How to Clean Cast Iron

I was in an old junk store the other day looking at their selection of cast iron.  As I closely examined each piece, the 5 or 6 old timers who were just hanging around and talking of days past began to take notice.  Immediately I began to get advise as to how to clean cast iron.  “Throw it in the fire.” “Use a grinding wheel.” “Use the self clean cycle of the oven.” (for the record, let me just say, “No!”. Antique cast iron can be sensitive to high heat.)

Then came the ideas for seasoning. “Use lard.” “Use crisco.” “Use olive oil.” They each knew the “best” way to take care of cast iron.  While I am not here to give the definitive “way” to clean and take care of your cast iron, I thought I would take a few minutes to share how I take care of mine.

First, we need a messy pan to clean.  This one was a 2 day old mess left from a very delicious blueberry pie my daughter made.  Its a Birmingham Stove and Range No. 7 from the 1940s or 1950s. Want one like it? There’s probably one like it up for adoption in my Etsy Shop.

Super stuck on and baked on pie remains.

Super stuck on and baked on pie remains.

An upclose and personal view of our cast iron tragedy

An upclose and personal view of our cast iron tragedy

First let me say, when it comes to cast iron, always say “No” to soap.  Soap’s job is to attach to grease and carry it away.  Seasoning, in it most basic form, is grease.  So, soap kills your layer of seasoning and seasoning is what makes your skillet so naturally nonstick.  Before you click away in disgust, consider this.  According to Lodge’s website, a pan heated at medium high heat for 4 minutes gets up to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Something only needs to be 212 degrees Fahrenheit to be sterile.  So, because of the high heat of cast iron, soap is not necessary.

So, now we need to figure out how to get rid of all that junk without compromising our hard-earned seasoning layers. Here’s what I do:

  1.  Just add water.

I add water to the pan (usually about halfway full), put it back on the eye of my stove, and bring it to boiling.  I usually start this process while I am tidying up the rest of the kitchen.

Fill the skillet about halfway full of water.

Fill the skillet about halfway full of water.

Let the water get to heavy, rolling boil.

Let the water get to heavy, rolling boil.

2.  Pour and wipe.

This is where things get a bit interesting.  Turn off the the stove. Using a pot holder (cast iron handles get very hot–remember, sanitized), grab the pan, pour the water and most of the mess into the sink.  Very, very, very carefully, using utmost care, use a paper towel and wipe out the rest of the mess. (It is best to do this while the pan is still hot, just BE CAREFUL, I have suffered many burns from a lack of care here)

Wipe up the rest of the junk.

Wipe up the rest of the junk.

3. Bring on the oil.

Start adding back in the oil.  Notice how dry my pan looks here. Since it is so hot, it drys out almost immediately. Put a small amount of your favorite kitchen oil on the surface of your pan.  (For this purpose the type of oil is not that important. Later, when we talk about reseasoning, we can talk about types of oils and which works best)

Put a small amount of edible oil in the bottom of the pan.

Put a small amount of edible oil in the bottom of the pan.

4. Spread the love.

Use a soft cloth or paper towel, spread the oil all over the pan–top and bottom. (Again, use care.  The pan is hot!).  The pan should just barely look wet, slightly shiny, and definitely not be dripping.  The dry pan will continue to absorb the oil until it is dry to the touch.

Wipe the pan with a paper towel, or cloth until it is just shiny

Wipe the pan with a paper towel, or cloth until it is just shiny

5.  All done!  Store your cast iron skillet with a paper towel in it to keep moisture away from it.

All done! Nice and clean!

All done! Nice and clean!

 

Wait!  Still have trouble?  Have the ultimate stuck on mess?  Think you have ruined your skillet? I will post about that next time.

One thought on “How to Clean Cast Iron

  1. Pingback: How to Scramble Eggs in a Cast Iron Skillet (and not end up with a stuck on mess.) – Suzy Homemaker

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