You might be wondering why cast iron seems to be so universally loved by chefs around the world. The reasons are simple and straightforward.
Why Cast Iron?
Cast iron is a very dense material and is much heavier than aluminum, so it’s nearly impervious to damage. Being so dense allows cast iron to hold heat longer and allow foods to cook more evenly. Cast iron is also ideal for frying or baking.
Meats will brown better with cast iron, and vegetables tend to cook faster. Since cast iron retains its temperature longer, you don’t need to stand over the pot constantly or rotate the pan every minute.
Once a cast iron skillet has been properly seasoned, the surface becomes naturally nonstick and easy to clean. With regular use, cast iron develops a thin layer of polymerized fat known as a patina that seals the surface and makes it better to use each time. The result is that you’re able to cook with cast iron without needing to add cooking oils to the pan.
However, there is a problem. Cast iron can’t be cleaned the same way you would normally clean pans made with regular nonstick surfaces or stainless steel. Using soap or steel wool, or putting the pan into your dishwasher, will reduce or even eliminate most of its patina surface.
Eventually, when the buildup of grease, rust, or other sticky substances begin to interfere with proper cooking, you’ll need to properly clean your cast iron skillet. Follow our guidelines below and you’ll be able to restore your cast iron surfaces to like-new condition again.
Materials you will need:
- Dishwashing soap
- A sponge or stiff brush
- Steel wool
- Several clean paper towels or a couple of dry cloths
- A bottle of vegetable oil or container of shortening
- Kosher salt (optional)
Clean the skillet immediately after cooking while it is still warm or hot. Add some hot water and wash the skillet out by hand using a sponge or stiff brush. (Do not use the dishwasher.)
Scrub off as much of any stuck-on bits as possible. Try scrubbing with a gentle scouring pad or mesh sponge, or a bristle brush if necessary. For food that has become stuck-on, scrub using a paste made from kosher salt and water and rinse. If there is some stubborn food residue remaining in the skillet, loosen it by pouring boiling water into the pan. Then, repeat scrubbing with the salt and water paste until it can be removed.
Unfortunately, if there’s rust build-up, more abrasive methods may be necessary. But first, there may be a much gentler option. Try rubbing the affected area with half a raw potato and a small amount of baking soda. This may remove the rust completely. If not, use fine steel wool when it’s necessary.
Scour all the affected areas until you can see raw cast iron again. Wash the skillet thoroughly with warm water and mild dishwashing soap.
Regardless of the extent of rust, never throw out a rusty cast iron skillet! If necessary, and as a last resort, take the skillet to a machine shop. Ask them to sandblast the skillet to restore it to its former glory. Then, rinse the skillet with water and dry it thoroughly with a clean paper towel or cloth. Finally, dry the skillet on your stove using low heat.
Take a cloth or clean paper towel and cover the skillet using a small amount of vegetable oil or melted shortening. Apply the oil so it covers the inside of the skillet. Be sure to also oil the rest of the entire piece including the bottom and handle. Use the smallest amount of oil necessary to avoid a sticky surface. Then, buff the surfaces with a clean cloth to remove any excess oil.
Place the pan in your oven upside down on the top rack. Take a sheet of aluminum foil or a foil-lined baking sheet and place it underneath the pan. This will help to catch any oil that might drip. Turn the temperature up to 350°F or 180°C and leave the skillet in the oven for one hour.
Turn off the heat. Then, carefully remove the skillet and allow it to cool and store the pan in a cool dry place. Now you’re ready to go for your next cooking session.
Under normal circumstances, a well-seasoned cast iron skillet will last for many years of use. Cleaning the pan with a small amount of mild soap will not do any damage. After washing, be sure to rinse the skillet well and then apply a light amount of oil after drying.
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