how to clean a cast iron skillet

Are you wondering how to clean a cast iron skillet?

While cooking with a cast iron pan can be a wonderful way to bring more fun and flavour to your food, cleaning cast iron isn’t always easy. Most people have no idea when they should be using steel wool to scrape away burned-on food or how they can protect the natural non-stick surface of cast iron. Often, this means your pan ends up getting damaged too quickly.

So how exactly should you clean a cast iron pan? Cast iron cookware lasts for years if you know how to look after them correctly. Today, we will look at the steps you’ll need to take to clean a cast iron skillet correctly and how to preserve your cast iron cookware.

Tips for Cleaning Cast Iron Cookware

Each time you use your cast iron cookware, you’ll need to ensure you’re cleaning it properly. To protect the base of the pan, avoid using steel wool. Instead, you can remove the excess food from the still-warm skillet with a paper towel. Once you’re done removing the excess oil and food, rinse your skillet under running warm water, scrubbing gently with a non-abrasive brush or sponge.

Even if you’ve noticed stubborn stuck-on food on your cast iron skillet, it’s best to avoid scrubbing too hard. If you’re struggling to remove a stain, soak your cast iron skillet in soap water for an hour or two. This will help to loosen the stubborn stuck-on food so that you can remove it. Ensure you rinse and thoroughly dry your cast iron skillet to prevent rust.

If you still have stuck bits on your cast iron pan, fill it with water and bring it to a boil slowly on your stove. Add a few spoonsful of baking soda to help get rid of the extra strains. You can use a wooden spoon to gently scrape at the blackened stains before draining the pot and washing it as normal.

How to Season Your Cast Iron Skillet

Learning how to clean a cast iron skillet also means knowing how to season the pan again after cleaning it. Check your cast iron skillet is dry after washing, then apply a small amount of cooking oil or vegetable oil to a paper towel. Use the paper towel to lightly coat the entire surface of your cast iron pan so the oil residue remains on the pan.

Some specific kinds of cast iron pans, like lodge cast iron, may have specific requirements on how to season the skillet. Avoid adding too much oil to a hot pan. Instead, coat the pan in a light layer of oil and then place it on top of the oven stove. Let the oil evaporate from the inside of the skillet slowly, at medium to high heat. Continue to season your pan with oil using tongs and a paper towel coated in oil.

Repeat the application of the oil at least 3 to 5 times until the oil begins to smoke and there’s no remaining residue on the cooking surface. This can take up to an hour if you’re seasoning for the first time. If you’re re-seasoning the surface of your skillet, you should only need a small amount of oil. Let the pan cool a little after each rub.

If you don’t want to re-season your cast iron pan on the hob, you can heat the inside of your over to about 500 degrees and use paper towels to run about a tablespoon or two over the surface. Place in the oven for one hour and use potholders or a thick cloth to remove the cast iron pan from the oven.

How to Remove Rust From a Cast Iron Skillet

Most experts will advise keeping your cast iron pan out of the bottom rack of your dishwasher, although some cast iron skillet products are safe to place in the dishwasher. The biggest risk with leaving your iron pan in soap water for too long, or sitting in your dishwasher, is that rust can begin to form around the pan.

Even with regular cast iron skillet care, you’ll need to scrub the rust away from the surface of your pan every so often.

Try giving your pan a good scrub with steel wool and soap to remove any leftover residue and traces of rust. You don’t need to remove all the seasoning, just the worst parts throughout your pan. Rinse and dry thoroughly after the rust is gone.

If your cast iron skillet is in terrible condition, you might need to strip the cooking surface completely and begin seasoning it again from scratch. You can strip away the coating on your skillet by setting your cast iron pan upside down on the middle rack of your oven and running the self-cleaning setting. Use steel wool to eliminate any remaining food and flakes after the heat has gotten rid of most of the rust and iron degradation.

Can You Ruin a Cast Iron Pan?

Cast iron pans are durable and versatile, but there is a risk you can damage them if you don’t wash, re-season, and care for your iron properly. If you’re new to using a cast iron pan and don’t let it cool completely before you wipe it down with soapy water, or you use harsh abrasives too quickly, you could damage your product.

Once you’ve allowed your cast iron seasoned pan to cool after a thorough wash, wipe your finger across the bottom of the pan to see if it feels gritty or rough. It’s also worth looking out for rust as you wash your pan. This is usually a sign you’re exposing the iron to too much moisture when you clean it. Fortunately, you should be able to get rid of rust with most cast iron cookware.

Other signs you might have ruined your cast iron pan include:

  • Cracks and holes: Cast iron can crack if you repeatedly apply heat and then cold water. If you’re misusing your pans, you might find holes, and the damage worsens over time. Be careful and gentle when you clean cast iron.
  • The seasoning is stripped: if you don’t season cast iron correctly, it won’t be as good at preventing sticking. Make sure you season your cast iron cookware every time you clean it, no matter how high-quality the pan appears to be.
  • Scratches: Use soapy water and a lint-free cloth to wash your cast iron cookware when possible. Harsh and abrasive sponges will often damage the coating.

Remember, after cleaning cast iron, it’s also important to store your cookware correctly. Keep your cast iron in a place where you can keep it away from moisture and dust. If you’re stacking cast iron pans, it can be helpful to place some aluminium foil over the base of the pan to stop the seasoning from being scratched by other cookware.

Do You Have to Clean Cast Iron After Every Use?

It’s essential to clean your cast iron cookware after every use. Although cleaning and re-seasoning your cookware might seem like a time-consuming process, it’s the best way to ensure your iron device continues to work as it should for years to come. After every use, you’ll need to at least wipe your cast iron down with a paper towel. If your skillet is only a little dirty, you should be able to wash it briefly by hand in soapy water before patting it dry.

How thoroughly you need to clean your iron pan will depend on what kind of food you’ve prepared in your cookware. For instance, removing the smell of cooked fish requires a lot more work than removing the leftover oil from making a grilled cheese sandwich. The more you use your cast iron cookware, the more comfortable you’ll become in deciding how much you need to clean your device. Just don’t allow food to sit in the pan for too long.

Why Do You Need to Season After Cleaning?

Most of the time, preventing cast iron rust and cleaning your cast iron cooking utensils is an easy process, with three simple steps – clean, dry, and re-season. So, why do you need to start seasoning your pans first? When fat and cooking oil heat to the right smoking point in cast iron, the acids in the substances oxidize and reorganize into a layer of molecules that act as a slick, non-stick coating. Repeated exposure to smoking hot oil continues to build on this coating.

There’s no specific rule on which oil you need to rub onto your pans for seasoning. Flaxseed oil is often a good choice, as the more polyunsaturated the oil choice is, the more readily it will oxidize and protect the bottom of your pan during seasoning.

To test whether you’ve done well with your seasoning, you’ll need to examine the pan. If you wipe the bottom of your cold iron skillet with your finger, it will be smooth – not sticky or greasy. If it feels greasy, your pan isn’t properly seasoned and must be returned to the heat.

A skillet with good seasoning will look dark and slightly glossy. You can put the pan to the test on your oven heat by frying an egg with no more than one tablespoon of oil. If your pan is seasoned correctly, you shouldn’t have much to wash when you’re done frying. The seasoning will stop the egg from sticking to the bottom of the pan.

Caring for Cast Iron Cookware

Although some people may be intimidated at the thought of caring for their cast iron pots and pans, there’s no reason to worry. Follow these simple tips, and your cast iron cookware will last for years to come.

If you have questions about this topic or have your own tips to share, let us know in the comments. For more kitchen tips, check out our other beginners’ guides.

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