Cast iron is an incredibly versatile cooking tool, used for everything from making French fries to frying eggs. However, when cooking, it is important to keep it clean, especially when food is cooked in it. The following will give you an idea of how to clean your cast iron.
When you hear the words “cast iron” you probably think of a heavy-duty cooking pan. But there is a whole world of cast iron cookware you probably don’t know about.
Cast iron skillets can get a nasty, sticky film on them over time if not cleaned often enough. It’s easy to get into a rut and just leave them covered up in their box. While that’s OK for someone who just wants to keep things clean, there are other uses for cast iron that require more frequent cleaning.
Aside from the dreaded mandolin slicer, there are few culinary appliances that come with as many rules and restrictions as a cast-iron pan. There are seasoning guidelines, use restrictions, and the most important rule of all: don’t use soap.
But rules are supposed to be broken, and with the aid of two seasoned cast iron specialists, we’re not only going to violate the cardinal rule of cleaning a cast-iron skillet, but we’re also going to toss it out the window.
I sought out Daniel Gritzer, who is, in my view, the most knowledgeable person on the topic of cast iron maintenance. Gritzer’s foundational work on the topic for Serious Eats, where he is the culinary director, influenced how I think about and write about cast iron maintenance.
The best method to clean a cast-iron skillet after cooking in it, according to Gritzer, is to wash it by hand with soapy water and a scrub sponge.
Liquid Dish Soap by Palmolive
- Scotch-Brite Scrub Sponge (Non-Scratch)s ($5.01; amazon.com; originally $9.65)
Scotch-Brite Non-Scratch Scrub Sponge
If that seems like a dramatic departure from conventional knowledge, Gritzer explains the science behind his recommendation to defy tradition and put soap on a cast-iron skillet in order to preserve the pan’s seasoning. He claims that seasoning is not the same as taste. “It’s a fat coating that’s been polymerized (tech jargon meaning transforming into a plastic-like covering).” It isn’t oily, it isn’t gunky, and it isn’t heavy with burnt-on food detritus. Smooth, clean, non-sticky, and dry to the touch are all characteristics of good seasoning.”
“As those layers [of seasoning] build up, the pan becomes increasingly protected against rusting (which, in its stripped-bare state, it will rapidly do just by sitting in the open air) while also developing the nonstick characteristics that make cast iron so useful,” Gritzer writes in his article on cleaning cast iron.
There’s a term buried in there that should replace “soap” in your vocabulary of Things to Avoid When Cleaning Cast Iron: “rust” (although don’t fret if your pan does rust; we’ve got assistance for that too below). While soap will not harm your cast-iron pan, water will, since it will cause the metal to rust. Therefore, water should never be used on a cast-iron pan. That doesn’t imply you shouldn’t use any water at all while cleaning a cast-iron skillet, but it does indicate you shouldn’t do the following when doing so:
- Place the pan in the dishwasher to clean.
- Soak the pan in water for a few minutes.
- After washing, allow the pan to drip dry.
Finally, dry your cast-iron pan as soon as possible after cleaning it, either with a dark-colored dish rag (dry a cast-iron pan with a white dishcloth once and you’ll quickly see why a dark one is a superior option!) or with a paper towel. Alternatively, you may dry it over a low flame. If you want to flame-dry, brush the pan with a little quantity of oil, which will add another thin layer of seasoning to the pan’s protective coating.
- 6-Pack of DII Cotton Terry Dishcloths ($8.99; amazon.com)
6-Pack DII Cotton Terry Dishcloths
I sought a second perspective from Adam Feltman, an associate brand manager for Lodge Cast Iron, who agreed with Gritzer’s suggestion to wash a cast-iron skillet with soap and water. (If you’re looking for a new cast-iron pan, Lodge is our choice for the finest all-around cast-iron skillet.)
Feltman recommends hand-washing cast-iron cookware and using a little soap if desired. “Our pan scrapers and scour brushes come in handy for stuck-on food.”
- 4-Pack of Lodge Polycarbonate Pan Scrapers ($8; amazon.com)
4-Pack of Lodge Polycarbonate Pan Scrapers
- Scrub Brush for Lodge Care ($7.90; amazon.com; originally $9.49)
Lodge Care Scrub Brush
“Promptly dry the skillet by hand with a lint-free cloth or paper towel,” he says, emphasizing the necessity of completely drying cast iron after cleaning.
If you still want to avoid using soap on cast iron, that’s OK; the scrub brush and scraper that Feltman suggests may be used to clean a cast-iron pan without using soap. People who prefer not to use soap or who want to add a little of Renaissance Faire flare to their dish-washing may use those medieval-looking chain mail scrubbers.
“I’ve tried chain mail scrubbers, and they work great for cleaning burnt-on crud,” Gritzer adds, “but I don’t believe they’re actually necessary.” “A thorough salt scrubbing on high heat may also get rid of that crud.”
Scrubber for Chain Mail Hulless
The chain mail scrubbers are another favorite of Feltman’s. “They’re great for getting rid of stuck-on food. “We have one here at the Lodge that is ideal for heavy-duty cleaning,” he adds.
- Scrubbing Pad for Lodge ($19.90; amazon.com; $24.99 initially)
Lodge Scrubbing Pad
Experts in cast iron, such as Gritzer, believe that the best way to care for a cast-iron pan, like a grill, is to utilize it.
There are nearly as many complicated regulations for seasoning a cast-iron skillet as there are for cleaning one. Gritzer likes vegetable, canola, or maize oil for seasoning cast iron, and has written extensively on the subject. Using the pan often will also improve its seasoning, as he points out, since “every time you cook in it with some kind of oil, you’ll be putting down more seasoning.”
- Two-Pack of Crisco Pure Vegetable Oil ($13.88; amazon.com)
2-Pack Crisco Pure Vegetable Oil
If you’re new to seasoning cast iron, Feltman suggests Lodge’s Seasoning Care Kit, which “contains everything you need to get the job done,” according to him.
- Care Kit for Lodge Seasoned Cast Iron ($19.90; amazon.com; originally $26)
Lodge Seasoned Cast Iron Care Kit
What can be done if a piece of cast-iron cookware has rusted now that we’ve discovered that water, not soap, is the real enemy of cast iron? First and foremost, do not be alarmed.
“Cast iron can withstand a lot of abuse, so don’t be afraid to use it. Yes, there’s a possibility you’ll screw up the seasoning, but that’s easily remedied. “The pan can withstand a lot of abuse, so go ahead and use it — there’s no need to treat it like fine china,” Gritzer adds.
“It’s very simple to clean and care for cast iron,” Feltman agrees. It’s impossible for your pan to be ruined.” Even if feared rust appears, Feltman adds, “we have rust erasers that can bring it back to life in the event water soaks in it.”
Rust Eraser (Lodge)
A rusty cast-iron pan may be restored in three easy steps, according to Lodge:
- Scrub the rusted pan with steel wool and warm, soapy water. Rinse and thoroughly dry by hand.
- Oil: Coat the pan with a thin, uniform coating of cooking oil.
- Bake: Place the cookware on the top rack of the oven, upside down. Bake for one hour at 450 to 500 degrees Fahrenheit.
- 3-Pack of Scotch-Brite Stainless Steel Scrubbers ($2.29; amazon.com)
3-Pack Scotch-Brite Stainless Steel Scrubbers
Cast iron skillets are difficult to clean, but not impossible. Most stoves come with a griddle or griddle/skillet combo, which is great, but the drawback is the griddle becomes round after each use. The method I use to clean my cast iron is simple. First, I simply wipe the cast iron skillet with steel wool, then I bring it into my wood burning stove and heat it to 500 degrees, then dry it with paper towels. Then, if the pan becomes too greasy, I simply heat it to 500 degrees, scrape it with a wooden spoon, then iron it with the towel.. Read more about how to clean a cast iron skillet with salt and let us know what you think.
Frequently Asked Questions
How do you clean and season a cast iron skillet?
To clean a cast iron skillet, you should use soap and water. Once the pan is completely dry, you can season it by heating it up in the oven for about an hour at 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
Can you ruin a cast iron skillet?
Yes, a cast iron skillet can be ruined by cooking acidic foods such as tomatoes or eggs.
What happens if you use soap on a cast iron skillet?
If you use soap on a cast iron skillet, it will create a layer of soap scum that can be removed with cooking oil.
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