Why I Keep an Oiled Cloth Next to My Stove at All Times

updated Sep 8, 2021
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Credit: Hayley Lawrence

I love my cast iron pan. Sure, I may neglect or even abuse it from time to time, but this trusty steed has been my kitchen workhorse of choice for more than a decade. There’ve been dozens — hundreds! Thousands! — of articles written about how to clean, repair, season, and care for a cast iron skillet. I appreciate all of this insight, and have found it enormously helpful when my pans are in need of a little extra TLC.

But I want to be clear about something: The most effective way to care for a cast iron pan doesn’t come from a day of re-seasoning. Epic projects aren’t what keep everybody’s favorite pan in fighting shape. Nope; your cast irons will perform best and last the longest if you put in just a little bit of work every single time you use it. Come to think of it, cast iron pans are kind of like relationships. It’s not the dramatic “I effed up; here’s a dozen roses and Champagne” that keeps it alive, but the small acts of kindness and care, like unloading the dishwasher for once!

I show my pan how much I love it by wiping it down daily with an oiled cloth. That’s it — that’s the secret to a happy relationship with your cast iron cookware.

Credit: Rochelle Bilow

I wash and dry my pan immediately after each use, but it’s what happens next that matters: I heat it gently over a low flame and add a bit of ghee. Then, I grab my dedicated “cast iron cloth” and rub the oil into the bottom and sides of the pan. I wait until the pan feels warm, but the ghee isn’t shimmering and snapping. Then I simply turn off the heat and let the pan cool naturally. This small step keeps it glossy and well-seasoned.

And it works for one reason: Because I keep the cloth right next to the stove! 

Honestly, I can be a lazy cook. If I have to hunt around for a rag, there’s a good chance I will skip this step and allow my pan to slowly succumb to rust over time. I’m also trying to use less single-use products in my kitchen, which means I avoid paper towels as much as possible. By keeping the cloth in a small bowl next to my most-used spices and seasonings, I’m reminded (and gently encouraged) to actually use it. To put in the work. Because my pan is worth it. And it loves me. And I should love it back.

There’s no need to buy a special cloth for this. Any non-pilling fabric — no terrycloth! — will do. Personally, I like to tear old T-shirts into scraps and use those, but an old or stained tea towel will work just as well. I’ll use the same rag for a month or so before retiring it to the trash (it makes a great fire starter if you’re the backyard bonfire type). This method cuts down on waste and also avoids the problem of tainting a load of laundry with grease.

If you really want to earn cookware extra credit, keep a dedicated vessel for greasing nearby, too. That way, you won’t reach for the expensive EVOO just because it’s closest. I like to use ghee for its high smoke point, but a neutral oil, such as grapeseed or vegetable, works too. I keep my ghee in a special jar and sometimes even dip the cloth right into it — talk about low maintenance. (I label the top of the jar so I don’t confuse that with my other, “cooking” ghee.)

How do you keep your cast iron pans in tip-top shape? Share your secrets and tips in the comments below.