Cleaning Cast Iron Cookware
If you’re looking for affordable cookware that can last a lifetime, cast iron pots and pans are just the thing. When properly cared for, they’ll develop a nonstick coating that improves with every use and they can last a lifetime.
To care for cast iron pots and pans properly, you need to know how to clean, dry, and season them.
To clean your cast iron skillet after use, wipe any residue with a paper towel, then wash the pan with hot, soapy water using a sponge or dish brush. Rinse well. Scrape up loosened bits with a wooden or rubber spatula, or scrub them with a damp sponge dipped in table salt. For stuck-on food, simmer hot water in the pan for 3-5 minutes first.
Drying cast iron cookware properly is crucial because moisture can damage it. Like stainless steel pots and pans, cast iron is porous, so water can seep into the metal and cause it to rust. This will ruin the nonstick seasoning and affect the flavor of your food.
- Towel drying: You can towel dry cast iron cookware by rubbing it all over with a lint-free cloth. You may want to dedicate a dark dishcloth for this purpose, since some oily residue may come off as you dry the cast iron pan.
- Heat drying: You can also dry cast iron cookware by putting it on the stove or in the oven at 300°F (150°C or gas mark 3) until the water evaporates.
TIP! Never leave cast iron cookware to air-dry.
Proper storage of clean cast iron cookware is crucial to protect its nonstick coating and prevent rust. To store it, rub a couple of drops of neutral oil over it with a paper towel. Then, wipe off any remaining oil until the towel comes away clean. If stacking cast iron pans in a cabinet, put a clean paper towel in each one to keep them from sticking to each other or scratching the seasoning layer.
It’s best to use a neutral oil with a high smoke point for seasoning cast iron, such as grapeseed, canola or vegetable oil, as they make a better polymerized layer of seasoning without affecting the taste of your food. Animal fat-based oils will go rancid and attract pests.
- Rub the piece inside and out with oil.
- Put the cast iron pan upside down on the middle rack in the oven, with a baking sheet on the rack below to catch drips.
- Turn the oven to 450°F / 233°C / gas mark 8 and wait one hour.
- Turn off the oven and let it cool to room temperature before removing it.
- Repeat the oiling, heating, and cooling sequence until the surface develops a glossy, black patina.
- Season cast iron whenever it looks dull, or the nonstick coating looks patchy.
Cleaning Rusted Cast Iron Cookware
Use a chunk of steel wool and hot vinegar to scour away the rust and the black seasoning coat. Alternatively, spray the item all over with oven cleaner and tie it in a garbage bag, wait 24 hours, and scrub it with steel wool. Once you’ve removed the rust, you must immediately wash, dry, and season it to keep it from returning.
Cleaning Enameled Cast Iron
Wash enameled cast iron cookware with use mild dish soap, hot water, and a dish brush or Teflon sponge. For stubborn bits, boil a couple of inches of water in the pan and use a wooden spatula to pry up any gunk before washing. Clean interior discoloration with Bar Keeper’s Friend or some baking soda on a damp sponge. Rinse well, then use a soft, lint-free towel to dry it. Store enameled cast iron cookware in a dry location, and slip a clean dishcloth or pot protector between items to prevent chipping.
Tips to Keep Cast Iron Cookware Like New
- Never wash a hot pan in cold water. The extreme temperature change will cause cast iron cookware to permanently warp. Instead, use a wooden spatula to remove any food bits immediately after cooking, then let the pan cool before washing.
- Avoid acidic foods at first. Wait until the pan is well-seasoned to cook highly acidic foods like tomatoes or citrus, since the acids can strip the seasoning and affect the taste of your food.
- Use caution with smooth cooktops. Lift and gently set down pans, rather than sliding them, to avoid scratching or cracking your glass or ceramic cooktop. Also, check your pan bottoms for flatness: a warped pan may wobble on the cooktop and crack it.
FAQs About Cleaning Cast Iron Cookware
Below are some of the most commonly asked questions about cast iron cookware. If you have a question not covered in this article, please ask it in the comments.
Does washing cast iron pans ruin the nonstick seasoned layer?
The seasoning layer is a polymerized coating that bonds to the cast iron when heated to a high temperature. This process changes the oil’s chemical structure into a hard, nonstick surface. This layer can can survive soap and water. Not washing cast iron can cause oil to go rancid, attracting household pests to your kitchen and ruining the taste of your food.
What are the black bits coming off my pan?
Most of the time, black flakes coming from your cast iron skillet result from improper cleaning, or a they’re a sign that you need to season your pan. Wash and dry it, then immediately begin the seasoning process.
Can I put my skillet in the dishwasher?
Never put cast iron cookware in the dishwasher. The combination of dish detergent and hot temperatures will damage the seasoning layer that makes it nonstick. Putting it in the dishwasher may also cause your cookware to permanently warp or develop rust.
Is it safe to clean cast iron with vinegar?
Vinegar’s acidity will strip the seasoning layer on cast iron cookware. Only use vinegar on cast iron when you need to remove rust and plan to season it immediately.
I burned food in my Dutch Oven. Can I soak it?
Soaking cast iron cookware can cause it to rust and damage its nonstick seasoning layer. Instead, boil a couple of inches of water in the pan, use a wooden spatula or pan scraper to remove the burned bits, then wash and dry the piece immediately.
Why does my cast iron pan feel sticky?
Stickiness is a sign of improper seasoning or using too much oil before storage. To eliminate it, follow the seasoning process without applying additional oil. This will turn any excess oil into a layer of seasoning and eliminate the sticky feeling.
Why does my pan smell weird?
Cast iron cookware may develop unwanted odors from the food you have cooked in it. To remove the smell, sprinkle a generous amount of table salt onto the surface and let it sit overnight. The next day, wash and dry it thoroughly, and season it if required.
Do I have to season cast iron pans I just bought?
It’s common for cast iron cookware to come pre-seasoned, but adding more layers of seasoning will enhance its nonstick properties. So, even if it’s pre-seasoned, the best practice is to wash and dry your new cast iron piece, then season it several times before first use.
Why does my pan smoke when I season it?
To avoid smoking and ensure a better seasoning for your cast iron pan, it’s best to use a neutral oil with a high smoke point, such as grapeseed or canola oil, instead of an oil with a low smoke point.
With proper attention to how to clean cast iron pans and regular seasoning, your cookware will become a family treasure that you, and even your kids, will cherish for years to come.
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