Aside from being able to cook up some stellar skillet meals, cast iron pans prevail against other types of pans for many reasons. For one, they heat evenly, so you can sear meats like a pro. In addition, cast iron pans are oven-friendly, can boost your iron intake (for real!) and, best of all, offer a natural, non-stick surface. Needless to say, this kitchen tool is a gem, but cleaning it properly is imperative to prevent rusting — and keep it cooking your favorite meals for years to come. Here’s the lowdown on how to do it right.

Don’t let a dirty cast iron pan sit on the stove all night and definitely don’t leave it in the sink. Cast iron is porous, so any extended exposure to water will eventually result in rust. After your meal, take the time to rinse it out with water only (no soap!) and scrub with a sponge or skillet-specific scrubber.

Skip the soap, and instead, sprinkle a liberal amount of coarse Kosher salt inside the pan as you scrub to loosen stuck-on bits of food. Like a facial scrub, the salt lifts grit up and out; plus it also acts as an antibacterial force. If you’re dealing with stubborn gunk, fill your cast iron skillet about halfway with water and bring it to a simmer over low heat on the stove for approximately five minutes. Let it cool, dump the water, add salt, and give it another scrub. This time around, the cleaning should be a breeze.

Once the skillet is free of residue, it’s time to lotion up. Nothing beats moisturizing after a hot and steamy shower, and the skillet agrees. With a paper towel, rub a neutral, high-heat oil like canola or vegetable shortening inside the pan in a circular motion.

After your skillet is coated with a thin layer of oil, heat it over the stove to dry completely and lock in the oil. If there is any remaining moisture, wipe it off with a paper towel.

Allow your skillet to cool completely before storing in a dry place, like inside the oven. Again, because cast iron is porous, any moisture will result in rusting.

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(Images via Yising Chou/Brit + Co)