"Do you have any information on cleaning and caring for a cast-iron skillet?" One of our Newton Falls Public Library patrons had recently inherited a cast-iron skillet and wanted to be sure they were taking care of it properly so that it would perform at its best.
We checked Consumer Reports Books' How to Clean Practically Anything and Don Aslett's How Do I Clean the Moosehead? and 99 More Tough Questions About Housecleaning, but, although we did find out how to clean a moosehead, there was no information about cast-iron skillets. We had better luck with The Good Housekeeping Household Encyclopedia, Jeff Bredenberg's Clean It Fast Clean It Right, and Carla Emery's The Encyclopedia of Country Living, all of which featured a small section on how to clean cast-iron cookware. Putting "how to clean a cast iron skillet" into an online search engine also brought up an article on the Real Simple website.
It's very important to season cast-iron cookware so as to give it its nonstick surface. Season your cookware before you use it for the first time, and then, after that, as often as you like. To season a pot or skillet, clean it first in hot soapy water. Then, grease the inside with suet, vegetable oil, or shortening and leave it to "bake" in the oven. Sources vary on how long to leave it in and how high the temperature must be. The Encyclopedia of Country Living suggests 8-10 hours at 250-275°F, whereas Real Simple suggests 350°F for just over an hour and Clean It Fast Clean It Right says 200-300°F for 30 minutes. However, all sources agree that if your cast-iron pot or pan comes with a lid, remove it during the seasoning process or else it will become irrevocably stuck.
Once you've started using your skillet, wash and dry it with care. Avoid harsh cleaning agents and metal scrapers such as steel wool, as those will scrape off the seasoning, though you can use baking soda or coarse salt if you need some extra scrubbing power. Be sure to dry it carefully and store it in a dry place to prevent rust. (If your cookware does rust, scrub the rust off with steel wool, re-season it, and start over.) You can grease your skillet again before storing if you want to continue to build up the nonstick coating.
Though the care and cleaning of cast-iron is a little different than it is for most cookware and may take some getting used to, properly cared for cast-iron cookware can last for generations.