Learn How to Clean a Cast Iron Skillet, the easy way. And maybe a little lesson on how to season a cast iron skillet as well!
I get a lot of questions about cooking with and cleaning cast iron. Maybe it’s because I live in the Carolinas.
I will say, my cast iron skillets do have a much better season going on than they did before we moved here. Families in the south pass on well-seasoned cast iron like a precious heirloom.
So I’d like to clear up a few misconceptions about cast iron.
The first thing to know about cast iron skillets is that they must be “seasoned” in order to cook as a nonstick surface. The seasoning is a protective nonstick layer sealing the iron. This layer is developed over time by the microscopic pores in the iron absorbing fats.
In order the keep the season you must never wash a cast iron skillet with dish soap, which is a degreaser. If you do, you strip away the protective coating, which will cause your skillet to rust.
Let’s first talk about how to season a cast iron skillet, and then I’ll go into how to clean a cast iron skillet so you don’t lose your seasoning.
Most cast iron skillets you buy now days are sold as “pre-seasoned” but I always season them anyway, just to be sure. I’ll save my soapbox message on false advertising.
How to Season a Cast Iron Skillet
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Place a rimmed baking sheet on the bottom rack.
Then rub the skillet’s interior with a generous layer of vegetable shortening. Place the skillet on the middle oven rack up-side-down over the baking sheet.
Bake the skillet for approximately 2 hours. The pores in the iron will open and absorb the shortening, and the excess will drip down off the baking sheet. After 2 hours, turn off the oven and allow the skillet to cool to room temperature in the oven.
You should do this to new, or newly acquired, cast iron skillets and again anytime your seasoning seems to be wearing off, i.e. when the babysitter puts your cast iron skillet in the dishwasher!!
If you care for your cast iron skillets properly after you’ve seasoned them… you may never have to season them again. Through cooking and proper cleaning, the seasoning will improve over time.
How to Clean a Cast Iron Skillet
So now that you have a newly seasoned skillet, how should you clean it?
And a little bit of fresh water if needed.
Here’s how to do it…
Place a spoonful of salt in your dirty skillet. Pour an equal amount of cooking oil over the salt.
Using a paper towel, rub the salt-paste over the skillet in a circular motion to loosen debris.
If the food is really caked on, use a flat metal spatula to scrape it off.
Then… and this is important… wipe the salt out of the skillet and wipe out any excess oil.
The oil not only helps loosen the crud, it adds a little more “seasoning” to the skillet every time you clean it.
Think skillet moisturizer.
If you happened to overkill on the salt (or burnt something in your skillet and have a TON of debris) you can rinse your cast iron skillet with fresh water and dry thoroughly.
Then you’ll need to rub the skillet again with oil to make sure you’ve added that thin layer of seasoning.
I can feel some of you out there brooding over germs. Yep, I’m talking to you… You want to add a drop of dish soap to your skillet when no one is looking.
Did you know salt is antibacterial?
Rubbing your cast iron skillet down with salt and oil, is not only safe for your seasoning, but it naturally kills germs in the process. (Like swigging warm salt water in your mouth when you have a sore gums.)
And remember, this is a tool that gets heated to scalding temperatures day after day. Germs are not an issue here, I promise.
As long as you remove the debris with salt and rub the skillet with oil, each time you use it, your seasoned cast iron should just keep getting better and better with age!