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You've Been Cleaning Your Cast Iron Pan Wrong Your Entire Life

Eat This, Not That! logo Eat This, Not That! 9/16/2020 Olivia Tarantino
a close up of some shoes: how to clean cast iron skillet © Provided by Eat This, Not That! how to clean cast iron skillet

There's a reason (actually, a few) why cast-iron skillets are heirloom cookware: they're reliable, indestructible, multi-purpose, affordable, and extremely easy to use. Best of all, the more you cook with cast-iron cookware, the better it prepares all your favorite cast-iron skillet recipes. That is, of course, as long as you care for it properly.

Properly caring for and cleaning cast-iron starts with understanding what sets this cookware apart from the stainless steel or non-stick pans in your kitchen cabinets. The secret lies in an age-old process: seasoning. Seasoning refers to the process by which you add oil to your cast iron to create a protective varnish that keeps your pan non-stick.

It's this seasoning that has been at the root of a hotly debated topic in the culinary world: how do you clean a cast-iron skillet so that you maintain this seasoning but also make sure the pan is clean? And is it ok to use soap on your cast-iron cookware?

Read on, and for more on how to eat healthy, make sure you avoid these 108 Most Popular Sodas Ranked By How Toxic They Are.

The most common mistake people make when cleaning cast iron is by using soap. That's because it could remove this non-stick seasoning and get rid of all those built-up flavors that get caked into the pan from years of use.

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We talked to Lisa McManus, Testings and Tastings Editor of America's Test Kitchen, to find out the best method of how to clean cast iron. "My preferred method of cleaning a cast iron skillet is really fast and really easy," McManus tells us. Here are her steps:

1. Remove any loose food you just cooked.

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2. Wash: Turn the hot water tap on to get it as hot as possible (to reduce thermal shock to the hot pan). Holding the still-pretty-warm skillet with a potholder, run the pan under the hot tap water, while lightly scrubbing it with a brush, with no soap. (This brush is our winner, for about $8, or any long-handled brush that keeps you out of the heat.)

3. Dry: Wipe the pan lightly to dry, and return the pan to the burner you just cooked on. Turn the heat back on to low until the pan is completely dry, for a few minutes at most. (That keeps drops of water from trying to rust your pan between uses.) Shut off heat and let it cool right on that burner.

Although Lodge recommends seasoning cast-iron skillets after each use, McManus says that it's not necessary to do it every time. "If the pan's surface looks a little dried-out, add ¼ teaspoon (not kidding, that's all you need, just a drop) of any kind of cooking oil, wipe it all over the interior with a paper towel, until it looks like you've wiped it all right back off. Leave it on low to medium-low heat for three or four minutes, then shut off the heat and allow the pan to cool in place on the burner."

"Should you use soap? Normally you really don't need it," McManus tells us. "If you do what I just said, your pan will come clean with a good rinse and a light, no-soap scrub. If you have a pan you've been using a while and it has good seasoning, and you've got something super greasy, and you really want to use a drop of soap to cut it, it's not going to kill your pan. You may need to do the wipe-over of ¼ teaspoon of oil after you're finished, but it will be fine."

What should you do if someone tried to help you clean up after dinner and used soap on your cast-iron pan?  McManus reassures us "that's ok, too. Just rinse it well, dry it, wipe it with a very light coat of oil, heat it on the stovetop for 5 minutes or so, and let it cool. It will be OK. Cast iron pans are completely indestructible. Have fun and don't worry!"

While methods vary for how to clean cast iron, there's really no one right or wrong way to do it. (Well, except putting it in the dishwasher—do not put your cast-iron pan in the dishwasher.)

The consensus seems to be that you should use non-abrasive means of scraping food off the skillet (scraper, bristled scrubber brush, or chain mail — not steel wool), and that you don't need to use soap (although it's not bad if you do).

Cast-iron cookware is extremely forgiving, and it's easy to rescue any rusted pan. So even if you accidentally let your pan soak in the sink overnight or you scrubbed it for a quarter of an hour trying to get caked-on food off, as long as you season your skillet properly afterward, you can continue using it as you did before.

Now that you know how to clean your trusty pot, put it to good use by searing a rib-eye to perfection, whipping up a veggie and cheese omelet, and trying your hand at these cast-iron skillet recipes.

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