Seasoning and cleaning cast iron doesn't have to be intimidating.

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Traditional cast-iron skillets don't emerge from the box with a nonstick surface, and unlike other types of skillets, a cast-iron skillet isn't ideal for a set-aside-to-soak sort of person. Cast-iron skillets take some work, but treat them right, and they'll last for years to come.

You can give your skillet a nonstick surface by seasoning it, or coating the skillet with cooking oil and baking it (see how to season a cast-iron skillet in the above video, or follow the steps outlined below). The skillet won't take on that shiny black patina immediately out of the oven, but once you dry it with paper towels, it will be ready to use. You'll reinforce the nonstick coating every time you heat oil in the skillet, and you can hasten the process by seasoning as often as you like—or by using a seasoning spray.

Learn how to give your cast-iron skillet the care it needs with our guides to seasoning and cleaning cast iron, below.

How to season a cast-iron skillet

What you'll need:

  • Cast-iron skillet
  • Vegetable oil
  • Paper towel or clean kitchen rag
  • Aluminum foil or baking sheet

How-to:

  1. Heat oven to 350° F.
  2. Add a thin layer of vegetable oil to the skillet. (Your skillet should be clean—if it has some cooked-on food, clean it with our guide to cleaning cast-iron, below, before seasoning.)
  3. Use a towel to coat the bottom, sides, and exterior of the skillet.
  4. Place skillet upside down inside oven. Place aluminum foil or the baking sheet below the pan to catch and drips and bake for one hour.
  5. Turn off the oven. Allow the skillet to cool, then dry thoroughly.

How to clean a cast-iron skillet

How to season and clean cast iron skillets - guide, video, and steps
Credit: Getty Images

What you'll need:

  • Cast-iron skillet
  • Hot water
  • Coarse salt (optional)
  • Nonmetal brush (optional)
  • Mild dishwashing soap (optional)
  • Steel wool (optional)

How-to:

  1. For best results, rinse your skillet with hot water immediately after cooking. Never allow your skillet to sit and soak in water unless you plan to dry and re-season it immediately after.
  2. If you need to remove burned-on food, scrub with a mild abrasive, like coarse salt, and a nonmetal brush to preserve the nonstick surface. You can also use a few drops of a mild dishwashing soap every once in a while. (If you cook meat in your skillet, plan to scrub and season it after.)
  3. If the pan gets a sticky coating or develops rust over time, scrub it with steel wool and re-season the cast iron.
  4. However you clean your skillet, dry the skillet thoroughly after every wash to prevent rust. You can also lightly coat the cooking surface with cooking oil, then cover with a paper towel to protect it from dust.

More cast iron care tips:

  • Although everything from Dutch ovens to cactus-shaped cornbread pans comes in cast iron, nothing is more versatile than a basic skillet. Either a 10- or 12-inch will do.
  • There's only one thing you shouldn't attempt in cast-iron cookware: boiling water, which will cause the pan to rust.
  • You can grill meals in your cast iron skillet. Here's how.
  • Cast iron takes longer to warm than other surfaces but retains heat remarkably well and diffuses it evenly.
  • Cast iron remains hot long after you remove it from the stove. As a reminder to be careful, drape a thick towel or a mitt over the handle.
  • To avoid getting smudges on all your kitchen towels, designate one to use exclusively for drying your cast-iron skillet.
  • Cooking in cast iron increases the iron content in food. The longer the food is in contact with the skillet, the more it absorbs.
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