How to Clean a Cast-Iron Skillet So It Lasts Forever
Cast-iron skillets are a true workhorse in the kitchen. The benefits include even heat distribution and retention, nonstick cooking surface, cooktop-to-oven versatility, and many lifetimes of utility. In fact, a cast-iron skillet and other types of cast-iron pans perform best when frequently used and regularly maintained. And if you're wondering how to clean cast iron, it's not as difficult as you might think. Three simple steps—rinse, dry, and oil—are easily outweighed by cast iron's many attributes.
With that said, cast iron's benefits rely on surfaces retaining their seasoned coating (oil that has been baked into the finish at a high temperature), which in turn relies on specific cleaning methods. The methods are not complicated but work best when put into play right after cooking. Use this guide to learn how to clean cast iron, including cast-iron skillets and enameled cast-iron cookware.
Before You Clean a Cast-Iron Skillet
Seasoned cast-iron skillets should have smooth, shimmering, rust-free surfaces that quickly release cooking foods and post-cooking grime. The idea is to begin cleaning a cast-iron skillet directly after cooking to prevent rust from forming and enhance its nonstick character.
Never use strong detergents, metal scouring pads, or the dishwasher to clean cast-iron skillets. Dish-washing soap removes oiled finishes and might leave a residue that will cause your cooked foods to have a soapy taste. The experts at Lodge Manufacturing, a maker of cast-iron cookware, remind cooks that cast-iron skillets are sterilized during the cooking process, reaching 400 degrees Fahrenheit in 4 minutes at medium heat; at 212 degrees Fahrenheit, the surface becomes sterile so germs should not be an issue.
How to Clean Cast Iron
In general, a good scrubbing with hot water is all you need to clean a cast-iron skillet. If you're wondering how to clean rusty cast iron, reach for some kosher salt instead of soap. Follow these steps to keep your cast iron in top shape.
Step 1: Rinse and dry.
Place still-warm-from-cooking cast-iron skillets and pans in the sink and rinse with hot water. Wipe all surfaces clean using a non-abrasive sponge. Rinse surfaces again. Then, thoroughly dry the skillet with a clean cloth.
Step 2: Oil the interior.
When the pan is completely dry, use a paper towel to apply a thin coat of cooking oil to the interior. This will help restore its sheen and reenergize its quick-release qualities. Be judicious with the application; too much oil can result in sticky surfaces.
Step 3: Remove stuck-on bits.
For hard-to-remove food bits and rusty patches, grab kosher salt and a wet sponge. The salt will act as a mild abrasive that can be used to gently buff away cooked-on foods and small bits of rust. Stubborn food residue can also be loosened by boiling water in the pan for a few minutes. Rinse the pans under warm water, dry thoroughly, and coat with cooking oil.
Step 4: Store in a dry place.
Maintain the cleaned and seasoned finish by keeping cast-iron pots and skillets away from moisture. Store the pans without their covers in a dry area away from cooktops, sinks, and dishwashers. If you notice the pan's surface rusting, graying, or dulling, or if food starts to stick, you will need to re-season the surface.
How to Season a Cast-Iron Skillet
To restore your cast-iron skillet's seasoning, start with the steps above to clean, dry, and lightly oil the pan. Line the bottom rack of your oven with aluminum foil to guard against oil drips, then preheat the oven between 350 and 400°F. Set the skillet upside down on the oven's top rack and bake for an hour. Turn off the oven and let the pan cool down inside before removing and storing it in a dry place. Continue to use your cast-iron skillet often and re-season as necessary to maintain the slick coating.
How to Clean Enameled Cast Iron
Enameled cast-iron cookware, including Dutch ovens, is generally easier to clean than regular cast-iron skillets. In addition to adding a shiny, often colorful glaze, the enamel coating forms a protective barrier around the cast iron, which means you don't have to worry about re-seasoning the pan or avoiding soap. However, you need to be careful not to crack or scratch the surface while cleaning enameled cast iron. Some pieces are labeled as dishwasher-safe, but it's best to follow these instructions for hand-washing your enameled cast-iron cookware.
Step 1: Cool and wash with soap.
Always let enameled cast iron cool completely before cleaning, or the sudden temperature change could cause the enamel to crack. Use a non-scratch sponge to wash the pan with warm water and dish soap. Avoid using steel wool or abrasive tools that could damage the surface.
Step 2: Remove stuck-on bits and stains.
Loosen stuck-on messes by filling the pan about halfway with water and bringing it to a boil for two to three minutes. Use a wooden spatula or silicone pan scraper ($3, Bed Bath & Beyond) to remove the stuck bits and wash again with soap if needed. If stains remain, mix baking soda with a bit of water to form a thick paste. Apply to the stained areas, wait a few minutes, then gently scrub in a circular motion to lift stains.
Step 3: Dry and store.
After the final rinse, thoroughly dry your enameled cast-iron cookware before storing in a dry place. Take care not to let these pieces scrape or bump against metal pans or utensils, as this could cause the enamel to chip or crack.
Regardless of the work involved, remember as you sear burgers, bake crunchy crusted cornbread, or rinse, dry, and oil your cast-iron skillet, you're creating an heirloom that your kids, grandkids, and great-grandkids will put to good use.