The Best Thing I Bought Last Decade Was a $16 Cleaning Tool for My Cast Iron Skillet

updated Feb 18, 2021
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Credit: Joe Lingeman

I’ve made a lot of kitchen-related purchases over the last decade. Some were biggies (I thought about that high-speed blender for months before taking the plunge). Lots were impulse buys (who actually goes off in search of Corgi-shaped salt and pepper shakers?). A few have sat in drawers, unused for years. Most items, I use on the reg. But no single purchase has served me better, or has been more crucial to an enjoyable and efficient cooking experience than my chain link scrubbie. It cost me around $16, but it’s worth its weight in gold. Honestly, probably double its weight. Let me explain.

I cook almost exclusively in cast iron. In fact, I don’t even own a traditional nonstick pan. I love how the heaviness of well-made cast iron distributes heat evenly. My pans get hot and they stay hot. I do a lot of searing, sautéing, and roasting — and I don’t fear the crispy bits. While this means I enjoy golden-brown veggies and proteins with aaaall of the crunchy edges, it also means my pans take a beating. If you’ve ever tried to wash caramelized sweet potato from a skillet, we have lived through the same struggles.

I used to go to town on my dirty cast iron with soap and water, and a disposable plastic scrubbie. And while I knew that soapy H2O wasn’t ideal for my pans, I just didn’t have the patience for other cleaning methods. (I’ve never been a big fan of the “scrub with kosher salt” trick — it wastes salt, and stings any cuts on my fingers!) So for years, I would get caught in a cycle: gradually strip back all of the seasoning on my pans, then spend hours re-seasoning them. It was… not fun. It was time-consuming. It cost me more in scrubbies than I care to calculate.

Credit: Rochelle Bilow

This all changed when I brought a chain link scrubber into my kitchen, my life, and my heart. You may have seen them around the internet and thought, “Hmm. Weird. Knights of the Round Table vibes.” Or maybe that was just me. But this skeptic turned into a believer after just one use.

The thick, heavy stainless steel works harder than a disposable scrubbie, which means it can stand up to sticky food and oil residue. And short of tossing it in a trash compactor, I honestly don’t think you could do anything to break this thing. So consider your one-time $16 purchase very well-advised.

Unlike metal spatulas or spoons, the scrubbie has no sharp edges. In other words: It won’t scratch up the surface of your precious and hard-earned seasoning! But it will dislodge any stuck-on bits of food. After a few uses, I discovered that I didn’t even need soap. Just a little hot water will do. (That was a huge win, because no matter how well I rinsed off the dish soap, I always detected a detergent-y aftertaste in my meals.) After a rinse and a scrub, I dry the pan with a towel and heat it with a splash of sunflower oil rubbed into the bottom and sides. Done and done.

The scrubber itself is made from high-grade non-rusting stainless steel. That’s helpful, because I’ll often give it a quick wash and toss it in my draining rack to air-dry. (I will never hand-dry dry a dish if I don’t have to!)

Honestly, I could go on for pages about how much I love this thing, but I don’t want to sound like an infomercial — and besides, what I like most about this chain link scrubber isn’t even a specific quality. It’s the fact that it has made me love my cast iron again. Before purchasing it, I realized that a slow dread would creep in when I prepared meals, because I was anticipating the impending drudgery of scraping and scrubbing my pans. I hated cleanup so much that it soured the experience of cooking and eating my meals. Although I don’t think I’ll ever love washing up as much as I love stirring the pot, this tool has turned a terrible task into an almost-pleasant ritual. It is the best kitchen purchase I have ever made.

What’s the best thing you bought for your own kitchen these last 10 years?