Today I am sharing the third part to my cast iron series- How to clean cast iron after cooking and maintain it. Cast iron was such an intimidating thing to me when I first started and a lot of how I use it is based on trial and error. Here are my tips and what I have learned on how to clean and maintain your cast iron.
By now I have shared how to strip and re-season cast iron as well as how to cook in cast iron without sticking. For the last part of this series, I wanted to share how to clean cast iron after cooking and maintain it.
A lot of my cast iron “routine” if you will was found through trial and error. I remember searching the internet for tutorials, going by all the wrong advice and realizing that a lot of what I was experiencing was not being talked about on the internet. After a few years of cooking in cast iron, I have developed my own routine for caring for cast iron from getting a new pan all the way to regular maintenance to keep it lasting for years. And now I am sharing everything I have learned along the way with y’all!
Today I am sharing specifically on how I clean it after cooking as well as how I maintain it regularly to keep from having to regularly go through a re-seasoning process. I have never been through the process more than once with any of my pans and this maintenance is now second nature and so simple!
I think it is safe to say that I love all things from scratch, handmade and simple living from home décor to what I feed my family and the products I use. Join me in this lifestyle by joining the ES Blog Community. Gain access to a free resource page where I keep everything you need to create a handmade, from scratch home.
Included are downloadable and printable guides, e-books, planning pages, labels and more. You will also receive each blog post to your inbox and be the first on any updates with the blog!
Along with these posts I have added a free e-book all about cast iron. “Cast Iron Made Simple” has everything I have shared and more to simplify using cast iron for you. Download that and all other free resources below!
Is Cast Iron Good For Health?
Toxins from the chemicals making up the nonstick coating on pans can not only seep into the food you are cooking but also into the air in your home. For more specific information on health concerns of nonstick cookware, read this. Cast iron does not have this same issue. There is a lot of science behind this question and I am no expert but science has proven time and time again that nonstick cookware can cause many illnesses including cancer. It is also said that using cast iron can help fight an iron deficiency.
Benefits of Cast Iron
- Multifunctional- cast iron can be used on practically any cooking surface making one dish function like multiple.
- Longevity- Cast Iron pans can be passed down from generation to generation. They are sturdy and it would take a lot to ruin one. Usually the most they need is stripped and re-seasoned.
- Easy to obtain- There are quality cast iron skillets everywhere and they can be found at amazing prices. Many new pans can be found cheaper than non stick pan sets but even better, used ones can be found at thrift shops, garage sells, or antique stores for amazing prices. Or they are even gifted to you! Just recently I was given 3-4 skillets and a dutch oven for free! What a score. The dutch oven was in amazing shape and while the skillets were rusted a bit more, they will clean up very well.
- Healthier alternative- Now I kind of talked about this above but the terrible chemicals found in non stick pans are not an issue with cast iron. You can cater the seasoning to the oil of your choice. Some say you can even get iron from them in your food!
Do You Have To Clean Cast Iron After Every Use?
I do clean cast iron after every use BUT the “cleaning” does not always mean washing it like another dish. A lot of times, nothing is stuck on so cleaning is nothing more than wiping out a few crumbs. Sometimes I do need to scrub a little more depending on what was cooked. The bare minimum (and most favored) cleaning is wiping it with a dry towel after each use.
What Is The Best Way To Clean Cast Iron?
The best way to clean cast iron is when nothing is stuck on or messy. This means a quick wipe with a towel, a little oil and stacked back up on the stove. If you have food stuck on or a messier skillet, the best way is hot water and a wipe down with a rag, sponge or a stainless steel scrubber. I prefer the scrubber.
Should I Wait For Cast Iron To Cool Before Cleaning?
You should wait for it to cool enough to safely handle but I prefer to clean cast iron hot. I find it is much easier to get any food out and it helps with oiling after! While I have not heard this to be true, I do not like to send my cast iron from one extreme temperature to another so cleaning with hot water while it is hot seems to work really well.
How Often Do You Season A Cast Iron Skillet?
For the initial seasoning and a more thorough seasoning I have only done it once for each pan. By maintaining my cast iron well and applying fat and heat after cleaning, cast iron gets a mini seasoning every use, making the seasoning stronger daily.
How To Clean Cast Iron After Cooking And Maintain It- Video
How To Clean Cast Iron After Cooking- Step By Step
I like to keep this as simple as possible. If there are just loose crumbs after making something like pancakes, I will just give a quick wipe down with a dark towel. This is ideal and while it won’t always be the case, this is what makes cast iron so easy.
Sometimes though you will cook something with a sauce like gravy or pot pie. While this maybe is not stuck on and needs a good scrub, it will still need washed. For this, I run the pan under hot water and using a rag or stainless steel scrubber clean off any residue. Be sure to dry really well to avoid rust. My suggestion is to put the wet pan back on the burner to let the heat dry any water but a lot of times I will just dry with a towel.
If you have something cooked on or harder to get off like eggs or cheese, this is where the stainless steel scrubber will come in handy! I like to do the same as above and run it under really hot water. Then I take the stainless steel scrubber to the stuck on bits and they come right off.
Now, if your seasoning is good this should not be much of an issue but if the stainless steel scrubber does not take care of any stuck on food, the next step is to simmer. Put enough water in the pan to cover the area with the stuck on food. Put the pan back on the stove burner on medium heat and allow to simmer for a few minutes. You can use a spatula to carefully scrape at the food and pan. Once cooled enough to touch, run under hot water and scrub with the stainless steel scrubber to clean. Again, be sure to dry the pan really well with a dark towel or place on the stove to dry.
How To Maintain Cast Iron- Step By Step
Maintenance is where I have found the most success in using cast iron. I have had pans for several years now that have not had to be re-seasoned since my initial seasoning and they still show no signs of needing it. I work hard to maintain my pans well in a way that almost re-seasons them after every use.
After cleaning and drying, coat the pans in a light layer of oil by covering the entire surface and wiping any excess with a dark towel.
Place back on the stove on medium heat until the pan begins to smoke, showing that the oil has reached smoking point for proper bonding.
Do this with every pan after cleaning and it will be ready for use everytime you need it and the seasoning will get stronger and stronger.
I also try to clean a pan immediately after every use and I try not to let the pan sit with food in it. This will make cleaning easier and the maintenance process more effective. Now, I’m not one to use a separate dish for storage though and many times I will put anything left over straight into the fridge, still in the cast iron. Clearly this means leaving food sitting in it for extended periods of time but this is so efficient for reheating leftovers later. If you do this, I have a few tips:
- If you plan to reheat the food in the same cast iron pan, pull the food out of the fridge and allow to warm a bit on the counter. I do not like to place cold cast iron straight into a hot oven or on a hot stove. You could even place it in the oven before it preheats to allow it to slowly heat up.
- Once the food is out, run hot water over the pan for a few minutes to warm up any stuck on bits that had time to set in. This is where the hot water, stainless steel scrubber and possibly simmering on the stove will come in handy.
- Do a good layer of oil and pop back in the oven or on the stove after cleaning to give it more time to better the seasoning.
Another thing I am careful about is going from one extreme temperature to another. I have never heard of anyone destroying a pan by doing this but it definitely does not sound efficient or good for your pans. I never pull a cold pan out of the fridge and place it in a hot oven or on the stove hot. I also do not like to run cold water over a hot pan. I slowly increase and decrease temperatures to maintain the integrity of the pan.
My last step for cast iron maintenance is to use it often and oil/heat it after every cleaning. The more use and fat it has, the better the seasoning will get!
I left food in my pan too long and now it is stuck on and won’t come off.
Go through the steps outlined in the how to clean cast iron after cooking- step by step section. If none of these work, refer back to my how to strip cast iron and re-season it post because it likely will need a bit more work!
Why does my cast iron look blotchy?
Your seasoning is off! I would start by removing any food that is stuck on (if any) and then do a light coat of oil and place on a burner for a few minutes. If it is still blotchy or food is still stuck on, look at re-seasoning. This process can be found here.
I scraped the seasoning off of my cast iron pan. What now?
It is likely that you did not. I have never had this happen even despite using metal utensils and scraping pans as well as using a stainless steel scrubber on them. I suggest a light oil and some heat! I suggest this to fix a lot of issues. If you are having a problem with ALL foods sticking (not just things like eggs) then I would look at stripping and re-seasoning your pan.
More Cast Iron:
More Cooking Basics:
- Cooking From Scratch The Simple Way
- How To Make A Sourdough Starter From Scratch
- How To Cook Dried Beans
More From Scratch Food:
- Sourdough Bread No Knead and Easy Recipe
- Creamy Pot Pie Soup
- Meatloaf with Brown Sugar and Butternut Squash
- Sourdough Pie Crust