bacon, potatoes and onions, pancakes and just about everything I do goes over one of my cast pieces.

  22. I was with soap and water every time. Dry well and oil and it doesn’t rust and stays wonderfully non stick! It’s how granny did it.

  23. My Grandparents taught me to season their cast iron ( of which I have 14 pieces) with bear grease. Rub it around. Put it in the coals of a fire. Let it melt and bubble a bit. Turn it upside down over the coals. Take it out after about an hour. Wipe out and use for the next 2 or 3 years. Wash with water only no salt necessary.

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