Cleaning Cast Iron (without screwing it up)

It can be intimidating to clean a cast iron pan; there are so many rules!

Can you clean a cast iron pan with soap? (nope!)

Can you clean a cast iron pan with water (yes- sometimes!)

Can you clean a cast iron pan with steel wool? (please don’t.)

It was so frustrating that eventually, I developed this weird kitchen anxiety about caring for my cast iron pan, which left it sitting in the cupboard for far too long.

I mean, God forbid I do it wrong and make the cast iron pans lose their seasoning (which is the term for when your cast iron pan is perfectly nonstick – even without using oil!)

The thing was, all my cast iron pans kept losing their seasoning anyway because every time I used them, I’d clean them wrong and screw the whole thing up.

Whats the big deal with these things, anyway? I used to wonder.

So I started reading up on how to clean a cast iron pan and hey, guess what? Cast iron pans and skillets are actually pretty easy to maintain if you don’t buy into all the bad advice.

After all, there’s a reason the same cast irons our grandmothers cooked with are still banging around today.

Turns out, cast iron pans are fabulous for cooking.

They’re sturdy, have even heat distribution (no weird cold or hot spots!), they’re inexpensive, and that nonstick quality is hard to beat.

By following just a few simple tips (and ignoring the rest of the bad advice), you can make sure your cast iron pans and skillets stay in tip-top condition, too!

Here’s a step-by-step tutorial on how to clean a cast iron pan and season it properly, so you can enjoy cooking with it over and over again.

Really handy step-by-step tutorial on how to clean your cast iron pan without soap, and how to season your cast iron pan once it's clean so it's in perfect shape to use again.

Step One

First, let’s talk seasoning your pan. Cast iron is known for its non-stick properties, which only comes after layers upon layers of an oil or melted fat is “baked” into the pan’s surface; these layers are called the seasoning.

Some people swear you must never! ever! use olive oil or mineral oil, but it doesn’t actually matter which type of oil you use to season, as long as it’s an oil that is appropriate for cooking.

If it’s an animal-based fat, like lard or tallow, then you’re keeping it old school like Grandma did. Personally, my favorite way to season my pan is with peanut oil.

To season, start with a clean, dry pan. It doesn’t matter how it was used before this point; picked up rusty from an antique store, washed with soap (the horror!), or banged up beyond recognition.

Give it a good scrub, using soap and steel wool if you need to. It’s ok to use soap and a wire brush or steel wool here since we’re about to season the pan, but you don’t want to use soap after this; more on why not in a minute.

Step Two

Dry the pan well with a towel and then drop on about a tablespoon of oil.

You want to use just enough oil to create a sheen; not so much that the pan is sticky to the touch.

Using an old towel – you just want something nice and soft, really – rub the oil all over the pan. I like to go inside and out, since sometimes wet ingredients, like eggs, may drip and stick to the outside of the pan during cooking. These drips are easier to clean off if the pan has been seasoned on the outside.

Step Three

Next, line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and place on the bottom rack in a hot oven, set to about 450*F. Place your oiled cast iron pan on the rack above a foil-lined baking sheet. The baking sheet is there to catch any wayward drips from the pan, so they don’t burn on the bottom of the oven.

Step Four

“Bake” the pan for about 45 minutes to an hour, then remove from the oven and let cool. Once the pan is cool to the touch, it’s seasoned and ready to use!

Tips to Remember

From this point on, you just have two important things to remember, if you want to keep your pan in tip-top shape:

  1. NO soap used on the pan! And for the love of god, please do not put your pan in the dishwasher. That’s a surefire ticket to rust-bucket city.
  2. NO steel wool or wire brushes used to clean your pan!

If your pan has bits of stuck-on food and you feel the urge to scrub with soap and a steel wool or a wire brush, don’t! Use kosher salt and a bit of oil instead. The kosher salt flakes are nice and big, just abrasive enough to remove food but won’t remove any of your layers of seasoning. Scrub with your oldest, softest kitchen towel.

That’s it! If you have any questions about how to clean your cast iron pan, drop me a note on social media. I’d also love to see pics of recipes you like making in your pan!

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