How to clean a cast-iron skillet and prevent rust

cast-iron skillet
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Cast-iron skillets have become a choice kitchen gadget for many because of their durability and versatility. Some have cast-iron skillets that were passed down to them after their relatives used them for generations to make foods ranging from cornbread to fried chicken. Cooks also love cast-iron because it tends to maintain heat better than other materials like aluminum and stainless steel. This makes cast-iron ideal for browning and searing.

Another huge benefit of cast-iron is that it develops a natural, non-stick surface over time. This “seasoning” develops as molecules from fats and oils polymerize and form a thick coating made from the polymerized triglyceride molecules. Many cast-iron pans on the market now-a-days come pre-seasoned. When you buy a pre-seasoned pan, the manufacturer treats it with a baked-in, food safe oil before you receive it. But, if you purchase an uncoated, unseasoned cast-iron skillet, you’ll need to season it yourself. This involves a process where you treat the pan with oil, heat the oiled pan in the oven on 375 degrees for about an hour, turn off the heat, and then let the pan cool in the oven.

Because of the seasoning on cast-iron, and because the material is also prone to rust, you have to be meticulous when it comes to cleaning your cast-iron skillet. We created a guide on how to clean a cast-iron skillet using our own experiences, plus a few suggestions from the books Stir. Sizzle. Bake: Recipes for your Cast Iron Skillet by Charlotte Druckman and Cook it in Cast Iron: Kitchen-tested Recipes for the One Pan that Does it All by the Editors at America’s Test Kitchen.

How to clean a cast-iron skillet

how to clean a cast iron skillet tawashi

Things you’ll need:

  • Paper towels
  • Cooking oil (i.e. vegetable oil, shortening, or flaxseed oil)
  • A soft bristle brush, a fruit and vegetable scrub brush (a Japanese tawashi), or a sponge with a scrubber side
  • Soap
  • Water
  • Kosher salt or sea salt (optional)

Step 1: Remove food from your skillet. While your skillet is still warm, use a paper towel to wipe out as much food and residue as possible from your cast-iron pan.

Step 2: Remove caked-on food particles. To remove stuck on food bits, sprinkle kosher salt in the skillet and wipe it with a wet paper towel. The salt will help scrape off the food without damaging the pan or the seasoning. Rinse all of the salt out of the skillet with hot water. Then, using more hot water, clean your warm pan with a soft brush, sponge, or tawashi. Avoid using cold water on a hot pan. You can use a very small amount of soap, but make sure to rinse your pan thoroughly and remove all of the soap residue.

If you can’t remove the caked on food by hand, you can boil water in your cast-iron skillet on the stove to help loosen the food particles.

Step 3: Dry the skillet. Use a hand towel or paper towel to completely dry the skillet. It’s a good idea to place the skillet in the oven or on the stove over low heat to dry.

Step 4: Oil the skillet. If your skillet has cooled down, place it on the stove over medium-low heat to warm it back up. Add about a teaspoon of your preferred cooking oil to your warm cast-iron skillet. Rub it around the inside of the pan with a paper towel to spread it and remove any excess. Repeat this process again. Your pan should look dark and shiny, but you should not see beads of oil or excess oil residue.

Step 5: Cool the pan. Allow your skillet to cool completely on the stovetop or on a heat-safe surface.

Step 6: Store your pan. Do not put any other pots, pans, lids, or other items inside of the skillet during storage.

Tips:

  • Do not put your cast-iron skillet in the dishwasher, soak it in water, or allow it to sit in the sink for long periods of time. This can cause your skillet to rust. Always wash it by hand.
  • This guide is for optimal care of a cast-iron skillet. You can simplify the process by immediately cleaning your pan after cooking so it maintains heat during cleaning. Then, you can simply wipe, wash by hand, dry, and oil. If you clean your pan while it’s hot, it’s wise to use heat resistant gloves to avoid burning yourself.
  • The more seasoned your cast-iron skillet, the better it will cook your food.
  • You can reduce odors (like fish or grease) from your cast-iron skillet by heating your empty skillet in the oven at 400 degrees for 10 minutes.
  • A rusty cast-iron skillet can be brought back to life. Use a steel wool pad and soap to scrub off the rust. Then rinse thoroughly, dry, heat the pan, and re-season.
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