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Cleaning cast iron

Ramona King

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Southern Kitchen's foolproof guide to cleaning your cast iron skillet

With regular use and proper care, your cast iron skillet can last a lifetime. Here is Southern Kitchen’s how-to guide for cleaning your cast iron, every time.

If you're anything like us, you pull out your cast iron skillet just about every night when you're ready to cook dinner. From fried chicken to pancakes and everything in between, these pans are the true workhorses of the Southern kitchen. But they're not always the most intutitve pans to clean once the table has been cleared. Raise your hand if you've read more than one contradictory guide to cleaning cast iron. Us too.

Here's the thing: Cast iron isn't a precious little snowflake. It can handle almost anything you throw at it, and even if it looks rusted and busted, you can still — totally — fix it. You can even use soap and hot water to clean it. Yep, you read that one right.

So with that in mind, here's how we like to clean our skillets after each use. Do you do it differently? Good. Tell us all about your methods on Facebook or at editor@southernkitchen.com.

Step 1: Give it a salt scrub
Salt is a great first step for cleaning your cast iron skillet. Kosher salt (any brand) is a natural abrasive that does a wonderful job picking up any grease and food particles. Simply pour a tablespoon or so of salt into your skillet and, using a paper towel, rub the salt against the surface of the skillet to remove any bits of food stuck to the surface.

Step 2: Hot, soapy water
The next step is to lightly clean the skillet with hot soapy water. Despite what your grandmother may have told you, hot water and soap aren't going to damage the metal or the seasoning, as long as you're using hot water and you're not soaking the pan overnight. This step will remove any last bits of grease from the pan and, more importantly, eliminate any flavors that may be wafting around on the pan. (While leftover bacon aromas may be great mingled in with tomorrow's pancakes, they may not be welcome in a skillet-baked chocolate chip cookie.) Once you've lightly scrubbed a bit with that hot soapy water give the pan a quick rinse and then wipe it dry.

Step 3: Dry some more
Cast iron is porous, so it is easy to accidentally leave some water behind where you can't see it. Once you've wiped off all of the visible water, place the pan over medium heat on your stovetop and let it dry out for around 30 minutes. Finish washing the rest of your dishes and wipe down the table. There's no need to set a timer; you just want to get the pan hot enough for all that excess water to evaporate.

Step 4: Oil 'er down
Finally, you'll want to reapply a bit of seasoning. Since we're not talking about totally restoring your skillet here (a great topic for another conversation), we don't need to spend too much time on this step. However, it's always a great idea to rub your skillet down with a thin layer of oil after each use to preserve its seasoning. We like to use unsaturated fats — regular grocery store vegetable oil works great, as does canola — for all of our seasoning. Yes, there are plenty of folks who advocate for flaxseed oil or lard, but we've found that those tend to flake over time. Unsaturated vegetable oils can really stand up to the constant heating and re-heating of the pan and (bonus!) they're super cheap. Simply dip a paper towel lightly in your oil of choice and rub a very thin layer all around the sides and bottom of the still-hot skillet. Use a buffing motion to get rid of any pools of oil you may see — again, we want a very thin layer — and let the skillet cool completely. Now it's ready to store until tomorrow.

Need a new skillet? Here are our favorites.
Or perhaps you're looking for cast iron recipes? Here's where you can find ours.


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Kate Williams is an associate editor at Southern Kitchen. She is also an on-air personality on our podcast, Sunday Supper. She has been working in food since 2009, including a two-year stint at America’s Test Kitchen. Kate has been a personal chef, recipe developer, the food editor at a hyperlocal news site in Berkeley and a freelance writer for publications such as Serious Eats, Anova Culinary, The Cook’s Cook and Berkeleyside. Kate is also an avid rock climber and occasionally dabbles in long-distance running. She makes a mean peach pie and likes her bourbon neat.


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Chef Jeffrey Gardner is a native of Natchez, Miss., and a graduate of Millsaps College and Johnson & Wales University. He lives in Atlanta and has served as sous chef for popular restaurants South City Kitchen Midtown and Alma Cocina. In 2013 he became executive chef for East Cobb restaurant Common Quarter and was named one of ten “Next Generation of Chefs to Watch” by the Atlanta Business Chronicle. He has appeared on TV shows including Food Network’s Chopped and Cooking Channel’s How to Live to 100, and also filmed a series of healthy cooking videos with retired pro wrestler and fitness guru Diamond Dallas Page. In his spare time, he enjoys traveling the world with his wife Wendy, watching game shows and “spending all his money on Bruce Springsteen concerts.”

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