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How to Clean a Cast Iron Skillet

How to Clean a Cast Iron Skillet

By Sharon MacGregor, Fed Well

Imagine a cast iron pot, pan, or skillet for a moment. It is dense, heavy, timeless, and has been a cooking choice for generations. It is beloved for its ability to hold heat evenly, which can result in beautifully browning and searing foods especially meat, its versatility, and is one of a few items from the kitchen which can truly be passed down through generations with love. Yet, for some reason, using a cast iron skillet seems a bit mysterious and intimidating as questions like how to season a cast iron skillet, how to care for a cast iron pan, and how do you clean a cast iron pan need to be properly understood before even setting a cast iron skillet or pan on the stove, grill, campfire or in the oven. 

Best results for learning how to care for cast iron skillets and how to clean a cast iron skillet begins with properly seasoning and cooking with these unique pans. Each step is simple, requiring minimum effort, a bit of attention, and good habits that will enable you to enjoy your cast iron for a lifetime. 

The first step is to learn how to take care of a cast iron skillet by seasoning it prior to use. 



This preliminary action promotes successful as well as tasty cooking while priming the cast iron skillet for proper use and care. It seems like a strange first step for those who have never used cast iron before but seasoning the pan simply means building a layer on the surface of the skillet that will prevent food from sticking, make clean up easier, and most importantly, prevents rust.  

Even cast iron pots and pans purchased with the claim “preseasoned” may benefit from this step as it creates a surface that is easier to release the food from as well as part of the care and maintenance routine required for cast iron. 

Seasoning can be done in three easy steps.  

  1. Apply a thin layer of cooking oil (consider vegetable or canola as they have high smoke point temperatures – meaning they can withstand high heat without filling the kitchen with smoke and setting off the smoke alarm) to the cast iron skillet or pan. 
  1. Place upside down in a preheated oven of 450 – 500 degrees Fahrenheit for about one hour with either a sheet of aluminum foil or an additional pan underneath to catch any oil drips. 
  1. Allow to cool and consider storing with a layer of paper towel between the seasoned cast iron pan and any other cookware to avoid possible moisture accumulation which in turn will cause rust. 


The second step in learning how to properly clean a cast iron skillet requires good techniques for cooking with cast iron cookware. Cast iron pans and skillets are quite versatile and can be used to cook a range of foods and meals from traditional eggs and bacon to sweet skillet desserts.  

Two tips to consider are: 

  1. Limit the use of metal tools such as spatulas, forks, and spoons when using cast iron. Try using silicone, wood, rubber or coated metal whenever possible. 
  1. Ensure the pan is heated to temperature before adding food. Placing ingredients in a cold pan will increase the odds of sticking, will not allow for a beautiful sear, and will reduce the ability of the food to brown. Test heat of the pan by sprinkling in a drop of water and if it sizzles or immediately evaporates, the surface is quite hot. 
  1. Avoid excessive liquids to pool or sit in cast iron. Remember, rust is the enemy of cast iron. Making pan sauces and gravies right in a cast iron skillet creates a greater depth of flavor and color – just make sure to remove all of the liquids for serving and do not let the pot or pan sit or soak in water.  


Cleaning cast iron begins with changing the questions: how to wash a cast iron skillet, how to wash a cast iron pan and how to wash cast iron to how do you clean cast iron? 

Once food has been cooked and removed from a cast iron pan or skillet, the first step is to remove all of the solids. Use a nylon, wood, bamboo, silicone, or plastic scraper to ensure all bits of food have been scraped away.  

Some also feel using coarse salt as a sort of abrasive at this step is an effective means to pry away any remaining food. However, heed this advice with a bit of caution as some also warn this to be damaging and cause pitting in the finish of the cast iron. 

Next, if additional food has stuck to the surface, it is perfectly acceptable to use hot, soapy water and a gentle cloth but the main point is to make sure the cast iron cookware does not sit damp or drip dry as this can cause rust. Instead, dry immediately, then place on a hot burner on the stove top or in the oven to ensure all moisture has been removed. 

Finally, the highly sought-after key step that answers all of the questions – how to clean a cast iron skillet, how to clean a cast iron pot, and how to clean a cast iron pan is to re-season it if necessary, by following all three of the steps above for seasoning cast iron, then place on a clean, dry, piece of paper towel or moisture wicking cloth between pieces of cast iron cookware before storing.  

The proper seasoning, cooking with, storing, and cleaning of your cast iron pots, pans and skillets will enable them to be used for a lifetime and passed down to future generations with the answers to, “How do you clean a cast iron skillet,” and “How to care for a cast iron skillet,” as you will be an experienced expert. 

Sharon MacGregor

Writing from her desk in New York, Sharon MacGregor is a contributing reporter, freelance writer, and blogger with a passion for human interest stories as well as meals shared with friends and family. Her blog, Fed Well includes recipes with upcoming tips to prepare foods for infants and toddlers, simple and seasonal cocktails, and easy modifications to create dishes respecting dietary restrictions including dairy and gluten intolerances. She loves entertaining for the ones she loves including her new grandbabies!

About The Author

Casey Christiansen

Casey supports the PR team at Zulily.


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