When it comes to traditional, homestyle cooking, there’s no better tool to have in your kitchen than a cast iron pan.
There’s very little not to love about cooking with cast iron. It’s inexpensive, it’s durable, and it can last a lifetime – I have pans that were passed down from many generations prior!
Cast iron is virtually indestructible and while it can be a bit tricky to clean (please do not put your cast iron in the dishwasher!) it can easily be restored if mistreated.
Here are some tips to follow to help you properly clean and season your cast-iron cookware.
How to Clean a Cast Iron Pan: Step by Step
It’s best to clean your cast iron pan after each use.
These steps can be followed after every use or for the occasional deep clean (I’ll give you more information on how to clean a particularly grimy cast iron pan later on in the article).
1. Gather Your Supplies
You don’t need to have an arsenal of cleaning supplies on hand in order to properly clean and season your cast iron pans.
Just make sure you have the following:
● Paper towels or cleaning rags
● A soft sponge with an abrasive side
● Cooking oil
When it comes to choosing the right oil for cleaning and seasoning your cast iron pan, know that technically any oil will get the job done.
However, the best options will be those that are designed to handle high heat. Flaxseed oil is one good choice but even olive oil, soybean oil, and sunflower oil will work.
2. Clean Your Pan
Put the skillet in the sink and run some hot water on the cooking surface. This sounds contradictory, as just about every article you read about how to clean a cast iron pan tells users not to do this.
However, a bit of water is not only okay from time to time, but necessary, especially in the case of built-up dirt and grime.
Use your sponge to help you loosen up stuck-on or burned-on bits of food. This will also get any grease or spices out of the skillet.
Avoid using soap, since this will strip your skillet’s seasoning and cause lasting damage.
3. Dry the Pan
Take a clean cloth and dry any remaining wet spots of the pan. Remember, lasting water will cause your skillet to rust.
4. Reseal the Skillet
Using a small bit of oil (about half a teaspoon) and a paper towel, massage oil into the skillet to reseal it.
This is best done when the pan is still hot – that way, the oil can get into the pores of the pan and won’t just sit on the top. Use a fresh paper towel to buff away any excess oil.
5. Store the Skillet
Last but not least, stash your skillet away. If it’s still hot after you have finished cleaning it, put it on a cutting board or your stovetop to cool down.
Then, store your pan in a spot where it will remain dry.
6. Tackle Stubborn Pans
Whether it’s a pan that you’ve allowed to sit neglected for some time or perhaps an old family heirloom that you’ve recently acquired, it’s also helpful to know how to clean dirtier cast-iron pans.
Even the rustiest, grimiest pan can be restored with a bit of elbow grease and know-how!
For this, you’ll want to use a bit of steel wool to loosen dirt, food particles, and rust.
After you’ve loosened them with the steel wool, use a cloth to wipe out the loose bits.
Then, plan your pan on a stovetop burner over low-medium heat. Add just enough oil to coat the bottom of the pan. Heat it up for about five minutes (or until the handle is hot to the touch). Then, turn off the burner.
Add a bit of salt to the bottom of the pan. It should form a paste with the oil.
Scrub the mixture with a thick wad of paper towels, holding the pan with a potholder. Repeat until the pan is slick and black.
Then, rinse thoroughly in hot water, wipe dry, and coat with oil (just as you did in steps 1-5 above).
How to Season a Cast Iron Pan
Seasoning is something that should be done to each and every cast iron pan, both when you first acquire it as well as on a regular basis (about three or four times per year is ideal).
There are a couple of ways you can do this – the stovetop method and the oven repair method.
To season your pan using the stovetop method, you will need to begin by heating it over medium-high heat.
Dip a paper towel in a couple of tablespoons of oil, then wipe the surface until there is no more remaining oil residue.
Do this three to five times, allowing the oil to smoke up a bit and letting the skillet cool a bit between times.
For the oven method, you will begin by preheating the oven to 500 degrees.
Use paper towels to massage a tablespoon of oil into the surface (about a tablespoon of oil is necessary for a 12-inch skillet, but two or more teaspoons might be necessary for larger pans).
Use clean paper towels to wipe out the excess oil until the surface is smooth and dark. Place the skillet in the oven for an hour, then remove and allow it to cool completely.
How Often to Clean and Season Your Cast-Iron Cookware
Last but not least, it’s a good idea to get yourself on a consistent schedule when it comes to cleaning and seasoning your cast iron gear.
In general, you should clean your cast iron pans after every use, deep-cleaning them only as needed. Season your pans at least three or four times per year, but more often if you use them daily.
Although most pans come with a factory seasoning, it will become more nonstick with each repeated use – so the more often you season, the better!
How do you know if your pan is well-seasoned? It should have a dark, semi-gloss finish that leads to no major sticking of your food.
Follow these tips for cleaning and seasoning your cast-iron cookware – and get yourself in the habit of doing both regularly! – and you’ll have cookware that lasts for years to come.
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