How to keep a cast-iron pan clean
January 20, 2004 7:16 AM   Subscribe

How do I keep a cast-iron pan clean? [more inside]

First of all, the pan is already seasoned. I know how to do that. But I've started eating bacon in the morning, and the cast-iron seems to do the best job (I can't stand microwaved bacon, and the non-stick isn't big enough). I read somewhere that you shouldn't wash the pan, just coat the inside with salt right after cooking and then wipe it out a bit later. But the bacon leaves spots of cooked fat that don't come off with just a salt wipe. Can I wash it with mild dish detergent?
posted by starvingartist to Food & Drink (16 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Hot water and elbow grease. After you wash it you can dry it by putting it back on the stove at low to medium heat until the water evaporates. Apply a thin coat of Pam or cooking oil to it while it's still warm and put a paper towel between it and any other pans stored on top of it.

Try cooking at a slightly lower temperture. A well-seasoned pan should be non-stick. I got a nice Lodge pan for Christmas and so far I've had no trouble keeping it clean.

You could always use a wire brush. I've used soap in the past and have had no trouble but from what I've read the soap can infiltrate the pores of the pan.
posted by bondcliff at 7:25 AM on January 20, 2004

You can wash it in mild detergent if you must, but generally, you shouldn't need to. Hot water and a plastic scrubber should take away the large majority of the grease, leaving only the thin layer that your pan should carry anyway.
posted by jacquilynne at 7:29 AM on January 20, 2004

Hot water. Seriously. Boil some if your hot tap isn't good. Put some gloves on then go at it with a scrubby sponge thing until smooth again. Then put it on the burner at medium heat to dry off. If your cast iron really is properly seasoned, it will come clean with almost no effort at all.

Avoid detergent if you can (although really it's no harm if there's a little on the sponge).

The salt method works fine, too, but you aren't meant to "wipe" it out. You're supposed to scrub. With your arm. Applying force. The idea is to "sand down" the cooking surface.
posted by majick at 7:29 AM on January 20, 2004

just coat the inside with salt right after cooking and then wipe it out a bit later

Michael Connelly's Hieronemous Bosch books suggested frying salt afterwards and wiping out the remains, but I've never gotten that to work well.
posted by yerfatma at 7:30 AM on January 20, 2004 [1 favorite]

only use soap if you are removing rust spots and never leave it soak.

the lodge cast iron cookware care and cleaning page

i've got my mom's lodge cookware that she's had since the 60's. i've never had to use soap on it. and it does come clean with no effort. you do have to clean it promptly after use, however.
posted by crush-onastick at 7:46 AM on January 20, 2004

I second the no-detergent policy but you can scrub the hell out of it without detergent, and salt is a good abrasive. I use a plastic scrubby, although these are really supposed to be the cat's meow for cast iron. I usally take mine right from the stovetop and put hot water in it, let it sit through dinner and then use some sort of scrubber afterwards to get the little bits out of it [which will stick to food in the future if you don't get them out] then dry the pan, put it on the stove and put a thin coating of olive oil on it with the heat turned down low. I usually only re-season if I've really had to work at getting it clean, mostly you can wipe for non-sticky stuff and then put more elbow grease into it for troublesome stuff.
posted by jessamyn at 7:47 AM on January 20, 2004

My method: get tap water as hot as it goes, then rinse the hot pan immediately off the stove (watch the sizzle!) and dump down the sink. The hot water will carry off the fat and a shot of soap down the drain doesn't hurt. Then use a scrubby for anything remaining (shouldn't be much), throw it back on the hot stove and heat just to the point of smoking.

Also, remember Jeff Smith's adage: Hot pan, cold oil, food don't stick. Even when cooking bacon, I will smear a drop of peanut oil over the surface with a paper towel.
posted by mischief at 9:12 AM on January 20, 2004

Scrub with salt, soak in REALLY hot water, repeat as necessary. Never let soap touch its surface.
posted by Vidiot at 9:56 AM on January 20, 2004

If something is so caked on that soaking is necessary, I put water in the bottom and heat it to boiling and then scrape it with a turner while it is on the stove. I just don't like letting them soak.
posted by mischief at 10:03 AM on January 20, 2004

Response by poster: Thanks, everyone. I wasn't sure if scrubbing was bad for the seasoning, but it looks like soap is the true culprit. Hooray for Matt and AskMeFi!
posted by starvingartist at 11:07 AM on January 20, 2004

The other thing you might want to change is the type of salt you use. Stay away from table salt and go for something coarse. Kosher salt works really well.
posted by eastlakestandard at 11:31 AM on January 20, 2004

Seconding the vote for kosher salt; the larger grains are both more visible so you can be sure you're getting the dirty spots, and provide a much better abrasive than table salt. Hot water, salt, and then heat on the stove to dry it, and you should be good to go.
posted by headspace at 12:03 PM on January 20, 2004

I use a steel scrubber and minimal detergent. Never soak it, as it will rust. It's cast iron, it's strong. I've never fussed much about my cast iron pans, and they are in great shape. Best way to season it is to cook bacon or anything with lots of fat.
posted by theora55 at 1:16 PM on January 20, 2004

Interesting -- my mother has been scrubbing hers with soap for decades, with no noticeable problems that I'm aware of. Maybe she has to season it more often, although she fries bacon once a week, so maybe that handles it.
posted by pmurray63 at 2:00 PM on January 20, 2004

Said plastic scrubby thing. It's what I use, plus hot water.
posted by MrMoonPie at 2:30 PM on January 20, 2004

As long as you don't leave it to soak, a good thing to do is put water in the pan as soon as the bacon is done and leave the stove on. I do this when camping so that I don't have to reheat the water to clean it.

Once done eating, there is a pan with really hot water in it already, so the fat doesn't coagulate. All you need is paper towel (and don't forget if there's fat in the water, don't dump it on the grounds of your own campsite, dump it on the grounds of the annoying people two spots over so the bears will bug them instead).
posted by Salmonberry at 7:39 PM on January 20, 2004

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