You know that I try to give “value added” around here. If I thought that the advice you got on other sites was sound, I wouldn’t bother giving you my take. But I don’t. I think the posts I’ve seen about cleaning cast iron pans are written by people who are too young to remember the right way to do it. I’m not even that old!
I blame the sudden onset, back when I was a young bride, of nonstick cookware.
Nonstick brings along with it a set of kitchen utensils that are not really good for anything other than… cleaning nonstick. And those kinds of pans are very persnickety about how you take care of them. If you have nonstick, you begin to look at all your cookware as impossibly delicate, easily scratched, and doomed to ultimate failure… and the trash can. On top of how high-maintenance nonstick is, there’s no way it can be good for you as it burns the coating off right under your nose.
Cast iron is… cast iron. You are not going to harm it. It is not going to harm you.
With cast iron, there are two issues: Seasoning and cleaning.
For the deep scientific background and some good information on your cast iron pans, I suggest that you read this informative post.
I will try to give you the simple version!
Just keep these points in mind:
- You can’t season your pan with cooking oil, no matter what the “experts” say.
- You can’t season, or clean cast iron in a way that retains the seasoning, without a steel scouring pad and a stainless steel spatula. Yes, cast iron will often act quite nonstick. But the day will come when you will fry up a batch of sausage and your pan is going to have some cooked-on, burnt-up drippings.
Please don’t face this eventuality with a dumb sponge and silicone spatula that are meant for the Teflon. (For that matter, you will need the steel wool and metal spatula for your regular stainless pans after the pear sauce over-simmers et cetera.)
(This kind of thing will take a million hours with the sponge and lots of running water — or a quick pass with the spatula and steel scrubber.)
- You don’t need rubber gloves — although if you usually use them it’s fine. But you don’t need them.
- You don’t need tongs.
- You don’t need salt (I’m editing to add, having remembered after someone commented). You can use salt or even sand because you are trying to abrade, but it’s not efficient.
- A plastic scrubber will do you no good.
- You don’t need but one paper towel (you could use a rag but I strongly feel that paper towels have their uses and this is one of them).
Personally, and slightly but not fatally opposed to the link I gave you, I do use bacon fat or lard if I have it. The main point is that whatever you use has to have a very high burn temp. Cooking oils do not.
To season, scrub your unseasoned pan (the one you picked up at a yard sale or thrift store for nothing — a new pan usually comes seasoned already) with the steel scouring pad. Wash it with soap (the last time you’ll ever do this) and dry. Warm it on the stove. Then rub all over with bacon grease, lard, or flax oil — you can use a paper towel to do this — and then wipe off the grease with other side of the same paper towel.
Heat up your oven (Sheryl Canter in that link above says 500º), and stick the pan in for a good long time — an hour. Or put it on the stove on medium heat for a while — 15 minutes. Don’t worry. It will be seasoned. If you want a true durable seasoning that won’t wear off, follow her directions carefully. If you are fine with doing it every once in a while, follow mine. Eventually the seasoning will build up, although I find that cooking tomato sauce and other acid foods wears it off, so I do re-season mine occasionally.
Now it’s seasoned.
So I’m going to give you the quick tutorial on how to clean those pans, because once you learn it, you will love using them.
Using your trusty spatula, (and occasionally a stainless steel spoon for corners), scrape off all the cooked on bits in your pan — while running the water as hot as you can stand it. (For this you might need gloves, but the spatula keeps your hands out of the hot water.)
Now use the steel pad.
Remember, hot water only. No soap. Trust me. That is all you need.
You just have to accept that your pan will be conceptually greasy, although you will see that between the hot water and…
… the subsequent wiping with a paper towel, the pan will be clean.
Now put it on your stove — it needs to be dry. A burner that has been hot (on an electric stove) or a burner set on low (on a gas one) will do the trick. Leave it there until completely dry.
That’s it! It’s really so simple. The trick and secret is to accept that using soap is not the only way to get something clean! And in the case of cast iron, will just not work. Try this method and see what you think!
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