Instructables

How To: Clean Your Cast Iron Pan (including how NOT to)

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Picture of How To:  Clean Your Cast Iron Pan (including how NOT to)

Season It
First of all, is your cast ironed seasoned properly?  Check out my Instructable on how to season your cast iron and why I prefer Flax oil.  Done?  Good, let's go.

Now, let's clean it.
Cleaning cast iron is not difficult. So many people over complicate the matter, or worse yet, do detrimental things to their iron without knowing. You essentially just need two things.

 

  • Heat
  • Water

 

 
 
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Step 1: Let's get into it. Watch the video or follow the steps below.

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The video is better than the guide below, trust me. There is an entire section of "do not do"

Step 2: Get your pan dirty.

Picture of Get your pan dirty.

I threw an egg into a pan with no butter cooked it on high.

It didn't stick too much because my pan is seasoned well, but some small bits stuck.

Step 3: Scrape the big chunks off first.

Picture of Scrape the big chunks off first.

I made a bamboo scraper out of some shish kabob skewers I bought on Amazon.

Basically wrap them up in a few rubber bands and you are set.

Are you REALLY lazy? $6 & your can buy it pre-made one.

Step 4: Hit the hot pan with some water and stand back

Picture of Hit the hot pan with some water and stand back

It's going to sizzle and go nuts so be careful, but you are effectively deglazing the pan and this will remove 90-100% of the crud stuck to your pan in most cases.

I've received a lot of feedback about this step. Some important things to remember is to NEVER dunk your sizzling hot pan into a sink full of water. It will crack eventually. Also use a small amount of water for the deglazing, not 2-3-4-5 cups. That will crack that pan too.

Step 5: Hey little particles

Picture of Hey little particles
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If you have any little particulates still left you can wipe them off now with a towel.

Step 6: Do a quick season and walk away.

Picture of Do a quick season and walk away.
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Everytime I use my pan I do a real quick season just to maintain the surface.

  1. Get the pan hot
  2. Pour in a dollop of Flax Oil
  3. Rub it around.
  4. Wait till the pan smokes.
  5. Take it off the heat.
  6. Wipe the pan one more time.
  7. Walk away and let it cool.

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Snidely704485 months ago

When I add water to a hot cast iron skillet, my wife objects strenuously that I am coating the kitchen with grease.

When removing crud from a pan, it helps to run a metal spatula over the surface to dislodge anything stuck to it.

All that is necessary to re-season a cast iron pot is to heat the pot, pour in a little oil - I use canola, because that is the oil I cook with if not using olive oil - in the pot and wipe it around the surface with a paper towel. It is then ready to cook with.

At one time the makers advised using lard or bacon grease to season cast iron pans.

Lard or bacon grease is a Good Thing. As my instructor in Culinary Arts (a graduate of the CIA - Culinary Institute of America, not the other CIA) - used to say, "Lard Rocks" It's just that I don't need the calories.
Takelababy2 months ago

I was gifted with two cast iron fry pans by a woman who was 80ish. Her father had cooked on these when he worked in the forestry camps starting as a young man. These are high quality pans unlike what is manufactured today. The cooking surface is smooth as glass. Since they were also used over open fires, there's a buildup of crud on the exterior sides. I've wondered about how to remove it but on the other hand, it's not effecting how they cook.

ColumbusCOOK (author)  Takelababy2 months ago
I wouldn't bother. My backside is cruddy too.

*snicker*
muddwasher1015 months ago

I cracked a favorite cast iron dutch oven that was my grandmothers. I took it to a welder friend, we drilled a hole at the "END" of the crack and with low heat welded it with a nickel rod. Has been repaired and cooking for 10+ years now. I just wipe it out with a clean towel and hang for the next use.

O.k., I'm going to stand in line for the hugs I am about to receive:)
This will clean nearly every stuck on, cooked on, gunk you have,
anywhere, with so little effort that you will have time to sing, or
hum, my praises:) HAHAHA Here's what you do. Get some cream of
tarter - NOT the bottled kind you put on fish, the dry kind, then get
some vinegar and make a paste with about a pudding consistency (ummm,
pudding:) on your gunk with these 2 ingredients, or mix it up in a little bowl (I don't like doing dishes, so I use my gunky pot or pan or whatever). Let's not get critical about my cooking here! Let this stuff sit on your cooked on gunk for about a minute or so and then wipe it out with a dish cloth or paper towel (I like to use paper towels because you can throw
them away, they're really gunky, and you don't have to wash anything
else - and yes, gunky IS a word - I think:) If the pot, or whatever,
has gunk really cooked on, you may have to do it two or three times.
Don't ask me how I know:\ Now, please line up on my left in an orderly manner, and I will accept your hugs happily:) Don't forget to re-season.your frying pan Sometimes I oil my frying pan, wipe it out and turn it upside down on my gas burner for a couple of minutes. Let it cool down before touching it!:)

ColumbusCOOK (author)  BetsyFartBlossom5 months ago

Thanks for the tips. I still stand by salt. It has never let me down. :)

Salt is also extremely inexpensive. Cream of tartar, not so much.

I use a stainless steel scourer, and I use it to brush off the gunk, LIGHTLY. My pans just keep getting better and better.

Sharkseatmore5 months ago

Great how to! I was wondering if you have ever tried avocado oil to season a pan? It's smoke point is supposedly 500 F

ColumbusCOOK (author)  Sharkseatmore5 months ago
I have not. I did see that stat too.

One thing to note,Sheryl says that you need an oil high in omega-3 fatty acids – in particular, alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). I'm not sure where Avocado stands in those regards. It might be the reason she stopped using it.

http://sherylcanter.com/wordpress/2010/01/a-science-based-technique-for-seasoning-cast-iron/
MarkusMaximus5 months ago

This seems simple. Simple hot water and soap also works well, just don't forget to season it.

ColumbusCOOK (author)  MarkusMaximus5 months ago

You bet.

You should lose the soap though. You are removing small amounts of your season. Between the water and the heat the soap isn't benefiting you.

grannyjones5 months ago

We had a cast iron pan that had a thick crust of burnt yuck all over, (even the bottom). We buried it in a fire, and the fire burned of all the ugly, leaving a beautiful, clean pan. This also works for crusty gas burner grids. We "cleaned" them inside the wood stove.

boxcarmj5 months ago

Hi! Thank-you, can you save a cast iron pan that has not
been cared for properly?

mlucius boxcarmj5 months ago
Yes.. Even one that is full of rust. Sand that rust off.. Even if you have to use a power wheel. Rinse and clean all the rust away and season the pan by getting it super hot with oil or grease coating the whole thing. (I use filtered bacon grease.). Let it cool. You might have to season it again.

Yep. If you have access to the equipment there are several ways.

Easiest is to clean it via electrolysis, IMO. (Most thorough too). If not available try putting it in the oven on the self-clean cycle. (Let it cool before handling!!!) then wipe out the ash/residue with a clean dry towel, then wash under hot running water & season.

maka boxcarmj5 months ago

This post has good info on cleaning badly maintained cast iron, but for more on proper seasoning, she has another post that explains the differences in techniques and why flax oil is best.

DeeRilee boxcarmj5 months ago

If you are talking about EXTREME neglect....it's going to take some work.

About 4 decades ago, while 'dump picking', I discovered a rectangular cast iron "2 burner" griddle. (I later researched it....when it was "reborn" from the dump...the griddle it was probably 50+ years old.) It was rusted BADLY, but I took it home & with steel wool (not something you EVER want to come even close to a cast iron fry pan in semi-usable condition)......I scrubbed & scrubbed & scrubbed & scrubbed. (Taking it to be sandblasted would have been quicker & produced the same results.) I removed all the rust eventually. Once I got it down to just slightly pitted metal, I started seasoning it.

Every time I used my oven, I'd wipe the griddle down with oil, and put it in to "bake" along with what ever I was baking. After turning off the oven, I'd oil it down again & let it cool slowly.

Eventually, I was rewarded with a smooth, slick surface. It was my "go-to" piece of cast iron.

Well-seasoned cast-iron's lustrous finish is achieved by a build-up of carbon. Detergents break down the oils that create & maintain that finish.

Eventually, about 10 years ago, the griddle unexpectedly cracked! But, how many pieces of cookware are pulled from a dump, and end up being serviceable for a total of 80+ years???

Cast iron is the BEST! And it doesn't really require a lot of work considering it's longevity!

Good Instructable!!!!

ColumbusCOOK (author)  DeeRilee5 months ago
Great story too. Thanks for sharing. :)

My solution, which worked well, by the way, was to take the pan to a sandblaster who for $7.00 blasted it with very fine sand which in essence created a brand new surface. I cleaned it carefully to remove any of the abrasive sand and then put oil into it and left it in the oven for several hours to recondition it.. That was two years ago and that pan is awesome. Nothing sticks. If you have a rusty old pan the sandblasting works great as it will smooth out any pitting and create a nearly new surface.

I also had a cast iron pan with a teflon coating (stupid idea). I took that pan to the same place and removed all the teflon. That is also an excellent cooking tool.

clean it with clear water, than coat it with cooking oil and let it sit in an oven at 250-300 degrees for a couple of hours to season it. Don't heat it any higher unless you want the smoke alarms to go off.

ColumbusCOOK (author)  boxcarmj5 months ago

Depends on what you mean by not cared for. Is it rusty? Or is it just not slippery?

ddj01955 months ago

Puzzled about your choice of Flax Oil for seasoning. Flax oil has a low burn temperature. I've been using peanut oil for 40+ years. Coat with oil and bake (300 - 500 *F) for an hour. If the iron is new or you don't know if the previous person seasoned the pan, repeat this process for best results.

Enjoyed your instructable. Good, clear instructions and thorough.

ColumbusCOOK (author)  ddj01955 months ago

There is a scientific reason behind it that is over my head. It polymerizes better. Look for the link to Sheryls blog on my previous intructable on how to season your pan. Her blog post goes into much greater detial about why Flax is the best.

http://www.instructables.com/id/How-to-Season-a-Cast-Iron-Pan-with-SCIENCE/

Found the blog, but disappointed in her lack of credentials for her position on Flax Oil. She states a burn temperature of 520*F. Actually, flax oil has a burn temperature of 250*F, and has been known to spontaneously combust at 110*F.

I contacted Lodge, which is a major cast iron manufacturer. They only recommend olive oil, corn oil or canola oil. But this is based solely on oils they tested successfully. They have not tested flax oil or peanut oil. Then too, a lot of people have peanut allergies.

Thanks for the instructable on seasoning cast iron cookware. These pans are so durable when properly cared for.
ColumbusCOOK (author)  ddj01955 months ago

HI ddj0195. I also noticed that Flax oil does not have a high smoke point like I incorrectly stated in the video. It looks like we both got confused with how she wrote the article. In the line that she quotes 520 degrees, she is referring to her first experiment with avocado oil. She never actually says Flax has a high smoke point, so I honestly have no idea where that got stuck into my head,. Live and learn. :)

Now, if Flax has such a low smoke point, why is it still good for this? Down in the comments area somebody points this out as well. From what I can tell, polymerization happens first. Once the oil polymerizes, then it has a substantially higher smoke point.

All that being said, I firmly understand I am speaking straight out of my butt and have no scientific proof about any of this. This is just the first article I have ever seen over the years that put some science into the process.

woodNfish5 months ago
Using water on cast iron should be a last resort ax you have to make certain it dries thoroughly or it can rust on you. I like to dry mine in the oven. I also use olive oil on mine because that is mostly the only oil I ever use, but shortening, bacon grease and other animal and vegetable fats are fine too.
ColumbusCOOK (author)  woodNfish5 months ago
Thats why I put it back on the flame after water hits it, and once the water evaporates I hit it with a quick and thin coat of oil. Clean, deglaze, season. Everytime.
woodNfish5 months ago
I should add that I usually just wipe my cast iron pans with a paper towel after using them. I only use water if I have something buned on and then it is hot water and a stainless steel scouring pad. NO SOAP EVER!
vladivastok5 months ago

[ NOT MAD CAPS] JUST NEVER USED THE SKEWERS BEFORE. THANK'S [VLAD]

My favorite cast iron pan is one I rescued from a garbage can when I was 15. I'm now 61 and it has served my faithfully all this time despite the fact that I cracked it by pouring water into it when it was hot. It's better off hitting it with hot water to keep the temperature differential down.

The best way I've found to keep a pan seasoned is to cook bacon in it at a relatively low temp. The bacon fat gets into all the pores and the grease doesn't get rancid.

agis685 months ago

clever!!

Very good instructable. It isn't much different from my own method of cleaning my cast iron. I usually use nothing more than hot water and some elbow grease. But then again, my cast iron has at least 80 years of seasoning on it and the surface is really smooth.

Again, great instructable.

clazman5 months ago

I was quite hesitant to read your article for the internet is not all about truth.

That being said I appreciated your article. It was also nice to read the comments realizing that there are those that are appreciative of a well maintained cast iron or steel skillet an would not even consider using a "coated" skillet.

I have not gone to the extremes to treat the entire skillet as described here. Maybe I should. I season using the stove top and thus the sides do not reach the necessary temp. Over time the sides do reach the seasoned state.

The main destructive force that destroys any seasoning during the cleaning process is "soap" and scouring. Unfortunately, most cooks are unfamiliar with the care of a cast iron or steel skillet. Rather than using plain old H2O and heat, which are very effective, they use soap and scour away. They have thus destroyed most if not all of the seasoning the skillet had acquired from simply using it. Yes, just the heating of the skillet and a small amount of oil prior to use is an excellent opportunity to perform a seasoning operation. Seasoning occurs during the cooking of some foods.

Earlier I mentioned steel skillets. I'm sorry for mentioning them for the article concerns cast iron. In our case we have had to forgo our cast iron for steel skillets that are easier for my wife to lift. These skillets, over time, have attained the seasoned state.

I want to add that in some cases the impairment of the surface can be reduced by simply altering the cooking procedure. I say this for I have found that frying potatoes, (yes, pre-cooked) after frying bacon. Yes,my wife makes sure I try and remove most of the oil that exuded from the bacon. The potato acquires the bacon (sausage) residue cleaning the skillet in the process. You can reduce the amount of this acquisition by removing the loose bacon (sausage) remnants prior to adding the potatoes. I then fry the eggs.

Yes, it would be nicer to use several skillets which helps stage the cooking of several foods so that they are completed at roughly the same time.

Very informative article. Nicely done. Very descriptive. Quite succinct.

miwin10005 months ago

a couple of my cast iron pans have a very hard, thick crust on the outside of the pan. how do I get that off?

I wouldn't..

xtrajerry5 months ago

Some good tips but.. Rapidly cooling cast iron by submerging it in water can effect the temper of the metal and weaken it or even cause it to crack. It happens, ex destroyed more than one cast iron pan/pot this way including pans that had been passed from my grandmother to mom to us. Easier method is to pour some cool water maybe a 1/2 inch or so into the pan and bring it to a low boil then scrape up gunk with a spatula (or home made scraper) dump the water and allow the pan to cool naturally.

Wouldn't use Flax oil to season the pan, it tends to get rancid and could effect the flavor, particularly if you don't use the pan for a while. Canola oil will do the trick and has a higher smoking point so it'll effect the taste of food less. It's also not necessary to make the pan smoke when seasoning it. Bring it up to 300 degrees and you'll be fine.

Liked your home made bamboo scraper..

ColumbusCOOK (author)  xtrajerry5 months ago

I explain my use of Flax in my previous Instructable here.

http://www.instructables.com/id/How-to-Season-a-Ca...

The reasoning behind it is over my head, but I love the surface. It polymerizes better I believe. As for rancidity, yep, I cover that too. Keep it in the fridge.

I personally do not believe Canola is a healthy choice so I won't use that. Thanks for the suggestion though. If I didn't use Flax I'd probably use peanut.

As for cracking and warping, it's definitely something I've thought about. Keep in mind I'm using a small amount of water, I am not dunking it into a sink full of water. That water from the tap hits the pan and is instantly heated. I never put so much water into the pan the temp will swing too quickly. This is the same thing is deglazing which is a very common technique and chefs aren't cracking pans all over stoves worldwide.

Great points for discussion. Thanks. :)

I (and my doctor) also believe canola oil is the worst choice for anything, so... I think coconut oil is the way to go, as it has THE top smoking point and it's perfect for your health. You have another choice to deglaze: put some water, let it boil and add two or three tablespoons of backing soda to the pan. It'll start to "foam" quickly and help with the odors too... Best Regards! Dudaott

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