Help me use my cast iron pan properly
May 15, 2007 6:57 PM   Subscribe

I just purchased a Le Creuset cast iron grilling pan and after cooking a few times I realize I dont know what the hell i'm doing.

Here's what I did with it. First day I got it I washed it a little bit to get the factory seal off it. I then followed some instructions on seasoning in which I coated the entire pan with crisco (which I never use for cooking), put it in a hot oven upside down for about an hour to an hour and a half. When it came out of the oven it looked exactly like the instructions said it should.. really black and nice and shiny. So I figured I had a descent coating on it. Since then I have used the pan a couple of times, the first time I used it, food stuck to it pretty bad. I resisted using a brillo pad on it and just flaked the bits off and used a paper towel to try and soak up the excess crap and bits. I then reseasoned it using the same method. The next time I used it, same thing happened except that the sticking got really bad and I had no choice but to scrape it off with brillo.. it was not coming off at all. I reseasoned it again this afternoon before I planned to cook with it tonight. The nice black color and shiny finish is no more.. instead i'm starting to see gray spots and signs of drippy non-uniform coloration. Tonight I cooked chicken that was marinated in a vinagrette. The entire pan is now caked with burned reminants of the chicken and oils and I have no idea how i'm supposed to clean this thing now without going at it with something seriously abrasive. The caked on stuff is stuck on there really good.

What am I doing wrong? Help me understand how to use this pan properly and also how should I clean it now?
posted by postergeist to Food & Drink (24 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Some people may disagree, but I think it's ok to use a (light) abrasive on the pan. Cook something in it, then use a wire brush to get the crusty stuff off. Or, use the Alton Brown method: throw some kosher salt in the pan and rub it around with some paper towels. Rinse out the pan and then put some oil in the pan.
posted by backseatpilot at 7:08 PM on May 15, 2007

Vinaigrette probably shouldn't go in there, at least not while it's relatively new. As a rule, you don't want to cook acidic stuff in cast iron - no tomatoes or vinegar, for instance, because they can damage the seasoning.

You'll probably need to re-season it after you get it cleaned this time, so a little abrasive cleaning probably won't matter too much. Maybe if you try leaving it in the oven to season longer?

I have a nice big skillet that has one weird spot that absolutely will not take seasoning. Drives me nuts and I keep meaning to replace it....
posted by dilettante at 7:14 PM on May 15, 2007

Even if you aren't making a sauce, it's always good to deglaze your pot with something (water if you're just cleaning) while it's nice and hot. Keep the burner on, take your food out, then add some water and scrape with a spatula while it's steaming.
posted by carmen at 7:15 PM on May 15, 2007

kosher salt and olive oil while it's still hot usually works just as well as brillo for me.
posted by any major dude at 7:17 PM on May 15, 2007

Stop using the Brillo! You can probably restore it's black luster by reseasoning it a few times. If you ever want to clean it again, put it on the stove, pour some oil in there, and then follow that with kosher salt. Fold up a paper towel and use the salt to scrub the pan. Please be careful, obviously, it gets really hot. That'll get most of the stuff off without destroying the seasoning.
posted by AaRdVarK at 7:26 PM on May 15, 2007

Response by poster: I'm not sure the kosher salt is going to work on this mess.. the stuff in there is caked on really well, sort of like you would expect on a bbq you have been using all summer. I don't mind scraping it all off if i'm not damaging the pan. If I can do that and still reseason it then maybe thats my best bet. My understanding though was that once seasoned things shouldnt stick to it so badly. Am I doing anything wrong? Also, any idea why there are some bald spots now that dont seem to look seasoned after I take it out of the oven?
posted by postergeist at 7:33 PM on May 15, 2007

I got a set of cast iron one Christmas and HATED it for the same problems you're having. When I decided to try them again I ended up having to Brillo off rust spots, then brushed them lightly with melted lard and baked them in the oven at a fairly low temp for a couple hours to re-season them. I don't think you have to worry about damaging the pans by scrubbing them; you can always start over again.

When I use them I use a non-stick cooking spray or oil before cooking to avoid nasty sticking. After I've cooked I heat the pan up super hot (after removing the food) and pour water in to steam off the yuck as mentioned above. After doing that and rinsing/ scraping whatever was left off I dry the pan, put it back on the burner until it's almost red hot and pour a small bit of oil on it. By heating it up you ensure that any residual water is steamed out and the tiny pits in the finish are open to the oil- almost to seal it until you use it again. After a couple cooking sessions I got those pretty, shiny black pans you read about and rarely need to use cooking spray now.

It sounds like a pain but really it takes less time than cleaning a regular pan by hand with soap and water. I love my cast iron now!
posted by Mamapotomus at 8:04 PM on May 15, 2007 [4 favorites]

People are basically right on (and mentioning a lot of the methods I use to clean my beloved cast iron skillet). I've got a 70 cent plastic scraper that I use when it's still warm to get up big clumps of goo, and use water and salt as described above. I'll also add that the more you use cast iron, the more nonstick it becomes. It just takes time and patience, extra pan lubrication at first, and the understanding that you won't get perfect results for a while.

I give my pain the deadly soapy scrub once or twice a year (generally whenever I've really burnt something, like a sugary marinade, on there with a vengeance). Afterwards, the first use or two are pretty sticky, not as bad as when it was new, but irritating. I just have to remind myself to chill out and wait for it to get great again.
posted by mostlymartha at 8:15 PM on May 15, 2007

Brillo? NO!

However, the same scouring pads you would use on a non-stick pan are fine, just don't use soap. Soak it, and scour it clean, use dish detergent if you absolutely must, although this is the last time the pan should ever see that stuff. Then re-season it and stick to foods that don't tend to stick and use lots of oil for the next few uses. It will then be well seasoned. After that if food sticks let it soak for ten or fifteen minutes and use the non-stick pan compatible scouring pad with no soap to clean up. Well seasoned, a cast iron pan will clean almost as easily as a Teflon pan. Until you get the seasoning thing down, wipe the pan down with a tiny bit of oil after each cleaning, just enough to get a little sheen, but not too much. It's better if you warm the pan, but this is not necessary. Wipe off the excess. This is also good if you let it soak too long as that can liberate oil from the pan. The cast iron absorbs a bit of oil at the surface and holds it reasonably tightly. This gives the pan it's non-stick characteristic. You want to preserve that oil, that is why you don't use overly aggresive scouring pads or detergents and you don't soak too long.
posted by caddis at 8:18 PM on May 15, 2007

(To clarify: Brillo is the 'nuclear' option here, not your usual cleaning tool.)
posted by Mamapotomus at 8:29 PM on May 15, 2007

Absolutely do NOT use Brillo. Le Creuset pans are NOT raw cast iron. They are enameled, and you may have already stripped off some of the enamel. From your description, you may have already ruined the enamel coating. The pan will still be usable, but it seems likely to give you significantly unpredictable results in the future.

See the Le Creuset page on product care for grills.

Furthermore, Le Creuset pans do not require seasoning - that's what the enamel is for.

Honestly, the food probably stuck to it because you moved it before it was fully cooked. On a grill pan, you only really care about sticking on the raised edges - anything that falls through will just burn off or you can scrape it off with a nylon brush later. Even on a relatively unseasoned pan, most meats will release from the ridges by themselves when they're done enough.

Also, make sure you let the pan preheat sufficiently before you put anything on it. Typically, you'll get the most even heating on a cast iron pan by heating slowly (10-12 minutes) over a medium flame instead of heating quickly (2-4 minutes) over a high flame. Alternatively, put the whole pan in the oven at 425F 20 minutes before you start to cook on the stove.
posted by Caviar at 8:45 PM on May 15, 2007 [1 favorite]

The good news is that you'd have to be truly dedicated to ruin your cookware. It will stand up to almost any well-intentioned abuse you can dish out. It will take some time for you to get used to cooking with it and the mistakes you make will count as character years from now.

Furthermore, Le Creuset pans do not require seasoning - that's what the enamel is for.

Eh? They are not all entirely coated in enamel, that's only a portion of their product line. Follow all the good advice here (and elsewhere) concerning cast iron cookware.
posted by peeedro at 9:21 PM on May 15, 2007

From Caviar's link I see no traditional cast iron surfaces, only enameled cast iron. I am now not sure of my answer. The post said the instructions included seasoning steps, which would not be given for enameled cast iron, but then none of the cast iron products seem other than enamel.

I have several enameled cast iron Le Creuset pans. They do not need seasoning. You don't use Brillo on them either. It will abrade away the enamel; I know this from experience. However, you can use detergent and also the plastic scouring pads which are compatible with non-stick pans.

What kind of surface does your pan have? It matters. If it is enamel and food sticks, use more oil and less heat.
posted by caddis at 9:39 PM on May 15, 2007

Cleaning cast iron, the manly way.

Place item on unlit barbecue grill. Apply propane torch to trouble spots. Allow to cool.

Plus, it's a hit with the kids.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 9:51 PM on May 15, 2007

Assuming it is cast iron and not enamel, here's what I know. Your shortening-and-oven treatment is the beginning of seasoning, not the end of it. First off, you can repeat that treatment a few times and it will only improve things. And then please go buy a pound of bacon. Until half of it is gone, bacon is the only thing you are allowed to cook in this pan. Once you're into the second half, you can cook other things, but they have to start with bacon and they have to be easy to clean off with only water and paper, so make sure there's enough bacon grease in there before you crack those eggs. After the pound of bacon is gone, you are on your way to a durable season, and you can start cleaning with a plastic scrubbie once in a while if you really, really must.
posted by eritain at 9:57 PM on May 15, 2007

According to this, "No exposed iron is ever left on a piece of Le Creuset." So you can probably forget what I said above, because that would just be for regular cast iron.
posted by dilettante at 9:59 PM on May 15, 2007

Actually, Le Creuset does have grill pans that are not enameled on the inside. Postergeist, if your pan has a black, rough, non-shiny interior, it's raw cast iron, not enameled. The outside is still enameled, so you shouldn't scrub it like crazy, but all the advice given here so far on normal cast iron applies to the inside.
posted by Samantha at 10:40 PM on May 15, 2007

My official method for the "ye gods, that is seriously stuck" is to stick it back on the burner with water in it and boil it until the stuck stuff comes off a (plastic) brush or spatula. Much less stress. Avoid scratching it off with serious abrasives, or you'll have to start seasoning it again.

If you don't eat that much bacon, you can just store it in the oven for a while, giving it a wipe with oil or whatever before you turn the oven on each time.
posted by kjs4 at 12:45 AM on May 16, 2007

If we had an outside grill, my guy's cast iron lovelies would get the treatment like BitterOldPunk's.

Instead, he spends some love/time on the cast iron pieces with butter or bacon grease and the stove fan. Occasionally, the smoke detector still goes off.

To keep me from losing my Teflon-loving mind, he mostly does this while I'm at work. Our basic agreement? He doesn't touch my Teflon and I don't touch his cast iron, when it comes to cleaning or seasoning.

I still can't get him to cook at anywhere between 0 degrees (any measurement) and HOT ENOUGH TO BURN THE HOUSE DOWN.

The food turns out fine. :-)
posted by lilywing13 at 1:11 AM on May 16, 2007

I dumped my seasoned cast iron grill pan for nickel-plated cast iron and have been very happy.
posted by nicwolff at 1:44 AM on May 16, 2007

I also have this pan - yes, the outside is enamel, but the inside appears to be non-enameled cast iron... but it is has been treated, and thus is not the same as a "true" cast-iron skillet. This link (from dilettante above) is really all you need to answer your question, I think.

YMMV, but here's what I've always done (not knowing about the official suggestions, and being fundamentally lazy): Soak it for a few minutes, scrub it (I use a scrubby-sided sponge) with water only, and put it back on the stove. Heat it up. Turn off the heat. The water will evaporate and you won't have to worry about rust. Every few months, coat it in crisco or oil, and bake it in the oven for a few hours.

Will reevaluate that strategy now that I've seen the link at Le Creuset's site, of course...
posted by nkknkk at 4:35 AM on May 16, 2007

Actually, Le Creuset does have grill pans that are not enameled on the inside. Postergeist, if your pan has a black, rough, non-shiny interior, it's raw cast iron, not enameled.

A black, rough, non-shiny interior on a Le Creuset pan is merely a different kind of enamel that happens to look similar to raw cast iron. Raw unseasoned cast iron is not black. It is a dull grey. Once again, "No exposed iron is ever left on a piece of Le Creuset". Except, of course, if you strip the enamel off.
posted by Caviar at 9:14 AM on May 16, 2007

It sounds like you are not using enough fat/oil when you cook with it.
posted by MonkeySaltedNuts at 9:55 AM on May 16, 2007

other than the excellent point that seasoning is a continual process and brillo is death to the seasoning on the cast iron (use salt instad), I have a few questions for you:

Are you using fat or oil when you use the grill pan? You should at the VERY least oil the food.

How high of a heat are you cooking with? Let the cast iron get really really hot, lay the oiled food on it and don't try to move it until it comes away easily from the pan. (plus you'll get really nice sear marks)

Also, don't ever soak the pan in water. Boiling water in it is fine to loosen gunk, but you should only really wash it with very very hot water, and if you have to, a little bit of salt. After washing, rub a light coat of oil or crisco into the cooking surface before you put it away.
posted by kumquatmay at 11:06 AM on May 16, 2007

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