Cleaning cast iron pans for lazy people
March 5, 2018
Cast iron pans have seen a resurgence in popularity in recent years and for good reasons. They are a great tool, they last forever, they are affordable, and they are healthier than teflon alternatives. Plus, they exude some always popular nostalgic, vintage vibes. Win, win.
Anyways, the internet at large will tell you in one sentence that “cast iron skillets are bulletproof” and in the next sentence explain to you how critical it is that you care for it in the exact right way. To be fair, some this advice is warranted as the way to clean one is different than a normal non-stick pan.
But a lot of the advice out there is high effort, low return in my opinion. The chemistry of cast iron seasoning suggests using flax seed oil1, The Alton Brown method recommends cleaning with kosher salt2, and Lodge even makes a product designed for scraping their pans3.
Here is what I recommend after years of tinkering around
- Get yourself some sort of steel scouring or scrubbing pad - like this one.
- Never use soap
- Run the pan under water and scrub the hell out of it using said pad (use the same pad for as long as possible, mine has been going strong for over a year so far)
- Take the wet pan and immediately put it on a hot burner on the stove to dry
Here is why this works. The scrubbing pad accumulates lots of grease after a few uses. So while it is removing food particles, it is also smearing oil around the pan. By drying the pan over heat, you’re doing a sort of mini-seasoning every time and eliminating any risk of rusting.
Lastly, and most importantly – this approach works because it is easy and quick. Once you know you can quickly and easily clean the pan then you will use it more. Using it more and more helps the pan build up layers of oil that have bonded into the metal over time. The best cast iron pans are always the ones getting the most use. Ask your grandmother.
Is this the perfect technique? No, probably not. But I can clean a cast iron skillet in a few moments without any hassle and it is always in good shape the next time I go to use it. Good enough for me. The salt technique took too much time. Rubbing oil into the pan with a paper towel tends to leave some paper fibers behind on the pan, which ends up making things stick. Keep it simple. Metal on metal. Dry over high heat. Done.
Note: you should definitely still properly season your pan from time to time. This is just for day to day upkeep.
Flax seed oil never worked very well for me despite spending a lot of time being very particular in trying to get it right. It ended up giving my pan an uneven, tacky surface. ↩
You’ll get sick of this method as you continue to pour more salt into the pan to try for a third time to scape off the stubborn last bits in your pan (and you want there to be stubborn bits – searing things on high heat is one of the great joys of using cast iron in the first place). ↩
They are okay but somewhat flimsy and the edge will inevitably melt if you clean the pan while it is warm (and, you know, easiest to clean…). ↩