So, you bought a cast iron pan, huh? Or, maybe you found it at a yard sale. Now you have to figure out what special thing you have to do to take care of it. Believe it or not, it’s really simple to clean, the hardest part is just maneuvering it around because cast iron pans are heavy. But, the actual cleaning? That’s simple! There is, of course, a bit of a learning curve when cleaning cast iron, and it takes a bit of patience. Once you start using cast iron, you’ll never go back. So follow along for a step by step approach to cleaning your cast iron pan.
What you will need:
two dish towels
oil (olive, vegetable, coconut – whatever suites your fancy)
*In this tutorial I made sure to use soap so that you can see how easy it easy to fix the simple mistake.
The first step is to soak your cast iron pan in REALLY hot water. This is really only necessary if you do, like I did, and leave your pan with food on it overnight. No judgement here! I accidentally did this because I have four children and it happens sometimes. Ideally though, you would skip this step because you would be washing it the night of, as soon as your pan was cool enough to wash. If you make leaving food in your cast iron pan overnight a habit, it may require you to season your pans more often. It’s not the end of the world, but it does mean more work for you, so you might as well wash it the night of.
I let the hot water sit until everything in the pan begins to loosen. If your cast iron pan is seasoned correctly, it won’t take long at all because cast iron is the best and the original non-stick pan.
Once you have everything soaked, simply take a scrubby sponge and scrub your cast iron pan in the sink, getting rid of all the gunk. If you haven’t heard this already, DO NOT USE SOAP. Soap will ruin the seasoning (basically baked on oil) of your pan by destroying the oil layer. Your pan will then no longer be non-stick, and could potentially rust if not seasoned immediately after.
Please note that if you do use soap, it’s not the end of the world as cast iron basically lasts forever, it just means you will have to re-season it (directions at the end of the post).
As you can see here, I chose to use soap for this, so if you make the mistake of using soap, you can see what happens and know how to fix it. There really isn’t much that can destroy a cast iron pan except for rust, but even small amounts of rust can be scrubbed off of an older cast iron pan. If you happen to find a rusty or beat up cast iron pan, do not fear! It is all fixable! Read here: How to Restore a Cast Iron Pan.
When you pan has been scrubbed down really well, make sure to dry it as best you can with a dish towel. Again, not a hard task, but it’s a little cumbersome because cast iron is so heavy. I then allow it to air dry. I like it to be dry before I use any kind of oil treatment on it, as the oil you use will soak into the pan better if it’s dry.
After your pan has completely dried, it is now time to give it a nice oil bath. I use the second dish towel and put a small amount of oil onto it. There is no perfect amount of oil, but if you plan on re-seasoning your pan, you will need to use more oil than if you are just giving it a nice coat. The truth is that oil will not hurt your pan, although you may not want to drench your pan in oil, as it won’t be absorbed and will probably attract dust. Give your pan a nice solid coating all over, but use a little extra where you cook. You want to make sure that it has no exposed areas that need to be re-seasoned. Then put your pan away!
If your pan needs to be re-seasoned:
How do you know if your pan needs to be re-seasoned? It may not look like it has an even, shiny black coat on it, or, you’ll see some discoloration or grey areas (like the pan above). This happens if you cook something acidic that will eat off the oil, or leave food in your pan overnight and the food eats away at the oil. This can also happen if you use soap on your pan. I tend to have this happen often as we eat a lot of dishes with tomatoes or lemon. So, once a month I re-season my pans.
Pre-heat your oven to 450 degrees. Once heated, place you cleaned and oiled cast iron skillet/pan/pot into the oven and bake for 30 minutes.
Once the 30 minutes is up, turn off the oven, but leave your cast iron cookware inside the oven and allow it to cool down with the oven. Once completely cooled, take out and put away. The only reason I leave it in the oven to cool is that it’s extremely hot and cast iron is heavy. It might as well cool down in the oven.
Don’t own a cast iron pan? If you have ever been on the fence about whether or not to purchase a cast iron pan, please see my related blog post below:
Or, if you are trying to find one at a thrift store or garage sale, check out my tips on how to rock your next second-hand shopping experience!