How To Clean Cast Iron Pan

Five tried and true cleaning hacks that’ll make your dirty cast iron pan good as new.

Your cast iron pan is an unusual beast. To clean it, you can’t put it in the dishwasher, soak it in water, or use heavy abrasive brushes.

And yet, the entire point of having a cast iron skillet is to sear, roast, and generally cook at high temperatures--a process that inevitably leaves hard, crusty food particles clinging to the bottom and sides. What’s a cook to do? No, not dump it. When cared for properly, cast iron pans are basically family heirloom gold. The more they’re used, the more seasoned they become, making them perfect for passing down to the next generation.

Cast iron rules

There are a few general rules when it comes to caring for your cast iron pan.

  1. Rule 1: Rust is your enemy. Avoid cleaning your pan with water if possible. If you need to rinse it out, make sure to dry it completely either with a dish towel or by placing it on a hot burner.
  2. Rule 2: Avoid soap, which generally strips cast iron of its natural seasoning.
  3. Rule 3: Season your pan with oil after every use. Once the pan is clean, pour in a teaspoon of oil and rub it in with a paper towel or a dedicated dish towel.

Now before you panic, wondering if you’ve accidentally adopted a utensil that will be as labor-intensive as a new puppy, worry not. We’ve compiled a list of easy methods that will have your new cookware spic n’ span in no time.

Five methods of cleaning your cast iron pan:

Hot Oil:

Let’s start with the most basic, and let’s face it, the easiest hack to cleaning out your crusty cast iron skillet. Pour a tablespoon of oil into the pan and turn your burner on medium-high. Let it heat up and sizzle in there for two or three minutes. This process loosens food particles, and in some cases, sends them swimming right to the surface. Turn the burner off and let your pan cool down before wiping out any of the gunk with a paper towel or dedicated dish rag. Presto.

Cornmeal:

Not for muffins this time people! Similar to kosher salt, cornmeal can be used as an abrasive to clean your cast iron skillet. Pour ¼ cup of cornmeal into the pan and use a dry sponge to scrub out the crusty bits. Dump the gunk and repeat the process two or three times, until your pan is back to normal.

Baking soda:

If you’ve got a cast-iron pan with a coating of enamel, baking soda is clutch. Fill your pan with water, high enough to completely submerge the burned or affected areas. Turn your burner to high and let your water come to a rolling boil. Then pour in two tablespoons of baking soda. Give it a stir with a wooden spoon and let the mixture rumble around for a few minutes. Turn off the burner and dump the water mixture out, then immediately scrub the bottom and sides of your pan with a sponge. Repeat this whole process until your pan is totally clean.

Kosher or sea salt:

Now, here’s where things get wacky. Kosher or sea salt transforms into a delightful little abrasive when poured into your skillet and mashed around with a sponge. Dump about a quarter cup of salt into the dry pan and scrub away. As you do, the salt may gradually turn from white to black, indicating you’re doing a very good job releasing those pesky food particles.

Steel wool

This method is a last-ditch effort because technically you shouldn’t use anything this abrasive on your cast iron. But occasionally, you might need to break out the big guns by scrubbing your pan with some steel wool. Just remember to do so carefully, making sure you’re not taking off the bottom of the pan. If steel wool feels too harsh, use the tough side of a scrubbing sponge.

Whichever method you use, store your cast iron pans with the lid on in a dry place. And remember, the entire point of adopting your cast iron pan was to make the tastiest meals possible. Putting in the extra elbow grease will ensure your eggs don’t ever taste like last night’s steak.

And if you’re feeling inspired to go pro in cleaning all types of dishes, check out our best tips for washing dishes. Loading the dishwasher can be pretty tricky, too.

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