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Nov 30, 2007 05:59 PM

How to clean Cast Iron?

Hi, I was wondering how you guys clean cast iron pans, especially when it comes to making sauces in it. When cooking steaks and the like, I usually like to just give it a nice wipe and store it away. But for thick, sticky sauces, such like making an apple cobbler, how would you guys go about cleaning it? I'm afraid of soapy water, as I REALLY don't want to ruin the slickiness of my cast iron...

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  1. If your pan is really well seasoned, a bit of soap isn't going to hurt it. I have three very well seasoned cast iron skillets that I usually just scrub clean in hot water and set on a burner to dry before adding a bit more oil and rubbing with a paper towel. But when they get really greasy or grungy, I use regular dishwasher detergent with no detrimental effect at all.

    1. If you have something really stuck on you can use Kosher Salt as an abrasive without damaging your surface. You should never have to use soap on cast iron. If something is really stuck on you can put the pan back on the burner with some water in it to soften up the crusties.

      Another method I heard of that I have yet to try is to keep your old mesh onion bags to use a disposable scouring pad.

      1. I just use a plain old 'green scrubbie' and lots of water as hot as I can stand it. Let dry, grease a bit and store. Don't use one of those super-scrubbies, as they sometimes have embedded grit so they scrub better, the plain old cheap plastic ones (like you can use on non-stick pans) work quite well. Soap is optional. If you do use soap, use only a very little, don't put soap directly on the cast iron, and rinse very thoroughly. Essentially I clean my cast iron just like I clean my non-stick pans (err, pan, I only have one).

          1. Ok, so I guess I need help. I have this old pot (my husband got it years before we got married) and I positively love this thing! But.... I keep washing it in the sink with a bit of soap, then pour a bit of vegetable oil so it is shiny, not a weird looking rusty color. Is this ok? Shouldn't it be well seasoned by now? Maybe I should just throw it out ?

            12 Replies
            1. re: polish_girl

              Sounds perfect. Well-seasoned cast iron does indeed have a shiny surface. My oldest skillet belonged to my grandmother (and I'm no spring chicken) and is as shiny as a pair of brand new patent leather shoes--and almost entirely nonstick.

              1. re: polish_girl

                I agree with Joan; if it's shiny and feels slippery when you run your fingers across it, it's fine.

                After you put a little oil on it, do you heat it? I season mine by using the smallest amount of oil possible, wiping off any excess, then putting them in the oven at 300-350 for an hour or two. Sometimes I season them in between uses, for good measure.

                I ALWAYS wash mine after use with hot water and liquid dish detergent. I rinse them very well to make sure it's the oil, and not soap residue, that's getting sealed onto the surface, and am careful to dry every square inch of them. No problems from the soap, and I think you could ice skate on my griddle.

                1. re: polish_girl

                  Most people say that seasoning should be done with vegetable oil followed by cycles through the oven. Me, I season with bacon.

                  Cook 3-4 batches of bacon in your cast iron pan, and then wash with water afterwards to remove the chunks.

                  Nothing seasons a cast iron pan quite like bacon grease. And plus you have an excuse to make more bacon. MMmmmm... bacon....

                  1. re: greglor

                    Thanks! I guess I will throw my pot into the oven, I really didn't know that's how it's done!

                    1. re: polish_girl

                      It sets the seasoning, polish girl. Use a moderate heat for a longer period of time. I think 300 degrees F. for ninety minutes to two hours is ideal (in my oven, anyway). Do not go above 350. And set the room-temperature pans into a cold oven; start the pre-heating function once they're inside.

                      You'll know you left it in there long enough if the seasoning oil no longer looks oily or gunky anywhere on the pan, and the surface looks dry, though glossy.

                      Sometimes I stick the oiled pans in the oven if I'm cooking something that will benefit from the "pizza stone" effect (e.g., pizza crust--imagine that!), and sometimes I stick the pans in the oven if I'm cooking something that won't be harmed by the "pizza stone" effect (like, I might do it with a long cooking stew in a heavy pot), but I personally won't do it if I'm baking a cake or something "sensitive".

                      And sometimes I stick the pans in the oven if it's cold outside and I can't get toasty, to warm up the kitchen. :-)

                    2. re: greglor

                      You know, greglor, I seem to remember the following from back when, as a kid in the 60s, a few years before the polyunsaturated/monosaturated verus saturated fat took hold...

                      My grandfather, an excellent cook of meats, in particular, used only cast iron and lighter carbon steel pans. Like my mother and every one else at the time, he had the emptied coffee can near the range, and into that went any drippings from any pan not intended for gravy. So...bacon, butter, mainly...I don't remember the man ever wielding a bottle of Wesson oil, etc.

                      When it came time to season a pan, into the coffee can he dipped with his special rag... :-D

                      I use olive oil.

                      Now...everything I read says, don't use animal based fats, and don't use olive oil, to season, because they can turn rancid more quickly than vegetable-based oils. And I'm pretty sure that fact is true, but I've *never* had a problem and neither did he. To me, the trick using a spare amount of oil, just enough to barely get it coated all over, and then heated to set the seasoning.

                      Also helps if you fire that baby up often, and if you've got the gift for not wrecking bacon rangetop...I'm with ya on it! (I am bacon-cooking impaired and must use the oven.)

                      1. re: MaggieRSN

                        I'm not sure if this is true, but I've been told that olive oil burns at too low a temperature to be useful for curing pans, so it doesn't so much "cure" onto the pan as it does burn. Corn/canola oil should be used, as it can withstand higher temperatures. I think this is the same reason you don't see folks deep-frying with olive oil...

                        (Again, this is just what I've heard, and I might be totally wrong).

                        1. re: greglor

                          Thanks for passing that along; I'll have to research it.

                          The *only* reason I've ever read, with specific regard to seasoning the pan, is the rancidity factor. OTOH, we certainly know that olive oil's smokepoint atop the burner is not the highest. I've never had it smoke in the oven at 300-350 F, though, and, after a few seasonings, the finish seems to be...I won't say "permanent" because no seasoning is permanent, if the pan is abused. But let me say, "durable-plus". After years of seasoning, it seems to be bonded to the iron.

                          Never hurts to check it out, though--so thanks for letting me know.

                          1. re: greglor

                            There's nothing wrong with using olive oil. Ghee/drawn butter is also a viable choice. You aren't "cooking" with the oil, you're "curing" the pan! And the way you do that is to coat it with a reasonable fat, then put it in a 300 degree oven for about 40 minutes to an hour. It's the slow heat that solidifies the oil and seals the pores of the pourous metal. So don't worry about what kind of oil you use. Well, except don't ever use cotton seed oil! It's toxic!

                            As for cleaning cast iron, a very very very old (as in pioneer days and chuck wagons) of cleaning it is with dirt. Yes. Just plain old dirt, then rub it around inside the pan with a dish towel or a paper towel (nothing wrong with "modern") until it's all smooth and shiny. Then just dust it out and put it away. Now, I will say that in today's polluted world, I'm not all that comfortable with using dirt out of my yard that former owners may have heavily polluted with pesticides. But if you have access to clean dirt, go for it. Or if you're fortunate enough to live on a pristine beach (NOT New Orleans or the Gulf Coast!), sand works wonderfully well too.

                            It's been many years since the research was done, so please don't ask me to cite sources, but there was a scientific study done a decade or three ago that showed that 19th century (and earlier) families recieved special dietary benefits from cooking in cast iron. It was an important source of iron!

                            1. re: greglor

                              Take it from one who recently figured, "what the heck, I'll try the olive oil because I hate vegetable oil and see no reason to go to the store just to get it for seasoning purposes"... it didn't work!

                              It looked great for a week, then the next time I tried to use it, while heating the pan, it started flaking off, and then got mixed into the food (nasty) and then the texture in the pan has not been good since... lumpy and gross.

                              Pan will still work, of course, but it's not great, and I would never season a pan with olive oil again!

                            2. re: MaggieRSN

                              When it comes to the PUFA/MSA/SF debate, saturated fat wins. Embrace it, don't be scared of it. See:

                              Summary from bottom:
                              "1) SFA is best because it is not oxidizable.

                              2) MUFA is next

                              3) Total PUFA should be as low as possible. N3 PUFA supplements are for people with too much N-6 PUFA from seed oils.

                              Animal sources, preferably grass fed or pastured, are the best way to optimize your lipid intake.

                              Overall, the biggies for discordance remain:

                              1 Cereal grains (Lectins, phytates, gliadin proteins


                              2 Fructose as a high % of calories in a food abundant environment (Hormonal effects)

                              3 High N-6 PUFA consumption (imbalanced eicosanoid production with immune dsyfunction, inflammation and cancer promotion)

                              4 Inadequate animal fat intake might be #5, as it is both the consequence of and much of the solution to 1-3."

                              This is all based on how humans have genetically adapted to eat over 2 million years. Paleo = the way to go IMHO.

                              1. re: MaggieRSN

                                Also, the converse of that is true - vegetable fats will go rancid more quickly than animal ones. The highly saturated fats in animal fats (lard, butter, etc.) are stable and will keep nearly forever.

                                Of course, you'll have eaten all of it before then, so it doesn't matter! ;P