The iconic cast iron skillet has been a staple in kitchens for generations, passed down through the ages as cherished family heirlooms. Thanks to their unmatched heat retention and capacity to develop a natural non-stick surface over time, these timeless culinary companions are essential for any cooking enthusiast. Whether you've recently acquired a cast iron skillet or inherited one that has seen better days, one thing remains constant - proper care and cleaning are the keys to preserving its legendary performance.
In this post below, we will share how to clean a cast iron skillet. Whether you purchased pre-seasoned cast iron cookware coated with vegetable oil or seasoned it yourself, we will unravel the secrets to maintaining this prized kitchen tool and help you restore its original glory. Whether it's seasoning or tackling stubborn stains, we have you covered with expert tips and techniques to rejuvenate your cast iron skillet and make it look as good as new.
How To Clean Cast Iron Cookware After Each Use
A seasoned cast iron skillet refers to one that has been coated with a layer of polymerized oil or fat, resulting in a natural non-stick surface. Many pre-seasoned cast iron skillets sold on the market are coated with vegetable oil. In this process, multiple layers of oil or fat to the skillet were applied and then heated to a high temperature, enabling the oil to bond with the iron surface. The result is a smooth, dark, and shiny coating that enhances the skillet's non-stick properties and prevents rusting.
So, here's a rundown of how to clean a cast iron skillet of regular food debris, and maybe you'll be able to stop at the first step!
- Wipe Down With A Dry Cloth. When your cast iron skillet is perfectly seasoned, a quick wipe with a dry paper towel or cotton dishcloth is all you need to clean it! Food particles will come right off. Cast iron cookware is truly a wonder.
- Water And A Scrubber. Water doesn't pose a problem to cast iron if it is dried well later, and we'll get to that. So if dry wiping doesn't get your pan clean, put some warm water in it and use a scrubber to scrape off food residue.
- Add Salt. Add about half a cup of coarse kosher salt to the pan and start scrubbing for an extra boost when cleaning with water. The salt will act as an abrasive. Fun fact - some cast iron devotees clean their cast iron pans using half a potato and salt! The potato serves as their moisture and their scrubber as they work the salt into the pan.
- Rinse. After using salt, make sure to rinse off the pan thoroughly.
- Dry. Dry and dry completely! This step cannot be emphasized enough. I will emphasize it many times. Dry, dry, dry! Ideally, use heat to do this. You can either place your cast iron skillet back on the stovetop over medium heat until the moisture evaporates or put it into a 350-degree oven for ten minutes.
- Run Down With Oil. Once the cast iron pan is clean and dry, apply a small amount of cooking oil of your choice. Rub it into the surface of your cast iron skillet, and then place it on the stovetop or back into the oven for ten minutes. This doesn't season your cast iron, but it does help maintain the seasoning process.
An unseasoned cast iron skillet doesn't contain a protective layer of polymerized oil or fat. It typically has a dull gray appearance and lacks the non-stick properties that a seasoned skillet possesses. Unseasoned cast iron skillets are more susceptible to rust and may require seasoning before use to improve their cooking performance and longevity.
After each use, cleaning an unseasoned cast iron skillet is essential to prevent rust and maintain its usability. Here's a step-by-step guide to cleaning your unseasoned cast iron skillet:
- Cool Down: Allow the skillet to cool down slightly after cooking. To prevent cracking, avoid subjecting the cast iron skillet to extreme temperature changes.
- Remove Food Residue: Using a soft sponge or brush, gently scrub away any food residue or stuck-on bits. For stubborn residues, you can add a small amount of mild dish soap to the sponge to aid in the removal process. However, avoid using harsh abrasive cleaners, which may damage the skillet's surface.
- Rinse with Warm Water: Thoroughly rinse the skillet with warm water to ensure all soap and remaining food particles are removed.
- Dry Thoroughly: Carefully dry the skillet with a towel or paper towel. Make sure there is no moisture left on the surface, as it can lead to the formation of rust.
- Apply a Thin Layer of Oil: To protect the unseasoned cast iron skillet from rust, lightly coat the interior and exterior surfaces with a thin layer of cooking oil or vegetable shortening. You can apply the oil using a paper towel or cloth, making sure to cover the entire skillet evenly.
Tackling Stuck-On Food
The cleaning process above will take care of most food residue left in your pan from typical cooking. However, you might find yourself with a patch of truly stuck food, especially with un-seasoned cast iron pans.
How To Clean A Cast Iron Skillet Using Salt
Salt can be used for general cast iron cleaning, but you can also use it for tricky spots.
- Add Salt. Add a half cup of coarse salt and a few drops of warm water to a warm cast iron pan (not hot!).
- Scrub. Use an abrasive scrubber (like steel wool or a Scotch-Brite sponge) to work the salt into the food residue.
- Rinse. Once you get the food off, give it a good rinse to remove the salt. You might have to do a few rounds of salt scrubbing! Then dry and oil as normal.
How To Clean A Cast Iron Skillet Using Boiling Water
Boiling water is very effective at loosening the burnt food enough that you can scrape it off.
- Add Water. After cleaning off as much food as possible using the commercial cleaner method above, fill the pan with water and a small amount of dish soap. Be sure that all of the food bits are completely submerged!
- Boil. Bring the water to a boil, and allow it to simmer for ten minutes. Afterward, remove the pan from the heat and let it cool slightly.
- Scrape. Use a wooden spatula or pan scraper to remove the food. It should have loosened enough to scrape off.
- Rinse And Repeat. Stubborn stuck-on food may need another round of boiling.
Having a rusty cast iron skillet is undesirable, but unfortunately, it can occur.
How To Clean A Rusty Cast Iron Skillet Using Salt
Just as salt can handle the stuck-on bits, it can also handle small areas of surface rust. As mentioned before, add coarse salt and a little water to your cast iron skillet, and use a stiff brush to scrub off the rust.
How To Clean A Rusty Cast Iron Skillet Using A Rust Eraser
Rust erasers are made from rubber and silicon carbide and work great at removing areas of surface rust. Simply rub the eraser on the rusty spots to remove them - it's as simple as that! But be sure not to press too hard, or it can cause microcracking in the pan, making it more likely to develop rust in the future.
How To Clean A Rusty Cast Iron Skillet Using A Commercial Cleaner
If your cast iron pan is covered with light rust, it's time to break out steel wool (if rust is stubborn), vinegar, or baking soda.
If you got stubborn rust, you could use fine steel wool or an abrasive pad to scrub the rusty spots lightly. Use gentle pressure to avoid scratching the pan's surface excessively.
For more significant rust issues, create a vinegar soak by filling the pan with equal parts water and white vinegar. Let the pan soak for 1-2 hours or longer, depending on the rust severity. The vinegar will help dissolve the rust.
If stubborn rust spots persist, prepare a paste by mixing baking soda and water. Apply the paste to the rusty areas and allow it to sit for a few minutes before scrubbing gently.
General Care Of Cast Iron Skillets
Dry, Dry Dry! - Cast iron is made of iron! Iron and water are not friends! Because of this, many cast iron devotees would gasp at the thought of using water to clean their cast iron pots and pans.
However, water doesn't affect the seasoning. It's too gentle for that. The danger is leaving water to sit on the pan, and you can fix that by drying it! As mentioned above, you can do this using heat to evaporate the water, but if you'd prefer not to, then make sure you dry your cast iron skillet thoroughly.
Scrubbers - Cast iron cookware isn't delicate! You can use harsh scrubbers on it if you maintain the seasoning well. Feel free to use steel wool, metal mesh scrubbers, and even chain mail! You won't need these intense scrubbers most of the time, but they can effectively handle burnt-on food.
Clean Immediately - Cleaning a cast iron skillet is easiest when it's hot. Moving the food you cook in it to a serving dish and washing your pan immediately after using it! Cleaning the hot cast iron pan with food residue using hot water requires much less elbow grease than tackling a cold pan later.
The Dish Soap Debate - While some say that dish soap should be absolutely avoided, as it will eat through the polymerized oil and ruin your pan's seasoning.
The other says that a little mild dish soap to handle particularly tough spots isn't anything to be concerned about. Make your choice and be at peace.
How To Season And Re-season Cast Iron Skillets
Seasoning and re-seasoning cast iron skillets are essential for maintaining their non-stick surface, preventing rust, and prolonging their lifespan. Below is a step-by-step guide on how to season and re-season your cast iron skillet:
- Clean the skillet: For a new cast iron skillet, wash it with warm water and mild soap to eliminate any factory residue or coatings.
- Re-season: If you are re-seasoning an existing skillet, clean it thoroughly by scrubbing it with hot water and a stiff brush to remove any food residues. Refrain from using soap or harsh detergents, as they can strip away the seasoning.
- Dry the skillet: After washing, dry the skillet completely using a clean towel. Removing all moisture is essential to prevent rusting.
- Preheat your oven: Preheat your oven to approximately 375°F (190°C). You can adjust the temperature slightly higher or lower if needed, but it should not exceed the smoke point of the oil you'll be using.
- Apply oil: Select oil with a high smoke point for seasoning your cast iron skillet. Commonly used cast iron seasoning oils include vegetable oil, flaxseed oil, canola oil, or grapeseed oil. Avoid using low-smoke-point oils like olive oil, as they can become sticky during the seasoning process.
Pour a small amount of oil, approximately a teaspoon, onto a paper towel or cloth. Rub the oil all over the skillet's surface, including the cooking surface, outer sides, and handle.
- Remove excess oil: Once you've applied the oil, use a clean paper towel or cloth to wipe off any excess. The layer should be very thin, nearly invisible. Avoid applying too much oil, as it can result in a sticky or uneven seasoning.
- Place in the oven: Place the skillet upside-down in the preheated oven. To catch any potential drips, you can position a baking sheet or aluminum foil on the lower rack.
- Bake the skillet: Allow the skillet to bake in the oven for approximately 1-2 hours. This process will polymerize the oil, forming a durable, non-stick coating on the cast iron surface.
- Cool and repeat: Turn off the oven and let the skillet cool down inside the oven. You can repeat the seasoning process 2-3 times for a stronger seasoning, especially if you are working with a new skillet.
Can I use soap to clean my cast iron skillet?
This is a common concern as many people are advised against using soap on cast iron cookware. While avoiding using soap regularly is generally recommended, it's safe to use mild soap occasionally. Just make sure to rinse it thoroughly and dry it immediately after washing to prevent rust.
How do I remove stubborn food residues from my cast iron skillet?
To remove stubborn food residues, scrub with warm water and a stiff brush or sponge. If necessary, create a paste of kosher salt and water and use it as a gentle abrasive. Alternatively, boiling water in the skillet can help loosen stuck-on food, making it easier to scrub off. See our step-by-step guide above.
How do I dry my cast iron skillet after washing it?
After washing, ensure to thoroughly dry the skillet with a clean towel or paper towel. You can also place it on a stovetop over low heat to evaporate any remaining moisture if needed. It is crucial to make sure the skillet is completely dry to prevent rusting.
Is it safe to use acidic ingredients in my cast iron cookware?
While using acidic ingredients occasionally is generally okay, it's best to avoid cooking highly acidic foods for extended periods, as they can erode the seasoning and potentially give food a metallic taste.
My cast iron skillet has rust spots. How do I remove them?
To remove rust, scrub the affected area with a mixture of vinegar and water using a brush or steel wool. Afterward, make sure to rinse, dry, and re-season the skillet. To prevent rust, always thoroughly dry your skillet and apply a thin layer of oil after each use.
Do I need to re-season my cast iron skillet regularly?
Re-seasoning is necessary when the skillet's seasoning has worn off or if you've stripped it down to remove rust or buildup. Regular maintenance and applying a thin layer of oil are essential for preserving the seasoning.