7 Great Reader-Submitted Tips for Taking Care of Cast Iron
While I cook with my cast iron pan often, I wouldn’t call myself a cast iron expert. I’m still learning the ins and outs of properly caring for my pan, and, like many novice home cooks, I’ve had my fair share of hiccups along the way. (If you’re a beginner like me, learn from my mistakes: Don’t use a lot of dish soap on cast iron.)
So when I wrote this article last summer about my experience foraying into the world of cast iron, I was glad to receive some super-helpful emails — and some equally great stories — about readers’ experiences with their own pans. Here are some of the best tips I got about how to get the most out of your cast iron, from, ahem, seasoned cast iron users.
1. Clean cast iron with a nylon pan scraper.
You’ll need a bit of scouring power when you’re scrubbing burnt-on bits from your pan, but be careful not to use harsh products, like steel wool, which can damage your skillet. One reader, who’s been using her cast iron skillet for nearly 30 years, swears by these Pampered Chef Nylon Pan Scrapers. “They get the bulk of the stuck-on residue off in short order,” she says. “We then use a stiff brush with hot water. We rarely use soap and I stopped using salt long ago.”
2. Harness the power of boiling water.
Another reader learned a go-to cleaning trick from a North Woods Field Guide. And you probably have all of the ingredients you need for it. “Simply pour a cup or so of fresh water into the skillet, turn on the burner, and boil the water for a minute or two,” she says. “If needed, run a metal spatula across the bottom and sides and every burned-on remnant of food will come right off with no scrubbing.”
After you pour out the scalding water, carefully wipe the hot skillet with a paper towel. Then, pour a teaspoon of vegetable oil in the dry hot skillet and rub it around with another paper towel so it’s ready for the next use. “The skillet always stays seasoned, never rusts, and is less difficult to clean than ‘regular’ skillets,” she says.
3. Use water, salt, and olive oil.
Another reader, who grew up watching her mom using cast iron for all kinds of kitchen tasks, uses a three-ingredient method to keep her pan clean and seasoned. First, rinse your pan with warm water and sprinkle a few shakes of table salt onto the surface. Then, after adding a couple spoonfuls of olive oil, rub the pan with a clean paper towel, rinse out the salt, and wipe dry. “If your oven is still warm, throw it in and that will keep it seasoned properly,” she says. “If you always heat the pan before adding food, it won’t stick.”
4. Scrub with Scotch-Brite blue scrubbers.
One reader suggests a gentle scouring method. First, he rinses his pan right after cooking. Next, he scrubs the pan with these Scotch-Brite non-scratch scour pads. Not only do these scrubbers not damage the surface of cast iron, but, he says, “They also work wonders and don’t remove any or the seasoning or buildup.”
5. Wipe it with an old bandana.
The same reader, who’s as digilent about seasoning his pan as he is cleaning it, says he prefers flax oil or olive oil for seasoning (other fats like avocado oil or lard work well, but because cast iron is porous, you might notice the flavor seep into your food). After seasoning, he rubs in and wipes away the excess oil with an old bandana or handkerchief. “If you use a towel with lint, the lint can get into the iron itself in small particles,” he says.
6. Use salt.
My favorite method for cleaning cast iron is with salt and a bit of water. The salt crystals scour just enough to gently scrub the pan without running the risk of scratching it. And according to one very smart reader, this salt method actually enhances the seasoning process. How? Science! Over time, layers of oil build up on the surface of cast iron to make it nonstick. Salt naturally aids in the bonding process of oils into long-chain molecules, which, essentially, do a better job of fully coating the pan’s surface.
7. Bring oil to its smoke point.
More science, from the same reader: To get the most out of your oil, spread it on your pan after you clean it and heat the skillet until the oil smokes. “At the smoke point, the oil starts making those long-chain molecules and [you] end up with a ‘well-seasoned pan,’” they say.
Do you have a tip for caring for cast iron? Leave it in the comments below!