Anyone who owns a cast iron pan will know how much of a delight it is to cook with. The satisfying weight, the even heating and cooking, the natural non-stick abilities, the way you can chuck it in a hot oven, and they last for literal lifetimes.
Not to mention the fact that cooking in a cast iron pan can add significant amounts of iron to your food and body.
One thing cast iron pans do require, however, is some love and care every so often. But the positive cooking experience using cast iron certainly outweighs this negative.
If you're confused about looking after your cast iron pan -- including how to season it and what to do when your pan is rusty -- we've got you covered.
How to clean a cast iron pan
When you're washing your cast iron pan after everyday use, wash it with warm water and a kitchen sponge. While cast iron purists recommend not using dish washing liquid as it could remove the seasoning, others are more easygoing about it. Either way, don't go scrubbing your pan too hard.
Once your pan is clean, it's important to dry the pan thoroughly straightaway as water is cast iron's enemy. Simply hand-dry the pan with a tea towel, then place it on the hob over high heat to evaporate the remaining moisture.
So your cast iron pan is looking a little rusty and whatever you're cooking tends to stick more than usual. Don't worry, it's salvageable. It's just time to give your pan a deep clean.
What you'll need is some course salt, water and a stiff brush, steel wool or green cleansing pad. Splash your pan with water, add some salt and start scrubbing away the rust. Then rinse your pan well until the water runs clear, dry it off thoroughly (with a tea towel and place it in the oven for 10 minutes) and it's ready for seasoning.
How to season a cast iron pan
Now that you've got a clean and bare cast iron pan, it's time to re-season it, which doesn't mean rubbing spices on it. Because iron on its own is reactive and will rust (and stick), you need to season the pan by applying oil and heating it so it creates a sturdy layer of non-stick goodness.
The oil you should use to season cast iron is one with a neutral flavour and high smoking point, so vegetable or rice bran oil. Olive oil may become rancid and impart big flavour which you do not want.
When you apply oil to the pan, rub it all over (even the bottom!) and heat it in the oven for one hour at 230°C plus, the oil undergoes a chemical reaction and becomes a polymer (a stronger molecular bond), so you're locking that non-stick layer on the pan. Doing this method correctly makes your cast iron pan stay seasoned and conditioned.
Tip: place the pan upside down in the oven and place a baking tray underneath the baking shelf to catch any excess oil. Leave the pan in the oven for one hour, then you're done.
From this point on, with regular use of your cast iron pan you'll know when it needs to be re-seasoned when food begins to stick or the pan looks more metallic or begins to rust.