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How to Clean a Cast Iron Skillet


Empty skillet pan resting on kitchen surface worktop

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A cast iron pan is an extremely versatile kitchen utensil: You can use it for baking, sautéing, pan-frying, and roasting, because cast iron distributes the heat very evenly. With the right care, you can enjoy a cast iron pan for a lifetime.

Frying is better when it’s seasoned

In order to achieve the best possible results when frying with a cast iron pan, it should be seasoned first. This is necessary so that nothing burns during later use. The surface of the pan is smoothed out during the seasoning process. If you clean a cast iron pan properly afterwards, it’ll become even more efficient and resistant with each use.

This pre-treatment is advisable even if the pan has already been seasoned by the manufacturer. Pans with an enamel coating are an exception - they can be used immediately. To properly season the cast iron pan, you can use either the hob or the oven, although many experts recommend the second option.

Seasoning the cast iron pan: This is how it works

Use a dry and clean kitchen towel to thoroughly clean the cast iron pan.

  • Heat the oven to about 250°C.
  • Add some oil to the pan and spread it with a paper towel until the inside is evenly covered with a thin layer of oil. Because of their low smoke point, linseed oil and olive oil work particularly well for this, but sunflower and canola oils also work.
  • Place the pan in the oven. The goal is for the oil to burn in completely and become smoky. This process takes about an hour.
  • Let the pan cool and rub it down with another thin layer of oil.

Alternatively, you can heat the oil in the pan on the hob for half an hour over medium heat. ideally, you'll repeat the process four or five times over the hob. Then your cast iron pan is seasoned and ready to use.

It's better not to rinse it

You have seasoned your cast iron pan professionally and are happy about the first great frying results? Now it’s important to preserve this condition. Never use washing-up liquid or abrasive sponges to clean a cast iron skillet. The dishwasher is also an absolute no-go! Conventional cleaning of a cast iron pan damages the seasoned surface – you’ll notice this when food burns. Worst case, your pan could get rusty.

Incidentally, acidic foods that remain in the pan for a long time have a similar effect. For example, if you prepare a dish with tomatoes, vinegar, wine, or citrus fruits, you should transfer it immediately after cooking. Otherwise, you risk the food tasting metallic and the surface loses its protective coating. If this happens the skillet must be seasoned again.

Gently loosen burnt-on food

Although it may seem strange, the grease residue that’s created during use is important and makes the pan better in the long run. Therefore, when you clean a cast iron skillet, less is more. The following methods are perfect to clean your pan:

  • Most of the time, just wiping it after use will clean a cast iron pan sufficiently. If you do this right after use, residue usually comes off easily. If something does burn on, it's best to remove the residue with a spatula.
  • You can also rinse your cast iron pan - but only with clear water and a washing-up brush. Brush the pan thoroughly under warm running water. It is important to dry the cast iron pan thoroughly after cleaning to prevent rust from forming.
  • It’s rare to find food residue in a well-maintained cast iron pan. If the skillet has already cooled and food residue has dried onto it, a brief soak in hot water will help. The emphasis, however, is on brief - this method should be the exception when you clean a cast iron pan.

Take good care of it after cleaning

After cleaning, your cast iron pan will appreciate an extra bit of care. Apply some cooking oil to a cloth and rub it thoroughly into the pan's surface in circular motions. If the hob or oven is still warm, you can then leave the pan to stand in the residual heat, so the oil absorbs better.

If you do notice rust in the pan at some point, that's no reason to throw it out: in this case, throw all the advice overboard and use washing-up liquid in conjunction with a coarse sponge to clean a cast iron pan. Afterwards, season the skillet again to restore the protective layer. Then simply hang up the cast iron to save space and if you now have the cleaning bug you could check out our other articles on how to clean kitchen cabinets, how to clean a toaster or granite worktop cleaning made easy. There’s bound to be an article that tickles your fancy.