I am pretty sure that anyone who cooks with a cast iron pan is in love with it!! Every home cook has a possessive, proud, protective sentiment towards it. Why not!! It is a virtually indestructible, chemical-free, non-stick cooking surface, and yes, the cast iron cookware enhances the taste.
Furthermore, cast iron cooking administers a natural Iron supplement to food. If you ever tried cast iron for frying chicken or making chocolate chip cookies, there is no going back. The excellent heat retention of cast iron makes it possible to cook evenly, giving that perfect crisp you a looking for in each bite.
The only con in using cast iron is the constant maintenance, apart from being on the heavy side. How to clean a cast iron pan is what keeps the amateurs away from cast-iron cookware. No!! cleaning cast iron is not finicky; think of it as a different set of steps than a regular pan cleaning.
The initial seasoning of cast iron cookware is considered crucial for a perfectly smooth finish and a non-stick surface. One should ensure durable seasoning, and it pays to dish out some serious elbow grease. Home cooks cannot accidentally leave cast iron cookware unused and uncleaned. Maintenance is necessary after every use; you just can’t rinse and drain as you do with regular Teflon pans. Cast iron needs constant care and love.
How to Clean a Cast Iron Pan—Basic to Advanced
Let me categorize the cast iron pan cleaning stages as Light, Medium, and Heavy cleaning.
- Cool the cast iron pan completely; scrape off stuck-on food with a wooden spatula.
- Wipe excess oil with a paper towel or clean rag; store the cast iron pan away in a cool, dry place.
- Cool the cast iron pan completely, and remove stubborn stuck-on food with Steel wool or Aluminum foil
- Wash the pan with mild dish soap with warm or hot water.
- Dry the water with paper towels or a rag, or heat the cast iron pan immediately on the stovetop or oven.
- Season cast iron with a light coat of cooking oil, and dab away excess oil with paper towels. Repeat and Re-season if needed. Keep the pan on a cool, dry shelf.
A rusted, burnt, or cast-iron pan coated with polymerized oil residue remains will require heavy cleaning. You will have to re-season your cast iron from scratch after this.
- You can use steel wool or scrunched-up aluminum foil to remove stuck-on food and rust.
- Use mild dish soap with hot water to wash away the grime. Repeat multiple times as needed.
- If the stubborn stuck-on food, rust and oil residue remain, add salt to the cast iron pan and scrub away. Kosher salt is effective for the stuck-on bits. Removing rust may take more attempts than you would anticipate. Cover the whole pan with Baking soda and give the cast iron pan a good scrub as the last resort. Using Vinegar and Baking soda together on cast iron is frowned upon, but it works like magic. It’s a natural rust remover.
- For timeworn, old pans that are highly rusty and have layers of grime on them, you can go ahead and spray them with oven cleaner, followed by scrubbing with steel wool. Be careful and use gloves as oven cleaners will react and form toxic fumes.
- Clean cast iron, rinse thoroughly with warm water and repeat rinse. Wipe with a paper towel.
- One method to season cast iron is to heat the pan on the stovetop or oven, apply a thin layer of cooking oil, and let it cool completely; repeat as many times as you think is needed.
- Season and re-season cast iron cookware to restore the non-stick surface.
- Popular belief is that cooking a juicy steak or bacon is the perfect seasoning for cast iron cookware.
- Cooking edible food on a cast iron straight after cleaning with an oven cleaner is not quite appetizing. As a first use, Chop an onion, Sautee it in hot oil until dark brown shade and discard it. This is a great seasoning practice.
- If you prefer an organic method to the chemical-filled oven cleaner, follow the traditional way to clean cast iron. Pile up coal, wood and dried leaves, light them, and let them burn completely. Tuck your cast iron pan in the middle, and cover the whole pan with red hot coal. Let it cool overnight. The next day, whisk the pan out, give it a good scrub and rinse.
The utmost method to justify the title “How to clean a cast iron pan” and to remove rust on cast iron is electrolysis. Electrolysis is an advanced technique to clean cast iron. Though the term electrolysis seems technical, the process involved is easy.
Despite being simple, be extremely cautious while doing electrolysis at home; it’s better to do it outdoors to prevent inhalation of poisonous fumes.
Also, stick to the measurements and do not try to substitute anything. Any substitution might lead to a large current generation or an unwanted chemical reaction. If you find a vintage cast iron gem and you feel it’s worthy, try electrolysis. You will need,
- A plastic container or tub big enough to immerse the pan
- The power supply of 5 V to 12 V or a Battery charger of 4 Amp 12 V.
- Clips to connect cookware to power.
- Scrap metal piece, preferably flat piece
- Wire brush to clean cast iron
- One tablespoon of washing soda
- 4 Gallons of water
Firstly clean the grime and oil from the cast iron pan. Pour 4 Gallons of water and one tablespoon of washing soda into a plastic container and mix well.
This is your electrolyte. Tie metal wire on your scrap metal and cast iron pan. Place them in your container; they should not touch each other. The scrap metal will act as Anode and the cast iron pan as Cathode.
Clip the positive side of the battery to the metal wire connected to Anode, the scrap metal, and the negative terminal to the metal wire connected to the Cathode, i.e. the Cast iron pan. The clips should not touch the electrolyte solution; leave space between the clips connected to the battery and the solution.
Do not be tempted to dip your finger when the power supply is On. Always turn off the power source first, unclip it, let it rest for an hour, and then feel free to touch the electrolyte or take a closer look at your pan.
As soon as you turn on the power source, a current flows from the positive terminal to the negative terminal, causing ion changes. The positive ions move to the negative electrode and vice versa, and so the rust, which is iron oxide, breaks down into iron, oxygen, and hydrogen gas.
Yes, the gas is flammable; thereby, the method is advised to be done outdoors. Leave the setup for a couple of hours or overnight.
Turn off the power supply, remove clips, fish out the cast iron, scrub it with a wire brush, and remove rust remnants. If required, pop in your cast iron pan for a redo; the electrolysis solution can be reused.
How to Clean a Cast Iron Pan—Cast Iron Cooking Oil Types
Oil has a major role in cleaning and seasoning a cast iron pan. A fatty or denser oil is preferable for use on cast iron cookware. The pans tend to heat up to a very high temperature and have superior heat retention; hence oils with low smoking points are avoided.
Butter, Extra virgin olive oil is a big no-no as they tend to burn quickly and form a sticky coating. Any refined Vegetable oil can be used as per taste preference.
It is better to choose an oil with a high smoking point; as the cast iron heats up, the oil will melt into the pores in the pan and polymerize, and hence each seasoning will give a very thin and light coating of polymerized oil.
This acts as a non-stick surface. Oil with a low smoking point will not polymerize; they form a sticky layer, making cooking on a cast iron difficult.
Neutral-tasting oils are grapeseed, corn oil, and canola oil, and these work well for seasoning the pan.
Coconut, Peanut, avocado, flaxseed oil, Sesame oil, and Soybean oil are pretty good too, but the flavor might not be compatible with some cuisine.
Flaxseed oil has gained popular belief recently, it has a low smoking point, and oil polymerizes readily at a lower heat. However, a few faced flaking of the pan after using it. Go for premium brand flaxseed oil to avoid any mishap.
Bacon fat is a beloved cast iron seasoning oil for many. A list of oils and their smoking point is available here.
How to Clean a Cast Iron Pan—Different Types of Cast Iron Cookware and Cleaning
Cast iron cookware is available in many forms, from pans, skillets, grills, woks, casseroles, kettles, Aebleskiver pans, and the list goes on.
There are two types of cast iron cookware—regular and enamelled cast iron. Regular cast iron pans need to be seasoned from time to time.
However, some people find that cast iron pans give out a metallic taste while cooking acidic food like lime, sour cream, and tomatoes. Enamelled cast iron pans can solve the problem.
The Enameled Dutch oven does not need seasoning; the enamel coating acts as a protective surface. Some new cast iron Dutch ovens will have a layer of wax to protect them from rusting.
Pop the cookware upside down in the bottom rack of the oven and bake at 350F to 400F for an hour. The wax would melt off due to high heat. To catch the dripping wax, don’t forget to place an aluminum foil spread underneath.
To remove the stain in enamelled cast iron skillet, fill the pan with water, pop it in the bottom rack of the oven at medium temperature let it soak. Add bleach or cleanser for stubborn stains.
How to Clean a Cast Iron Pan—Handy Tips
- All the seasoning and elbow grease might waste if cast iron is stored wet. Water and iron will oxidize to form rusty spots, and you will have to clean and re-season.
- Make sure to dry the cast iron well; heating on the stovetop or oven will do the trick. After the water has evaporated completely, apply a thin layer of vegetable oil.
- Let the hot pan cool off, do not dump it directly in cold water; it will cause your cast iron skillet to expand, risking cracking or damage.
- Clean cast-iron skillet immediately after each use by rinsing in boiling water and mild soapy water. This is the best way to preserve your seasoning. Don’t forget to dry it out.
- Store with a layer of oil and a paper towel on top, preventing rust formation.
- Try to use a good quality paper towel for wiping, or else it will leave lint behind.
Buy cast iron cookware from a well-known brand, and there are duplicates in the market that are a mix of metals. These duplicates have a high corrosion rate, and the food cooked in them would not give the same taste as that of cast iron.
Study and compare equipment reviews for lesser-known brands. Lodge cast iron is a well-known brand in the US; their foundry is more than a hundred years old. Le Creuset is another famous brand in the US for its enamelled cast-iron Dutch oven. However, Lodge cast iron makes the traditional kind of cast iron with a natural glossy smooth finish.
Oil residue and Polymerization
Too much oil will cause oil residue to stick and form an uneven black coating. Try to use oil moderately.
Use it every single day. The more you use a cast iron pan, the better it turns out. Cast iron becomes seasoned after the cooking session.
The flavour of food cooked in a cast-iron skillet tends to stick on and linger for a while. Separate pans for cooking smelly food like garlic, meat, fish, and baking will save you from a disaster. Imagine a chocolate chip cookie that has a garlic kick to it!!
Remove cooked food and store leftovers in a different container. Cast iron skillet cannot be popped into the fridge, as the iron will start to oxidize.
Refrain from cooking eggs in a cast-iron skillet for a few months; they tend to stick more than any other food. Delicate fish falls apart quickly in a cast iron pan as well.
You can remove the fishy or garlic smell by sprinkling salt on a cast iron skillet and leaving it overnight. Or bake the cast iron pan at high heat in an oven and clean it with paper towels.
Avoid using steel wool after the seasoning; treat the cast iron pan like non-stick cookware whose coating would come off if cleaned roughly.
Remove stuck-on bits of food; if left on, they burn when you cook next, resulting in a black flaky residue.
Remember, well-seasoned cast iron is effortless to clean. Season a new pan 3 to 6 times for a glossy smooth finish.
Once you get wind of how to clean a cast iron pan, the maintenance is easy peasy.
Benefits of Cooking in Cast Iron
- Long-lasting, non-destructible
- Taste enhancing
- Iron supplement
- Convenience, one can use the same pan on a stovetop, oven, barbecue grill, or even an open fire alternatively.
- Naturally non-stick surface
Lastly, if you make a mistake with your cast iron cookware, do not fret; deep clean it, season it, and re-season it. If you are stuck, follow the steps mentioned herein “How to clean a cast iron pan”. The pan is like a phoenix; it rises from the ashes.