How to Properly Clean a Cast Iron Skillet

I love cooking with cast iron when I’m camping. Not only does it look rugged and cool, but cast iron retains heat really well which helps when cooking outside.

Cast Iron is very versatile and can be used in an oven, on a stove, or over a campfire (my favorite). It is also great because if you take care of your cast iron, it can be passed down to your kids or grand kids.

So how do you take care of your cast iron? More importantly, how do you properly clean a cast iron skillet? Let’s start with the seasoning.

Seasoning – Do This First

Before you ever use your cast iron, you will want to season it. This process is actually very easy and less intimidating than it sounds.

You will want to use some type of oil… which type of oil depends on who you ask. Many people have their preferences and widely discredit those who choose otherwise. But in reality you just need to use any oil that you have. Don’t get hung up on the details here.

I like to use Crisco or vegetable oil or flaxseed oil (this is probably the best in my opinion)

Place the oil you choose to use in the cast iron pan and rub it all around the entire surface (and underside) using a paper towel.

Once you have completely oiled the entire skillet, place it upside down on a baking sheet. Bake in the oven at 350 – 400 degrees for about 1 hour.

Now your cast iron skillet is seasoned and ready to be used. This step is crucial to the life of your cast iron as it will help it to not rust and also gives it that non-stick quality.

Easy Cleaning

If you have a cast iron skillet that doesn’t have food stuck to it, you can simply use a pot scraper to remove the bits and pieces. Or you can use a paper towel to wipe out the inside of the skillet and then throw it away.

This is the easy way to clean a cast iron skillet. However, there are times when you have cooked up a delicious feast over your campfire and your skillet is covered in stubborn, hard to remove chunks of food.

In a case like that, here’s what you need to do…

Cleaning Harder Stuck on Food

The first step is to get the big chunks of food out of the pan with a paper towel. Then you can use your pot scraper to scrape out any pieces that remain. The pot scraper comes in super handy when you are trying to remove any fat that has cooled and solidified.

Next you will need to use coarse salt to help remove any remaining stuck on food particles. The salt acts as an abrasive and I like to use it instead of steel wool. Simply pour salt into the pan and use a paper towel to scrub away.

Discard the salt after using it to clean your cast iron.

Tools You May Need

  • A Pot Scraper – for getting that stubborn stuck on food loose
  • Salt – for use in scrubbing your pan
  • Towel – for drying thoroughly, preferably lint free
  • Oil – for re-seasoning after cleaning

Last but Not Least – Absolute No-No’s

There are a couple of things you NEVER want to do when cleaning your cast iron skillets. Don’t worry, if you have done one of these in the past, it won’t destroy your cast iron, but let’s put those bad habits aside.

  • DON’T use metal cleaning tools that can be too abrasive (like steel wool for instance)
    • You want to avoid scratching your cast iron
    • Use salt as a natural abrasive for stubborn messes
  • DON’T soak your skillet in water
    • Soaking in water can give your skillet rust
    • a quick rinse is fine however
  • DON’T use soaps or harsh chemicals to clean your cast iron.
    • This can break down the seasoning

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