I was reading a forum the other day that absolutely shocked me. A lady was freaking out because she had scratched her cast iron and the advise that she got ranged from “You can never use it again” to “It’s cast iron!” If cast iron can be handed down through generations and that’s all the old homesteaders and farmers had? There’s very little you can do to break it. Unless you get cheap cast iron. But let’s get into how to clean cast iron.
Cleaning Cast Iron Isn’t Rocket Science
Using cast iron isn’t hard. Cleaning cast iron is not hard. But for some reason there are a lot of people out there that think that this is the holy grail of pans that must not be tarnished and never used. Cast iron cookware has been around for thousands of years. They didn’t have rubber sponges, soft spatulas and other nifty gadgets we have today. So use it, clean it, and enjoy it.
PS: No cast iron was hurt in the making of this post. Although, I think Jared considered killing me when he saw the state of the skillet.
How to Clean Cast Iron
In my other cast iron post, I talked about how to cook with cast iron and briefly touched on how to clean it. This post is about the various ways to clean cast iron. None of these methods are wrong. In fact, some people throw their cast iron in the dishwasher *gasp*. Others use soap, the horror! But technically speaking, they aren’t wrong to do so. Lodge says “You can use a small amount of soap”, in their post about cleaning cast iron.
I do not use soap to clean cast iron. I will never throw mine in the dishwasher, at least I cannot think of a reason that I would. Instead, what I do is a mix of different cleaning methods based off of how nasty the pan got.
When Jared saw this pan, I really thought divorce was coming. But he just raised his eye brow at me when I told him I was doing it for a blog post. He said, “fix it” and walked away. So that’s what I did.
If your pan is a caked, baked, and nasty fill it approximately half way with water and set it to boil for about 5-10 minutes. As you are letting it boil, start scraping the bottom of the pan to help get everything unstuck.
Scrape off any stuff that still stuck on the bottom of the pan with a scrubber or scraper. I use one like this. If the mess in the pan isn’t that bad, I will skip the boiling step and just scrape the pan. Either way the pan is clean and that’s what matters.
Now we add a fat of your choosing. I like avocado oil because it has a higher smoke point and that is really important when breaking down the oil and getting it to start seasoning the pan. But you can use grapeseed, corn, peanut and canola.
This step is very important for creating that glassy, non stick surface. But again, there are a million different ways that people season their pans. Some put a thin layer of oil on a paper towel and smear it all over the pan, some put a dollop of oil in the pan (shown below) and heat the pan. I don’t think it matters as long as the pan is hot and that oil moves around to coat the pan.
Some people also do this in the oven to allow for the entire pan to heat up, spread the oil, and bake in. Again, it doesn’t really matter. As long as the oil gets into the crevices of the pan, you are good to go.
Once the oil has moved around the pan and coated the bottom and sides, let the pan cool. If I can touch the handle, I will wipe out the excess oil and allow to finish cooling until it’s safe to hang up.
If you have just bought your cast iron and it came preseasoned, go ahead and just repeat steps 3 and 4. I normally season a brand new pan 2-3 times before I am ready to use it.
For stubborn stuck on messes that boiling and scraping aren’t getting off, I will take salt and some water and scrub with that. Sometimes, it just needs a little extra muscle. This is very rare. If that doesn’t work, you can use salt and a half lemon. You’ll need to rinse thoroughly and then season multiple times but it should get it off.
If you are getting a yard sale find, or Granny has given you a pan that came from the basement, I would put a sheet of aluminum foil on the rack of the oven and set it to 500. Put the pan upside down and let it go for about 2 hours. If you have a self cleaning oven, use that setting. Be warned it will smoke like crazy and stink to high heaven. If you have the option of doing on a grill outside, I prefer that way. After that, just repeat steps 3 and 4 until there is a nice layer of seasoning on the pan. It will take time and maybe a few repeated attempts.
It is not hard to clean cast iron from the left and make it look like the right. Just a little bit of patience and elbow grease and you will have a pan that will last you and your family a life time.
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