Dirty Cast Iron Skillet

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Cast-iron skillet users take their pans seriously, and rightfully so. A cast-iron pan that's in good condition can last decades when taken care of, and can be passed down from generation to generation. In fact, the use of cast iron in cooking dates back to 220 A.D. during the Han Dynasty, and was a popular method for cooking in the 1800s to early 1900s before experiencing a resurgence in the early aughts. 

People have a lot of opinions about how best to care for cast-iron skillets; take one look at the Reddit group CastIronCooking and you’ll find a wealth of information. When it comes to cleaning a cast-iron skillet, Redditors prove that there are a few ways to get the job done. 

@epicurious Listen to @protocooks — a little bit of soap and water your #CastIron ♬ original sound - Epicurious

Sometimes a wet paper towel and a little elbow grease is all you need to remove bigger chunks of dried food from your cast-iron pan. If that doesn't work, applying a bit of heat can help speed the process up.

“Get your pan hot, get a paper towel wet and squeeze it in there and let it ‘steam’ clean itself. You can usually just wipe it out with the paper towel," advises a Redditor. 

“If it's really tough stuff I might boil some water in the pan before hitting it with my nylon brush,” comments another user.

Using soap to clean a cast-iron skillet has been a hotly contested debate for years. As many Redditors explain, the misconception that you shouldn’t use soap is dated.

“There really is no reason not to use today's mild dish soap,” one Redditor writes. “Dish soap today, such as Dawn, doesn't contain the same type of chemicals (mostly lye) as it did 100 years ago when you were not supposed to use soap on cast iron. In fact it would be more accurate to say that today's dish soap is really dish detergent. Feel free to use if you want.” 

There’s also the salty way of cleaning a cast-iron pan. Pour a generous amount of coarse salt in the pan, then use a towel — or, as TikTok's @brunchwithbabs prefers, a potato — to scrub out any leftover scraps. One Redditor claims that this is “A little more resource heavy than a bit of water and scrubbing, but boy does this method work wonders.”

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Redditors recommend adding one of the following tools to your cast iron cleaning arsenal: a chainmail scrubber, a plastic scraper, or a stiff brush. Of course, which tool reins supreme also seems to spark significant debate.

​​”I’ve seen a lot of talk these past couple weeks about the appropriate cleaning tools, and not once have I seen the GOAT mentioned — nylon bristle brushes. There’s lots of hype around chainmail scrubbers, and to be frank, I don’t get it," says one Redditor. "Bristle brushes have the distinct advance of being able to get into the bend of pans with ease and are non-abrasive. To add, good bristle brushes have a stiff scraping edge, similar to a pan scrape."

Despite some differing opinions about cleaning a cast-iron skillet, there's one thing everyone seems to agree on: Don't soak the skillet in water (and don't even think about putting it in the dishwasher). Leaving cast iron in water for too long could lead to rust, damaging the pan. After cleaning, be sure to wipe it down before putting it away.

What about seasoning? Seasoning a cast-iron skillet requires spreading a thin layer of oil onto your skillet and then heating it in the oven or on the stovetop, which adds a protective layer to the pan and helps make it more water-resistant. While seasoning after each use isn't necessary, some Reddit users advocate for it.

“Some people (including me) oil their pans after every use,” one user writes. “By doing so you add another layer of rust prevention and just help build up the non-stick and gives you a head start on the next time you use your pan. Apply a very small amount of oil and then try to wipe it all off. ... I usually apply a thin enough layer to the pan, wipe it off, then leave it on the burner until [it] starts to smoke, and I haven't had any oil go rancid this way.”

Now that you've cleaned and seasoned your pan, it's time to get cooking. Need some ideas? Here are a few cast-iron skillet recipes to get you started.

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