I Just Got a Cast-Iron Skillet. Now What?

To season or not to season?

Published Jan. 18, 2022.

I grew up using cast iron in skillet and dutch oven form. Some of the best recipes from my family were cooked in cast iron, from one-pan dinners to breads. The oldest skillets were the best. Somehow, the food cooked in them tasted better and I couldn’t wait to learn how to use them myself.  

However, it’s one thing to use a smooth, 30-year-old, seasoned family heirloom that’s all but nonstick, and something entirely different to get a brand-new one. The pebbly, matte texture has a greyish color and looks nothing like what I’m used to.

If you’re like me, you’re asking yourself: When do you season it? How do you clean it? Why is everything sticking to this brand-new skillet? We’ll answer all these questions and more.  

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Some of Our Favorite Cast Iron Recipes

Skillet CornbreadSpinach and Feta FrittataHot Fudge Pudding Cake
From left: Cast Iron Southern-Style Cornbread, Cast Iron Spinach and Feta Frittata, and Cast Iron Hot Fudge Pudding Cake.

If you’re just getting started, here are a few beginner-friendly recipes to get you hooked on using your new skillet.

1. Cast Iron Southern-Style Cornbread: Yes, I’m biased, but you simply can’t beat cornbread from cast iron. The captured heat allows for a quick rise and an undeniably crispy, buttery crust that will have you going back for slice after slice.

2. Cast Iron Spinach and Feta Frittata: Breakfast, anytime. This frittata showcases the versatility of cast iron by starting on the stove for a crispy bottom and finishing under the broiler for a bubbly brown top (you can’t do this with a nonstick skillet). Packed with feta and oregano flavor, this fragrant frittata can be on the table in an hour. Serve directly from the skillet. 

3. Cast Iron Hot Fudge Pudding Cake: Think fudge brownies but better. It comes together mostly in the skillet, then magically inverts while baking into two distinct layers of warm, fudgy pudding topped with a rich chocolatey cake. This dessert is great for entertaining as it can be served directly from the skillet. It can be portioned to feed 6 to 8, but you’ll want to eat it all yourself.

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How to Care for Your Cast-Iron Skillet

Now that you have some recipe inspiration, you’re ready to get cooking. These tips will answer frequently asked questions and help clear up first-timer confusion.

1. How do I season my cast-iron skillet?

Seasoning sounds like a much more involved and complicated process than it is. Pans purchased today are usually preseasoned by the manufacturer (Lodge, the maker of our best buy pick, was the first to offer this), so you have a solid seasoning base until your pan acquires its own. Think of it as a headstart.

Acquiring seasoning occurs over time (starting with the first use) as the heated cooking fats polymerize and form a natural, nonstick coating that will continue to build with consistent care (i.e. cooking and seasoning). Note: Enameled cast-iron skillets are a little different and the seasoning tips don’t apply. However, they behave the same as traditional cast-iron skillets and can give your food the same great results.  

Here’s how to season:

  1. Thoroughly wash and dry your skillet. 
  2. Apply ½ teaspoon of vegetable oil (max amount for a 12-inch skillet) and spread evenly over the entire surface of the pan, inside and out, with a paper towel or clean kitchen towel. Keep wiping until it appears to be gone. (It’s not!) 
  3. Place your very lightly oiled pan on the stove on medium heat for a few minutes, allowing it to heat thoroughly, ensuring the oil has polymerized evenly on the surface. You may see beads of oil and those should be wiped off with with fresh paper towels.
  4. Allow the pan to cool completely before storing.

2. How do I wash my cast-iron skillet?

Hot debates arise over
proper cast iron cleaning. Here are the biggest tips:

  • Always wash it while still warm. 
  • Rinse with hot water and scrub away any food residue (we recommend the O-Cedar scrub brush).
  • Rinse and dry thoroughly; finish drying on the stove. 
  • Yes, you can use a drop of dish soap, but it’s really not necessary. 
  • Cover particularly sticky bits in a thin layer of salt (kosher or table salt is fine) and scrub before rinsing well. Only enameled pans are dishwasher safe, but why risk it? 

No matter how you clean your cast iron, be sure to dry thoroughly over medium heat and follow-up with a bit of oil (continuing to heat) before storing to avoid rust. Your pan should never be sticky or very shiny.

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3. What are the best ways to cook with my new cast-iron skillet?

Cast iron can be used on any type of stove, even for outdoor grilling and camp fires. Cook any way you please: bake, roast, fry. It shines when preheated in the oven, getting rippin’ hot and holding that heat for the duration of the cook time. Gradual heat is best as the cast iron needs time to heat up. If you wait for it to come to temp, there will be no hot spots, only evenly seared steaks and crispy edges on your pizza. 

Note: Go easy on your induction stove if using heavy pans made of cast iron. Lift and place rather than drag across the surface to avoid scuffing the surface of the cooktop.

Got More Cast Iron Questions?

For answers to more in-depth cast iron questions like the difference between those beautiful golden artisan and the much cheaper mass produced pans, read equipment expert Lisa McManus’s The Best Cast-Iron Skillets of 2021

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