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How to clean a cast iron skillet?

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I'm researching cast iron skillets and noticed that you are only supposed to use water for cleaning. I'm curious how that works when switching from cooking foods like fish, to say, pancakes?

I've not cooked with cast iron before so I'm just curious how a transition like that would work out, taste-wise. Also, a tad skeptical of how 'clean' something can get without soap.

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  1. "I'm researching cast iron skillets and noticed that you are only supposed to use water for cleaning. "

    In the beginning.... Eventually, it is alright to clean them with detergent once awhile. That is my take. I know some people swear by never ever use detergent, but others find no trouble using it. I belong to the latter.

    "Also, a tad skeptical of how 'clean' something can get without soap."

    Actually, you can clean the cookware with a combination of "water" and "oil". What soap does is detergent which can remove oily residues in the present of water. Without detergent, you can remove oily residues with oily solvent (like cooking oil).

    2 Replies
    1. re: Chemicalkinetics

      Thanks. Size wise, I'm debating between a 10 or a 12 inch: http://www.surlatable.com/product/PRO...
      Eh, I could probably get away with a 10 inch. What frequency do you use your cast iron skillet over other skillets in your collection?

      1. re: charmdesign

        I have a cast iron and a carbon steel frying pans, so they are very similar in term of what they can and cannot do. They both require seasoning and both attain a level of "nonstick" property after seasoned.

        I would say I use the cast iron skillet about 50% of the time. The seasoning on my cast iron skillet is stronger, but it is easier to hand the carbon steel frying pan because it is lighter.

        In term of 10" vs 12", that is really personal. One thing I like to point out is that typical cast iron skillet has a straight edge, so the base is much wider than if the edge is sloped.

    2. For really crusty stuff, I use table salt. It is cheap,eatable, and is a pretty good abrasive.Dump some salt in the warm pan and scrub with a paper towel. Hot water and a green pad scrubber are about the only other things that I use to clean my stack of cast iron.

      1. This is opening up a controversial subject which has been much discussed in other threads. There are many opinions on this subject. The "water only" rule is one, but it's not a law. While I often clean my cast iron skillet with only hot water, a nylon scrubber, paper towels, and heat, sometimes I put a couple of drops of liquid dish detergent in hot water in it for a short time to remove surface oil. This does not damage a well-seasoned pan.

        There should not be odors or flavors carrying over after cleaning. If there are, it isn't clean.

        2 Replies
        1. re: GH1618

          I use a bit of liquid dish detergent on my skillets from time to time as well. I use Kosher salt to scrub out my pans most often, and doing this almost always works. I put a balled up paper towel in some cooking tongs, and scrub out the still hot or warm pan. This is a really good method, IMO. But if I have to, I'll use a little LDD for extra cleaning. Remember than our grands used lye soap on their skillets. Surely cast iron can handle a little liquid dish detergent?

          1. re: GH1618

            Good to know.

          2. I agree - when cooking fish, YES, I do use a bit of dish soap to clean my cast iron. I don't bother using soap with some food types, just hot water.

            Yeah what they say is wrong. Here's the scoop. If you SEASON your pans really well they will be pretty much bulletproof,, and "pretty darn" non-stick. You will be able to use soap, when you like, let it soak when you want (even overnight), etc. But ... you can't put it in your dishwasher. That will hurt your seasoning.

            Seasoning, when done properly, will leave your enitre pan covered in a thin and very hard layer of polymerized fats. This is the "original nonstick surface". I have 3 pieces of cast iron. A 10" skillet, 12" skillet and a 6 quart spiral handle dutch oven.

            My 10" skillet (with cover) is my favorite daily pan and gets used with ALMOST every single meal. I even use it for omelets, but I prefer my non-stick crepe pan for over-easy eggs.

            Rather that re-write everything that been written before - please search in cookware for TITLES that include cast iron. You'll readily find stuff on exactly how to clean and season cast iron properly to make it super reliable.

            I LOVE my 10" skillet. The 12" is great but I'm usually cooking for just the two of us and so don't need it as regularly. But I really like my 6 quart dutch oven also and use it usually weekly.

            2 Replies
            1. re: PepinRocks

              Thanks for explaining seasoning. I was wondering why I wasn't supposed to use soap in the first place. From what I've gathered, one shouldn't use it as not to remove the non-stick quality that builds over time as fat accumulates. Are there other reasons? (such as the soap taste setting in? or damaging the pan?) I'll research the other threads too.

              1. re: charmdesign

                The detergent in dishwashers will probably damage seasoning really fast so never do that - just handwash please.

                But normal dish soap? No way that'll damage a good seasoning. Feel free to regularly use a bit of it whenever you use smelly or greasy stuff. Good seasoning is a VERY solid protective coating. The "preseasoning" that comes with your pan isn't good enough".

                A quick primer on seasoning. Scrub it hard with steel wool and kosher salt. Then do a proper seasoning using your oven pre-heated to 425. Use a LIGHT coating of lard (if you have it) or canola oil (what I use). Place pot/pan open side down on top of a piece of aluminum foil - just in case there's any dripping (should be very little if at all since it's a very light coating of oil). Let it bake for 30 min. Turn heat off and keep oven closed. Let cool slowly (this will take a while). When the pan is no longer too hot to touch you can do it again. And then again. Even 2 coats are very good. But my 10" skillet has been hit like 3-4 times to start.

                You will KNOW when you need to reseason it, when you wipe it down with a paper towel and some oil and some brown/black comes off the pan. This will NOT happen when the seasoning is good - only oil will be on the paper towel.

            2. Thanks everyone! I just saw Henry Lodge on Martha Stewart say that it was okay to use some soap and water, thought I would pass that on.

              16 Replies
              1. re: charmdesign

                During that cleaning cast iron segment he gave some really bad advice which he should have elaborated on but didn't. He stated you could wash the cast iron in cold water and soap. While he was dealing with a cool pan, he should have clarified that cold water should only be used on a cool pan regardless of it's composition.

                1. re: SanityRemoved

                  That can be considered as common sense, so it won't it is a bad advise.

                  For example, if I am demonstrating that you can brush your teeth with a small circular motion -- it should be obvious that I am talking about a toothbrush and not a brass wire brush.

                  1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                    Common sense is becoming quite uncommon. :)

                    1. re: SanityRemoved

                      I see your Sanity has not been removed yet. :)

                      1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                        You guys are killin' me ;)

                  2. re: SanityRemoved

                    I guess, I appreciated it from the stand point of an entry level cast iron user. It made use of cast iron seem a little more friendly not to have to be so strict all the time. I'm confused by your comment about temperatue- how does one determine to use cold or warm?

                    1. re: charmdesign

                      "how does one determine to use cold or warm?"

                      You just don't want to pour cold water into a hot pan. This would create thermal shock.

                      That's all.

                      1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                        I started re-seasoning one of my cast-iron skillets over a bit of just slightly visible black crud (will not come out with scrubbing) - mainly out of sheer laziness and not wanting to go through the process of cleaning with easy off, vinegar, then easy off again. Is this not advisable, or am I damned to do the entire procedure?

                        1. re: lilgi

                          Is it noticeably raised up? That would be my biggest concern.

                          I use Kosher salt and oil and a griddle scraper. Boiling some water in it and scrape it with a metal spatula works too. Otherwise I wouldn't lose any sleep over it.

                          1. re: SanityRemoved

                            Thanks! Voting not to lose sleep, but I have done plenty of scraping and always use the salt to scrub as well. Boiling the water might have helped, will try that next time since I'm doing a third and last coat atm.

                            What worries me is the outer bottom of the pot where I see a lot of brown; I placed the skillet in the dishwasher today because I knew that I was re-seasoning and it emerged with some rust that came off easily - but I can see most of the bottom (outside) of the skillet has that brownish/blackish tone. I'm thinking this might mean that I might not have a choice but to strip it soon and re-do it, but hoping more than anything I don't have to.

                          2. re: lilgi

                            Like SanityRemoved said. If the black crud is not too thick, then try to scrub it out by using salt and oil. If you have a plastic scrubber, then you can use it too. If it is very hard, then just use a metal utensil or metal scrubber. Yes, you will lose a bit of seasoning, but so be it. Most of it will build back up relatively quick.

                            1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                              I wish I'd tried that before re-seasoning :(

                              1. re: lilgi

                                Pan is now smooth as a baby's butt and wonderfully non-stick with a nice heavy coat. This should last me a while until I'm up to restoring the entire pan, very happy to buy some time.

                                1. re: lilgi

                                  I think baby's face is smoother than baby's butt. Just so you know. :D

                        2. re: charmdesign

                          For the most part I thought it was a good show for those considering cast iron. I was a little unnerved to hear ruggedness touted and then the president of Lodge saying washing in cold water without mentioning to let the pan cool. Lodge's website states:

                          "Cleaning your Lodge Cast Iron

                          After cooking, clean utensil with a stiff nylon brush and hot water. Using soap is not recommended, and harsh detergents should never be used. (Avoid putting a hot utensil into cold water. Thermal shock can occur causing the metal to warp or crack). "

                          I do wish they had made some cornbread instead of the pork chop segment which looked like a bad food network audition.

                          1. re: charmdesign

                            It would have to be really hot before putting ordinary "cold" tap water in it, for that to be a risk. It is unlikely anyone would put a pan hot enough to require a pot holder into the sink, I think. I always use hot tap water anyway, on the the principle that fats are more fluid at warmer temperatures, hence more easily wiped out thoroughly. It's a minor point, though, since I always finish by warming the pan to dry thoroughly. The pan is wiped with a paper towel while warm, so any oil or grease residue cleans up easily, leaving the pan dry.

                      2. Unless it is actually fractured, or rusted very deeply, there is no way in hell that we ordinary mortals are going to damage a cast iron vessel beyond rescue, and do not let the "experts" tell you otherwise. If the vessel's structure is sound, however much you may have stripped the metal of its seasoning it can always be replaced. Heat the vessel first, not to cherry red but in excess of 300º. Add a good amount of fat, preferably saturated, and coat the inside well. Put into a 350º oven and let sit for an hour or so, swabbing up the sides periodically. Let cool to handling level and wipe out. If you think it's necessary you can repeat this, but the best way is to fry something or make some cornbread in it. I have skillets older than I am, which would be pre-WW2, and every one of them has been stressed, even stripped, and re-seasoned. Just stop worrying about it!

                        1. I clean my cast iron under regular use mostly with just the water and a scrubby pad, but occasionally I will give it a more thorough cleaning with a speck of dish detergent and the scrubby - however, I seriously burnt one of my pans and had this actual carbonized crap on the bottom and sides of the pan. I spent HOURS trying to get this stuff off with everything you can imagine - dish soap, brillo, boiling water and vinegar, I scrubbed it both dry with coarse salt and with oil and coarse salt - each think I used made it a little less, but didn't remove it. suddenly I had a revelation! I put that sucker on the stove burner, heated it up till it was practically singing, and the stuff just flaked off when I scraped it with the edge of spoon. Wish I had tried that first.....

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: hazel1014

                            I think I mentioned it on this thread a few years ago - it's immortal!! - but the biggest sellers of fine old iron at the Nashville Flea Market told me their favorite stripping agent was oven cleaner. Then they just washed and re-seasoned the pans. If you go up to the top I think you'll find posts expressing shock and horror at this, but if a man has a double-sized space there filled with rows of gorgeous Griswold and Wagner Ware items starting at $40 and going 'way up, I'm gonna listen to him.