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How to clean a cast iron pan

A cast iron pan is the kitchen’s dependable workhorse, but like a real horse, it can get absolutely filthy – and people seem equally skeptical about cleaning too.

Despite the fact that one of the main advantages of the iron-carbon alloy is its extreme durability (fans often speak of a durable pan) Generations), somehow there is an idea that plain old soap and water are kryptonite for cast iron because you will wash away the “spice”.

“There is a lot of misinformation out there about cleaning cast iron,” said Gregory Stahl, co-founder of a Massachusetts-based cast iron collectors society and a graduate of Harvard Medical School.

From his medical experience, he says that not cleaning a cast iron pan is unlikely to make you sick, as cooking generally requires temperatures that are too high for disease-causing bacteria to survive.

But as a collector who personally owns a few thousand pieces (worth some Thousands of dollars) he strongly advises regular cleaning. “If you don̵

7;t, at some point you will end up with a burnt buildup of burnt food debris at the bottom of your pan,” he says.

And when that happens – if your pan gets a tell-tale textured bottom – your only option is to strip it down to the bare metal and start the seasoning process again. Stahl recommends this too if you come across a used pan that you want to restore, but more on that later.

“Spice” protects cast iron from rust and ensures a smooth, non-sticky cooking surface. It doesn’t take years to build, just a couple of laps in a hot oven between thin oil or lard applications. Most new cast iron pans come pre-seasoned (and there are always cast iron enamel pans if you don’t want to worry about the whole seasoning business).

Because that’s exactly what cooking does – oil, heat, repetition – the more you use a pan, the better it gets. But that makes some people think they should never wash their cast iron pans, which they don’t.

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So do you clean a cast iron pan after every use?

It depends on what you mean by “clean”.

Fillet steak on cast iron pan


Sometimes, after grilled cheese for example, all you need to do is quickly wipe with a dry paper towel and reseal with a dab of oil and a swirl of the same paper towel.

Or you cooked bacon in the pan 10 minutes ago and now the fat has cooled down. Take a paper towel or three and wipe off the grease.

Cast iron double handle pan, 12 in


Yes, that’s it.

But let’s say you made a naughty mess. The best solution, says Stahl, is to fill the pan with water and bring it to a boil on the stove.

Then let it cool enough to scrub with a nylon sponge. Then close again.

Do you reseal a cast iron pan after every cleaning?

It’s a safe bet.

Cooking breakfast sausage & eggs on campfire outdoors with cast iron


And before you close the pan again, make sure you dry the pan thoroughly. If there are water stains on the pan – on the surface, on the handle or on the outside – there is a possible risk of “lightning rust,” the light orange particles. While you can easily scrub them off, it’s easier to prevent them from occurring in the first place.

Almost any oil will work for resealing, as will fat or lard, as long as your pan is used regularly.

If you don’t want to use it for a while, these lower smoke point fats and oils can go rancid. (There are products made to address this issue, like Crisbee, which is made from beeswax, but Stahl says Crisco works just as well).

Can you use Brillo pads? Steel wool?

Eh, not a good idea.

While cast iron is tough, if you are too harsh to clean it, you can still scratch and damage the surface. Scars on the surface of the pan – shallow or deep – increase the risk of rust.

If the pan is nasty and you’ve already tried the old cooking and wiping method, pour some kosher salt into the pan and scrub it with a paper towel. Rinse and repeat if necessary.

If my pan is clean, why is the food still sticking to it? And what kind of black residue is that?

This black residue is carbonated food and so your food will still stick to the pan.

While or after the water is boiling in the pan, take the edge of a wooden spoon and scrape it against the parts. The water should soften the gnarled parts, making it easier for the spoon to remove them.

What about fire- and sandblasting cast iron pans?

Steel never recommends it either.

Cast iron pan on grill


There is the idea that if you put a pan straight on the fire, all debris will be burned away. But fire is way hotter than a furnace and can actually discolor the metal, says Stahl. And where seasoning is a chemical bonding process, sandblasting removes the very surface of the metal, not just what’s stuck to it. It can be difficult to season afterwards, he says.

What should I do if a cast iron pan rusts?

Stahl’s recommended method: spray the pan with oven cleaner inside and out and tie it in a plastic bag to keep it from drying out. After a few days, take it out and scrub with soap and water. Repeat the process until the dark patina on the pan has completely disappeared.

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