How do I de-stink my cast iron pan?
August 28, 2012 1:06 PM   Subscribe

I need advice on cleaning a seasoned cast iron skillet: how to remove lingering odor without damaging the pan.

I cooked some salmon in my cast iron frying pan. (Mark Bittman told me to!) Afterwards I cleaned it well with hot water and a scrubby sponge, and even scrubbed it out a bit with salt. It looks clean but has a distinct fishy aroma. I haven't cooked anything else in it yet; suprisingly, there's little in my fridge that seems like it could use a touch of old salmon.

I haven't washed the pan with soap, because I don't want to screw up the seasoning. I've thought of heating up another fat (like bacon grease) in the pan; would that absorb the smell?

advice welcomed! (also, at least the salmon was delicious).
posted by maryrussell to Food & Drink (28 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Try scrubbing with a half a lemon and paste made with vinegar and salt.

Then your pan will smell like salad dressing.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:10 PM on August 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

Cooking a batch of bacon in it couldn't hurt, and I can't imagine the salmon smell possibly overpowering the bacon smell. (It's also good for your skillet.)
posted by fiercecupcake at 1:18 PM on August 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

Seconding cooking bacon in it. The smell will overpower the bacon and the oils will help season your skillet better.

Assuming you've physically removed the salmon from the pan, the goal now is to apply oil rather than trying to strip it away.

Other ideas:

- a scented/seasoned oil of some kind, like the oils you see with chili peppers or rosemary steeping in them. I wouldn't use anything with artificial scents/flavors, though.

- an oil that has a distinctive smell, like olive oil or sesame oil, or a citrus oil.

You should need only a few drops of those, maybe a little more olive oil as it doesn't have as strong a scent as the others.

Out of left field, is it posible that you could just let things air out for a while? Are you sure this is a Big Bad Scary Smell and not just, "hey, sometimes people cook things"?
posted by Sara C. at 1:24 PM on August 28, 2012

Yes, cook some bacon! (That's my favorite answer for almost anything.)
posted by mon-ma-tron at 1:25 PM on August 28, 2012 [4 favorites]

You can't cover the smell with other smells. The salmon oil will bleed through when the pan gets hot.

I'd reseason it in a hot oven for a few hours and see if the smell bakes off.
posted by 26.2 at 1:34 PM on August 28, 2012

My de-stinking method: run the pan under very hot running water, then pour in a couple generous glugs of cheap canola or whatever neutral oil you have sitting around. Scrub it out with a paper towel, rinse again, and then dry it off and apply a final thin coat of canola oil (helps prevent rust). You need another oil to dissolve and carry away your old oil-based smells.

I strongly recommend against another scented or seasoned oil...that will just be another smell you'll have to remove down the line. You also do not want to use vinegar, lemon, or any other acids on your pan, as they will react with the iron.

In my experience, the salt scrub is even more effective with a bit of oil as well.
posted by psycheslamp at 1:48 PM on August 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

I agree that the most practical approach here is just to cook some bacon and cover over the smell. A salt scrub with a bit of water and a bit of neutral oil (canola/vegetable oil) is also quite effective, and is a good way of cleaning the pan in general.

If for some reason you don't want to do that, I've never had problems using a small amount of soap on a well-seasoned pan. Obviously don't put the pan in the dishwasher or anything, but so long as you're quick, not too vigorous with the soap, and don't use a lot of soap, then I think you'll be fine. Seasoning is not just "oil on top of cast iron", it's polymerized by heat. Polymerized oil can't be removed very easily in general, which you will see if you ever have to clean a well-used aluminum pan used for baking.
posted by saeculorum at 1:51 PM on August 28, 2012

I've used a very very light amount of dishsoap on a sponge to wipe out a stinky cast iron pan, then rinsed it well and very quickly and haphazardly "re" seasoned it. It wasn't particularly old only a couple of weeks, but my husband had left the pan unwashed two days with fat in and it smelt rancid, it came up fine afterwards with no smell and no sticking.
posted by wwax at 1:59 PM on August 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

I cook salmon on my cast iron at least once or twice a week. If it sits around, the smell of the salmon is absorbed. So as soon as I finish my dinner, I make sure to wash it (run it under very hot water, scrape off any food particles, dry it, lightly oil, and heat up on the stove again for a few minutes). I've only had the pan smell fishy once or twice when I got distracted and it sat on my stove for a few hours after dinner, but by the time I cleaned it and used it again, the smell disappeared, so I wouldn't worry too much.
posted by HeyAllie at 2:14 PM on August 28, 2012 [4 favorites]

I cook salmon all the time and clean it with soap. Pans fine.
posted by fshgrl at 2:40 PM on August 28, 2012

There is way too much paranoia and misinformation about soap and cast iron. You can certainly use dish soap without destroying your pan. I've done it countless times. Just go light on the soap, and definitely add a thin coating of oil after you dry the pan on the stovetop.
posted by O9scar at 2:41 PM on August 28, 2012 [9 favorites]

Slice up a potato and fry it with canola oil. Eat it if you are brave (it will taste muchly of salmon). No leftover smell, no soap. My grandmother taught me this trick and I use it regularly, on my pan when I fry stinky stuff in it, or on garage sale items that came pre-stinkified.

I am nto alone in this process secondary source, tertiary (suggests boiling with potatoes and water).
posted by 1f2frfbf at 2:52 PM on August 28, 2012 [3 favorites]

Don't worry about damaging the pan. It's cast iron. You CAN'T damage it, even if you really really wanted to.

If I were you, I'd set the pan on the stove, crank up the heat, turn on the fan, and let it cook off. Then when it cools, re-oil it. I guess you could scrub it with lemons and salt and stuff, but that sounds suspiciously like work.

There is no problem with a cast iron skillet that cannot be fixed by the application of enough heat.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 3:49 PM on August 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

There is way too much paranoia and misinformation about soap and cast iron. You can certainly use dish soap without destroying your pan. I've done it countless times. Just go light on the soap, and definitely add a thin coating of oil after you dry the pan on the stovetop.

I agree. What I do when I need to de-funk my cast iron pan is this, as well as a scrub with a moderately stiff pot brush.

My rationale: if the seasoning can be damaged by this, it wasn't baked on well enough. The well seasoned parts of my pan are indestructible; the parts that aren't need to get removed and started over anyway.
posted by gjc at 3:57 PM on August 28, 2012

I use hand soap to clean my cast iron pans - not as harsh as dishwashing liquid, but gets rid of the gunk and smells. Heat on stove to dry immediately after the wash, and apply coconut oil/wipe excess off with a paper towel. The only thing you really shouldn't do with cast iron IMHO is cook tomato sauces.
posted by The Toad at 4:10 PM on August 28, 2012

Nthing using dishsoap to clean a cast iron pan that needs it. What I would not do is soak the pan in soapy water. But I use soap and a stiff dish brush on my pan practically every time I use it (which is a lot). My pan belonged to my grandfather and is about 50 years old and it's still going strong.
posted by SweetTeaAndABiscuit at 5:08 PM on August 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

I've been using cast iron pans almost daily for 32 years. Washing with soap doesn't hurt a well-seasoned pan. I wouldn't use a dark green scrubbing sponge, but a blue one is fine. Just adding my vote for "wash it."
posted by wryly at 5:37 PM on August 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Salt scrub. Boil water. Dump water and let sit in sunshine for the afternoon. Apply olive oil and heat on high. Wipe with paper towel.

If that doesn't work, wash it as above.

I inherited pans from my grandmother that she washed regularly whenever something was messy or smelly. I occasionally wash them. But first try the salt scrub, etc.
posted by BlueHorse at 5:58 PM on August 28, 2012

If you get it hot enough, the fishy compounds should cook right off. Then reseason if necessary.
posted by clockzero at 6:02 PM on August 28, 2012

posted by thebazilist at 6:11 PM on August 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

I wash my castiron skillets occasionally. It's not that bad a thing.

Then cook bacon in it. Will help reseason it, and also, bonus: Bacon!
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 6:41 PM on August 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

To paraphrase what has already been said: if you can't get it clean enough any other way, go at it with soap, brillo pads, a wire brush, or whatever. Then reseason it. It's not the end of the world.
posted by mr vino at 6:41 PM on August 28, 2012

I should have added - if it's somebody else's cast iron pan, better to leave it a little fishy. People can be finicky.
posted by mr vino at 6:42 PM on August 28, 2012

Just leave it on a burner for a while, and it'll char. That's kind of the point of cast iron.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 6:47 PM on August 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Cook scrambled eggs in the pan. Maybe top with lox so the salmon scent adds instead of detracting.
posted by pickypicky at 6:48 PM on August 28, 2012

I clean my cast iron skillet with a little dish soap and a light scrubbing at least once a day...the seasoning is perfect.
Don't be afraid of a little soap.
posted by SLC Mom at 10:49 PM on August 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

The Toad: AND hubby cooks his awesome sausage spaghetti sauce in it regularly.
Cast iron skillets are great.
posted by SLC Mom at 10:52 PM on August 28, 2012

Thanks everyone! I overcame my cast-iron paranoia and used some soap and a good scrubbing, followed by re-seasoning with oil. Success! Of note, the problem probably happened because I did not clean the pan as promptly as I should have done post-salmon.

I will of course use the bacon solution v soon, because cooking bacon is always indicated.
posted by maryrussell at 5:03 PM on August 30, 2012

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