If you own a seasoned cast iron skillet or pan, rest assured it is possible to scrub it - but you need to be careful about how that's done. Never use detergent or harsh scrubbing pads on a seasoned skillet because it will destroy the seasoning. Seasoning refers to the oil that was added onto the skillet by the manufacturer after making it. The seasoning is all about making it easier to clean. It would be even more difficult to clean cast iron after cooking if it was not seasoned or if the seasoning was destroyed.
Rest assured, it is possible to clean a cast iron skillet with burnt on. It looks like a daunting task but it can be done when you follow these steps.
1. Scrub with a paper towel that has been dampened with water
The humble paper towel is your friend when you're cleaning cast iron pans! Simply dampen it with water (no detergent or soap). Then fold it into quarters and scrub. A paper towel won't damage the seasoning of your pan. This sounds too simple to be true, but I've found it works for all but the most stubborn baked on mess.
You might need to repeat this step a few times.
2. Let it soak in warm water for 5 minutes
If the paper towel scrubbing didn't work, then let your skillet sit for 5 minutes in warm water. Again, no detergent or soap. Keep this no longer than 5 minutes because cast iron can rust. This water soak will help loosen remaining stubborn burnt on bits. After this, go back to step 1 and scrub with a paper towel.
3. Use salt
If the first two steps did not work, dry your cast iron pan with a paper towel and sprinkle it with coarse salt. Use a dry paper towel to scrub the salt into the cooking stains. Then rinse off all the salt. If stains persist, go all the way back to step 1 and start over.
It can therefore be tricky to clean a cast iron pan, but it is very do-able provided you are persistent, patient and don't try to take shortcuts.
Cast iron cooking tips
Cast iron has some advantages for cooking:
- distributes heat well so items cook evenly
- can be used on the stovetop or in the oven
At the same time, there are also significant disadvantages of cast iron cookware. The main one of these is how to clean cast iron after cooking. As seen in the instructions above, it's harder to clean a cast iron skillet than a regular skillet because you can't use detergent or soak it in water for long periods of time.
The other problem with a cast iron pan is that the handle is bare metal, so if you're cooking something for a long period of time on the stovetop, the handle will eventually become too hot to hold without using an oven glove.
Cast iron is also very heavy which can be quite a disadvantage if you need to move a large and full cast iron skillet from the stovetop to a stand.
Therefore, the best approach to take when cooking with cast iron is to recognize that you don't need to use cast iron for everyday cooking. Consider first how easy or difficult it would be to clean the pan before you use it to cook a particular dish. Ideally you should own both a cast iron and a regular pan and use one or the other as needed.
Cast iron storage tips
The main goal for storing cast iron cookware is to avoid rust. Because of this, you should always store cast iron between dry paper towels. This will help prevent rust.
Also, never store cast iron in contact with any type of metal. At the point where two different metals touch, one will be able to oxidize the other, leading to rust on at least one of those - unless both have been treated against rust. This is why you can put two stainless steel pans in contact with each other and they won't rust (since they're treated against rust), but if you put cast iron in contact with any other metal it could cause the cast iron to rust. If you must stack your cast iron, just make sure to stack it against a glass or ceramic material, not a metal one.
If you love to cook and entertain, you might also like our article explaining how to easily handle it when party guests arrive early. This sticky situation can be a source of frustration but rest assured we've got you covered.