How to Clean a Cast Iron Skillet

POSTED May 18, 2018

Plenty of experienced cooks swear by the cast iron skillet. It’s perfect for searing meat, creating one-pot masterpieces (like this Cheesy Meatball Skillet), and even baking bread. Plus, if you care for your cast iron skillet properly, it’s a natural non-stick pan. Problem is, cleaning a cast iron skillet can be a bit tricky. If the process has left you mystified, don’t worry–we can explain exactly how to clean a cast iron skillet.

How to Clean a Cast Iron Skillet in 5 Easy Steps

When it comes to cleaning your skillet, you need to pay attention to the “don’ts” as much as the “do’s.” For starters, you don’t want to use soap or steel wool to clean your skillet. And you should never put it in the dishwasher! One benefit of using cast iron is that the pan becomes “seasoned” with baked-on oil over time. This creates a protective coating so your food doesn’t stick to the pan when you use it. By learning how to clean a cast iron skillet the right way, you’ll maintain your skillet for the long haul. Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Soft sponge or brush
  • Kosher salt
  • Towels for drying
  • Vegetable oil or shortening
  1. Clean the skillet. Use a soft sponge or brush to clean the pan as soon as you’re finished cooking. Many people prefer not to use soap during this step because it can strip away the seasoning on the pan.

  2. Use a scrubbing agent if necessary. If you notice any bits of stuck-on food or grime, kosher salt should do the trick. Sprinkle enough kosher salt to lightly cover the bottom of the pan, and then add enough water to make a paste. Use your sponge to scrub the pan and then rinse it well.

  3. Dry the skillet. Water is the enemy of a cast iron skillet. You should never allow your skillet to sit in the sink or soak in water because it can rust quickly. After you clean your skillet, use several towels to dry it completely. If you want to be extra careful, place the skillet over high heat on the stove. Any extra water will evaporate.

  4. Add oil. Before you put your skillet away, you want to add an extra layer of protective coating to make sure it’s still well-seasoned. To do this, simply add a light coating of canola, vegetable, or corn oil with a cloth or paper towel. Then buff away the oil until you can’t see any visible greasiness. When you’re done, it should hardly look like you’ve oiled the pan at all.

  5. Heat the pan on the stovetop. Set the pan over high heat until it starts smoking. Once the pan has cooled, store it in a dry place until you’re ready to use it again.

Other Cast Iron Care Tips

Now you know how to clean your cast iron skillet. But what happens if you mess it up? Don’t worry! You can rescue a cast iron skillet in almost any condition. Here are some cast iron care tips to help you troubleshoot common problems:

  • Your pan has gray or splotchy spots. This probably means your pan needs to be re-seasoned. No problem! Scrub the dry pan with a piece of steel wool. Then wash it out with soap and water. Dry the pan completely and rub a small amount of cooking oil into it. Place a piece of foil on the bottom rack of your oven and put the pan upside down on the top rack (make sure it’s over the foil to catch any oil drips). Bake the pan in the oven at 350 degrees for 1 hour and then allow it to cool in the oven. Now it’s ready to use again!
  • Your pan is rusty. You might be surprised how quickly a little water can cause your pan to rust. Use steel wool to remove all the rusty areas and then wash the pan with soap and water. Then follow the directions above to re-season the skillet.
  • You need to remove an odor from the pan. A fish dinner tastes delicious, but it can leave your pan smelling kind of funky. Fortunately, you can remove any odors from the pan by placing it in a 400 degree oven for 10 minutes. Those stinky oils will cook off in no time, leaving your cast iron skillet ready for your next meal.

Sometimes cast iron cookware can seem a little high maintenance. But don’t let that stop you from using it! All it takes is a little oil and some heat to keep your skillet in top shape.

Our favorite skillet meals

Cheesy Meatball Skillet
Cheesy Mini Gnocchi Skillet
Skillet Polenta Pizza

Need some more inspiration? Check our gallery of recipes!