Cast Iron Care: not for the germaphobic

These are my cast iron skillets. I adore them.  I won’t make pineapple upside down cake or cornbread in anything else. My great grandmother bought them; she used them, my grandmother used them, my mother used them, and now I use them. They are seriously seasoned. And they survive and look fabulous to this day because I follow, as taught to me by all those women before me, The Rule of Cast Iron: Soap is the enemy. Look, it just IS. You just cannot convince me it’s okay to use soap on a cast iron skillet. It’s not. I once nearly fired a maid service because they used SOAP to clean a skillet. I wanted to cry.

So here’s what I do: after frying up bacon (saving the grease for green beans and cornbread, obviously), sausage, pancakes, whatever, I get to work cleaning the pan. It’s easiest to do this while the pan is still warm, so hop to it. For most situations, I do a quick rinse under HOT running water. If there’s anything really stuck, I use a stiff brush that I keep just for the purpose of cast iron and scrub stuck-on bits off under HOT running water. Then I set the pan back on the warm burner on the stove and leave it on till all the water evaporates (rust is not your friend). When it’s completely dry, put a little oil in the pan — olive oil, shortening, whatever — and briskly rub it around with a paper towel till all surfaces are covered. The end. I keep mine stored in a stack with paper towels in between them to absorb any errant moisture in the air (again, that rust thing).

And that’s it. Seriously. It’s not hard, but there is a method to it. And the method does not, ever, not even once, involve soap.

/lecture

What to do if your cast iron is a little less than kitchen-ready?

Start by removing any possible rust. Pour some salt on the pan (kosher is great) and cut a potato in half. Use the potato like a brush and scrub the salt around to loosen everything up.

Then scrub it under super hot water with a stiff brush (not wire — like a stiff dish scrubbing brush), and set it on a burner on low-medium to dry completely.

Now the stinky part: re-seasoning! Cover the bottom rack of your oven with foil — it’ll make any drips easier to clean up. Now melt about a Tbsp or so of Crisco in the cast iron on the stove top. Use a paper towel to wipe the melted crisco over ALL surfaces of the pan — the handle, the top, the bottom, the edge, etc. Everywhere.

Put it upside down in the oven, and turn the oven on to 350. Bake for at least an hour, then turn the oven off, but leave the pan in there till it’s cool. And voila! I bet you have a pretty spiffy looking pan at the end.

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22 thoughts on “Cast Iron Care: not for the germaphobic

  1. Hooray for cast iron! I’ve had my skillet for more than 15 years now, and it’s my favorite piece of cookware. I’ve completely stripped and re-seasoned it once…b/c the Dude accidentally cooked (and left) TOMATO sauce in it. Grrrrr. He knows better now.
    Ack! Left it IN there! The Yankee has a healthy fear (okay, I instilled it) of cleaning the cast iron. He loves them for cooking, but when he’s done he (wisely) says, “Okay if I leave this skillet for you to clean?” Hee hee…. wise indeed!

  2. What an awesome how-to. My husband is obsessed with the care of our cast iron, which makes it easy on me!
    That DOES make it easy! 🙂 How fabulous!

  3. I collect tips on how to do this at my cast iron skillet blog, but have never heard this one. You don’t bake the skillet with high heat? Just coat and forget? For generations??

    Well in the beginning with a newer pan to season, yes, and to save a damaged pan yes — bake. But for daily use? Nope, just coat and forget. For generations. 🙂 The seasoning is SO baked in and on at this point that it’s just not necessary.

  4. Max Caviar says:

    i agree that what you describe is satisfactory for a skillet that is already pretty well seasoned. but for years i battled with CI skillets’ tendency to have food adhere to it until i came across one cleaning tip that changed everything for me. whenever the skillet gets gunked up with sticky or cruddy stuff that won’t seem to come off with just hot water and a stiff brush (or your fingernail, bleh!). pour a small mound of course sea salt in the skillet, then dump some oil over the salt, then scrub the oil/salt mix into the skillet with a rag in a circular motion until the stuff comes off, and it always does. the salt will often turn brown as you go, but it usually takes less than a minute to get it perfectly clean. then just wipe the salt into your sink and your done. though the salt can definitely cut right through your patina if you scrub too hard, since there is oil already in the mix, any exposed raw CI is instantly coated with more oil so it doesn’t oxidise in a split second as it tends to do.

  5. Daphne Alt says:

    Hey Erin! I also love cast iron, but would like to strip one of my great grandmother’s pans that I use all the time. It has a lot of stuff gunked on the bottom that just irritates me. It looks like several years of gunk, not just a left on stick as you were describing with the potato/salt method. Do you have a proven method to strip all this off and re-season it?
    Hey girl! Do you have a picture of it? I would be wary of taking off too much on a pan that old. I can tell you that I tried the self cleaning oven cycle on a pan and it was a colossal failure — created rust! I would try salt/oil and a stiff brush, then bake on some more oil and see how that looks.

    • Liz says:

      We buy antique cast irons. Leave them in a bag with oven cleaner for a reward days and clean really well then reseason. I actually am of the method that uses soap for cleaning occasionally (lots of stuff you read it really is okay) and mine work like a dream. Perfect every time

  6. andrea says:

    What am I supposed to do if I have a new set of cast iron? I read that the company puts a coating on it that I need to remove and am afraid to do anything because there seem to be so many different opinions…

    • Andrea, what kind did you get? If it’s pre-seasoned (the pans will be black) then you’re good to go right out of the box. If it’s unseasoned (silver, not black) then you’ll want to wash the food-grade wax off with very, very hot water, a stiff scrubbing brush and soap. This is the only time to use soap on your cast iron. From there you can carry on with seasoning your cast iron as in the post; the part below “What to do if your cast iron is a little less than kitchen-ready?.” Hope that helps!

  7. I love the title of this post. It’s *so true*. That was my first reaction, when I was reading on how to care of cast iron. “What about the germs?!” I mean, I already knew hot water did more to kill germs than the dish soap did, but, it was just so weird to me. I got over it, though.

  8. Heidi says:

    I have used cast iron for years! My dads pans got passed on to me and I use them daily!!! I HAVE ALWAYS USED SOAP TO CLEAN THEM!! Never had a problem, never hurt them, doesnt hurt the seasoned pan! Hot water and a little dish soap and a cheap non-abrasive scrubber and you have a sparkeling clean pan! I oil my pans after every use and I do dry them over heat so they dont rust! BUT, sorry I dont agree with the NO SOAP rule!! THANKS for the Info!!!!

  9. dorothy says:

    Heidi..could not agree with you more. I have used them for 45 years and always cleaned mine with hot water and soap…..did I mention some of these are probably near 100 years old (my grandmothers). She always cleaned them withhot soapy water, ane she did not have crud on them.

  10. Lynn says:

    What I am most interested in knowing is… My husband bought me the silver iron skillets 20 years ago. I did as the directions said, but the skillets did not turn out right. I did not know how to clean them at the time so I used dish soap. There were 4 skillets in all, 3 of them look really good, but the 4 one still has stains in the middle of the pan that I cannot get out. Did I put to much shorting on them when I baked them to cause this to happen? After 20 years I finally pulled them out this week, and decided I should do something with them. I would really love to send you a picture of this skillet for you to determine if can be saved. Like I said it’s never been used. I only seasoned it and it came out looking awful..I was disappointed because it was a Christmas gift from my husband. If you have any answers for me please contact me ASP. Thanks, Lynn

  11. Cassie says:

    I have been trying to find info on how to take care of cast iron skillets since I just bought one a few months. Not understanding @ the time what seasoning was and still kinda don’t. (Thought it was just adding salt and pepper to pan after washing it lol with soap.) Yikes after reading your blog! Can the pan still be saved after using soap and yes letting it soak like other pans? 😦 Any help will be appreciated. What are the best foods to cook in them also.

    Thanks
    Cass

    • Of course it can be saved! 🙂 I have saved rust bucket looking pans; not a problem. Does it have any rust on it now?

      The best thing to cook in it at first is anything fatty: bacon, ground beef, sausage; that kind of thing. Stay away from anything tomato based for now. Want to send me a picture of your pan?

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