After you're done cooking with your cast iron pan, it needs to be hand-washed without soap. Here's what to do:
- Use a stiff brush or scrubbing pad under warm to hot running water, and vigorously rub off crusted-on food. Don't use soap. Nearly any crusted-on food will come off a seasoned cast iron pan with just a few minutes of scrubbing under running water.
- Give the pan a quick towel dry, using either a cloth dishtowel or paper towel.
- Turn your stovetop burner on to low or medium heat. Place the pan on the burner and let it stay there until the pan is bone-dry. This should only take a few minutes with a gas stovetop; an electric range may take ten to fifteen minutes to heat up and dry your pan.
- After the pan is completely dry, turn off the stovetop and let it cool off for about ten minutes.
- While the pan is still warm, give it a light coating of oil. Coating it with oil while it is still warm will help the oil be absorbed by the pores in the metal. As explained on a post to Reddit's /r/cooking forum: "When the metal pan is heated the whole thing expands, including the cracks and pores; they get larger, not smaller. In addition, the viscosity of the oil decreases when it gets hot, so it flows into those pores more readily. The heat also ensures that there is not even a trace of water in the metal, which would keep the oil out and cause rust if it were in the pores." – thales2012
- Let the pan cool off completely, and put away until next time.
The idea of washing a pan without using soap makes some people nervous. The science of chemistry explains that using heat to dry the pan after rinsing sterilizes it. You've basically boiled everything on the pan, and that's why you don't need soap. This is one reason why it's best to cook with your cast iron pan at a very high heat. The high temperature will kill harmful bacteria and give your food a clean sear. (Also, soap doesn't kill germs. Soap just cuts grease, which is why it's not recommended for seasoned cast iron.)
- See also: Seasoning Your Cast Iron Pan
How to Clean a REALLY Dirty Cast Iron Pan
Here is a #10 Griswold cast iron skillet. This pan was used to make Coq au Vin, the wonderful French dish of chicken stewed in wine. An important part of the recipe calls for boiling the chicken in wine, in order to reduce the wine to a thick sauce. This provides a delicious flavor…but as you can see, it results in a cooking pan coated with greasy sauce. What's more, this pan was left on the stove overnight, and the coating hardened to a thick, gelatinous consistency. To simply scrub this pan out would require enormous effort…or so you might think. In fact, a simple method removes cooked-on grime from most cast iron pans with little effort at all.
- Fill the pan about two-thirds full with hot water. Place it on your stovetop. Turn the heat up to medium-high.
- Bring the water to a roiling boil, and let it boil for a few minutes. With a wooden spoon, simply scrape away the worst of the gunk.
- After scraping off the scum, empty the dirty water. (Your pan will be hot, use a potholder!) At this point the pan will still need to be scrubbed. However, it will be far easier to scrub it off using the same method described above. Simply scrub off the excess with a scrubbing pad…
- …after a few minutes of scrubbing, the pan is clean.
- Wipe off your pan with a towel. Place the pan on your stovetop, and dry it on medium heat.
- Turn off the heat and let it cool down for ten minutes. Wipe a thin layer of oil onto the pan. Let the pan finish cooling off completely, and put it away for next time.
(Larger high-quality photos can be found on Facebook's Cast Iron Cooking group: Cleaning a Dirty Griswold Cast Iron Skillet.)
Return to our section on cast iron cooking.
Lodge Cast Iron offers their own video guide to washing a cast iron pan: