People rave about the benefits of their cast iron skillet: Oh, the heat retention! The stovetop and oven flexibility! The dietary iron! The nonstick surface (after seasoning)! But then there's the cleaning, a task which stirs up conflict faster than a Hillary-Trump presidential debate. Cleaning your cast iron doesn't have to be so tricky. Here's how:
- It's best to start off with a seasoned cast iron pan. If your pan hasn't been seasoned yet, rub it with oil and heat it. Each successive time you cook with it, the oil, butter, or animal fat will form another non-stick layer that also prevents rusting. Get cooking.
- Now it's time to clean. Rinse your cast iron pan with hot water and wipe out the dirty bits with a sponge or brush. Don't use soap — unless your pan has years of layered, polymerized seasoning on it — or steel wool, because that can strip off the pan's seasoning, especially with newer pans. Don't put it in the dishwasher either.
- If you need something more abrasive to get out the leftover food gunk, place a spoonful of coarse sea salt or cornmeal into your dirty cast iron skillet. Pour an equal amount of cooking oil, such as canola, vegetable, or corn, over the salt.
- Using a paper towel, rub the salt-oil paste in a circular motion to remove the unwanted bits. You can use a metal spatula to scrape off any hard-to-remove debris.
- When you're satisfied, wipe out the salt and any excess oil from the pan.
- If your pan is really bad and burnt, you can rinse it with water again and dry thoroughly. Very thoroughly. (If water stays on the pan too long, it will rust.) If you use a cloth, have a cast-iron-dedicated cloth because the pan can blacken the cloth.
- Another way to dry it is by placing the pan over high flame for a few minutes. Then once it's cool, rub in some oil again until you've got that nice sheen, and heat it again for a couple minutes to avoid the oil from making the pan smell rancid or become sticky.
Need more? Harry Rosenblum, co-owner of Brooklyn Kitchen, shows us how he cleans his cast iron pans in our video.
How to Clean a Cast Iron Pan
Now that you know, try some of our cast iron skillet recipes:
1. Eggplant and Mushroom Polenta Bake
Because this recipe contains acidic tomatoes, if your cast iron pan isn't well seasoned, use use a heavy-bottomed ovenproof skillet or enameled cast iron pan instead. All the savory, earthy filling is topped with creamy polenta, made even more awesome by Parmesan and tons of fontina cheese. Get our Eggplant and Mushroom Polenta Bake recipe.
2. Skillet Pizza
Making the dough takes awhile, but once you have that part done, the rest is easy. Cast iron pans are the best when you need put the pan on the range first and then in the oven. The toppings are up to you, but tomatoes, burrata cheese, basil leaves are suggested. Get our Skillet Pizza recipe.
3. Skillet Cornbread
This is a dryer version of some cornbread recipes, meant to be a vehicle to wipe up that chili or barbecue sauce. The other bonus to it is you don’t need to buy buttermilk to make this cornbread. If you want more moist version that requires buttermilk, try our Basic Skillet Cornbread recipe. For the regular-milk, drier variety, get our Skillet Cornbread recipe.
4. Easy Salmon with Lemon and Capers
This is another recipe for well-seasoned cast iron skillets only. The lemon's acidity can strip the lightly seasoned newer frying pans. Otherwise, it's a great idea for dinner using your lovely cast iron. Get our Easy Salmon with Lemon and Capers recipe.
5. Cheesy Skillet Potato Cake
If your cast iron is used long enough to be considered a nonstick frying pan, then use it to make this perfect hangover food. Reminiscent of those scattered, covered, smothered, and chunked hash browns the inebriated love to get at Waffle House at 2 a.m., this is a good idea to satisfy a craving. Get our Cheesy Skillet Potato Cake recipe.
6. Skillet Pear Cake
Mmm, cake — in a skillet. Utilize the fall and winter fruit available and make this cake that you invert. It's got brown sugar, cinnamon, and pears that you sweeten further and soften until succulent. Get our Skillet Pear Cake recipe.
Header image: Chowhound's Eggplant and Mushroom Polenta Bake recipe
Amy Sowder is the assistant editor at Chowhound in New York City. She loves cheesy things, especially toasties and puns. She's trying to like mushrooms. Her running habit is the excuse for her gelato passion. Or is it the other way around? Follow her on Instagram, Twitter, and her blog, What Do I Eat Now. Learn more at AmySowder.com.