5 Mistakes You’re Making When Storing Your Cast Iron Skillet

published Nov 6, 2021
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Creamy Tortellini with spring vegetables in cast iron skillet
Credit: Jesse Szewczyk

Cast iron skillets are known for being tough-as-nails workhorses, able to be used on smoky campfires or sleek induction burners alike. But that doesn’t mean anything goes when it comes to storing them. As you likely already know, cast iron needs to be seasoned (so that it doesn’t rust and to build up that nonstick layer!). And that seasoning needs to be protected. No, you can’t just set your cast iron skillet on a shelf and pile it up with other pots and pans. Rather, you should make sure it’s sitting comfortably and you should make sure you never make these common storage mistakes.

Mistake 1: Storing a dirty pan.

A well-seasoned cast iron skillet is black as coal, which makes it hard to see any food remnants stuck to it. You might dry the pan and see brown bits come off on your towel and think “oh well,” but really that means you need to give it another go with a scrubby or brush and hot water. Stuck-on food can trap moisture and grow mold, which can cause rusting. It’s also just gross. Chain mail scrubbers work amazingly well to effortlessly remove burnt-on food from cast iron without damaging the seasoning, and a tiny bit of soap will also help loosen things up.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

Mistake 2: Putting the pan away while it’s still wet.

Your stainless-steel cookware can handle a few swipes with a dish towel before being tucked away in the cupboard, but when it comes to cast iron, that’s a recipe for rust. It’s easy for water to get trapped in the nooks and crannies in the surface or beneath the pan — even a well-seasoned one. To be sure the moisture is completely gone, set the pan over low heat for a few minutes. Or, if your oven is still hot from dinner, let it linger in there for a bit; the heat will evaporate traces of moisture. Don’t ever store your cast iron in a wet space, such as in a damp basement or garage or (even worse) outside. 

Mistake 3: Stacking pans on top of one another with no protection.

If you have more than one skillet and want to nest them for storage, add a layer of paper towel, newspaper, or even cork trivets between the pans. Doing so will prevent scratches (which can damage the seasoning and invite rust) and absorb potential moisture — especially if you live in a damp climate. If your skillet comes with a lid, consider buying a pack of lid protectors. These little plastic accessories get inserted on the rim of the pan and provide a cushion between it and the lid to keep nicks and chips at bay, as well as promote air circulation so moisture doesn’t get trapped inside.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

Mistake 4: Forgetting to coat the pan with a thin layer of oil between uses.

Nothing protects cast iron from developing rust better than a thin layer of oil. A totally unseasoned skillet will rust almost immediately when it comes in contact with a little moisture in the air, but not when it’s rubbed in oil. For that reason alone, you should always coat your dry pans in a thin layer of oil before putting them away. Just pour a dot of vegetable oil (or grapeseed) in the skillet, rub with a paper towel to distribute, then wipe any excess away — just as you would when seasoning a pan. Making this a habit will not only protect your pan between uses, but it’ll also help build up the seasoning. 

Credit: Photo: Ghazalle Badiozamani; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk

Mistake 5: Letting it linger in the cabinet.

The best thing you can do for your cast iron skillet is use it! Every time you do, you’ll be building on its seasoning, making it more nonstick and impervious to rust with each use. Those glossy, black, perfectly seasoned skillets of yesteryear? They’re that way because they were used every day for just about everything. So, yes, store your skillet properly to keep it rust- and scratch-free, but don’t let it linger in the cupboard forever. Give it a good workout on a regular basis, and it’ll be more likely to remain in tip-top shape.

How do you store your cast iron pan? Tell us in the comments below.