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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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Great idea for the bamboo skewers. A heck of a lot cheaper than buying a fancy bamboo brush. Thanks.

ColumbusCOOK (author)  xenobiologista29 days ago
Heck yeah. I mostly use a cheap but stiff plastic scrubber now.
Similar to these.
http://amzn.to/1KBJ08Q

Once they get dirty I toss them in trhe dishwasher. When they get too cruddy I toss them.
LisaB2129 days ago

I was given 10 old griswolds to sell from a family member. These include a waffle iron, muffin pan, and cornbread pan and tite top dutch oven. They were in a house that had a very strong odor which permeated into the thick sticky gunk that covers all this pans. I read the comments here and got some great ideas. I was wondering if the best way to clean them would be throwing them in a fire as I read in one of the comments. I thought maybe that would get rid of the odor as well as the sticky gunk but is there any chance of cracking the pans if they go into a fire? I liked the sand blasting idea but not sure if it would help with the odor. Any advice would be greatly appreciated. I also got some great ideas for my own cast iron pans which I love, what a great site!

ColumbusCOOK (author)  LisaB2129 days ago
I haven't tried the fire trick yet but I have heard of it. I've also heard people sometimes put a really distressed pan into the oven and put it on self cleaning mode. I'd say try first with your cheapest one and see how it works out.
rdomunky29 days ago

I totally read that last part as "you can use it on your kids someday too"

Thanks for the writeup

kathy.diesel7 months ago

I like to use Grape seed oil which has a slightly higher smoke point then olive oil and leaves no flavor behind. I don't like the taste or smell of olives so it puts me off my food and grape seed oil is better for you.

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.
Takelababy1 year 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)  Takelababy1 year ago
I wouldn't bother. My backside is cruddy too.

*snicker*

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)  BetsyFartBlossom1 year 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.

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)  Sharkseatmore1 year 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/
MarKilmer1 year ago

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

ColumbusCOOK (author)  MarKilmer1 year 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.

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.

boxcarmj1 year ago

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

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 boxcarmj1 year 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.

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)  DeeRilee1 year 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)  boxcarmj1 year ago

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

ddj01951 year 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)  ddj01951 year 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)  ddj01951 year 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.

woodNfish1 year 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)  woodNfish1 year 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.
woodNfish1 year 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!

[ 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.

agis681 year 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.

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