How to clean your cast iron cookware
Cast iron pans are great for cooking but when it comes to cleaning them there seems to be a bit of confusion. The two main schools of thought are:
“I know I shouldn’t use soap and water, but I’ll use just a bit anyway.”
“I just won’t clean it at all.”
The problem with soap and water is that neither are friends with grease, which is essentially what the seasoning of cast iron cookware consists of. Even just a little bit strips the surface and means that food will begin to stick to the pan. Cast iron is a porous substance so it’s also possible that your next meal will contain a little soap. This is the reason why separate pans are usually reserved for meat and fish. People with severe allergies should bear this in mind as even a clean pan will most likely still contain allergens.
In the same vein, you should avoid cooking acidic foods on cast iron (e.g. tomato, pineapple) as they will also strip the seasoning.
So is it better to just not clean it at all?
The problem here is that little bits of food will start to build up on the surface over time, making it uneven and causing the food being cooked to stick. Eventually little bits of this burnt on food will begin to chip off and you may notice that your cooking is full of little black dots. These dots are carcinogenic and not something you want to be eating on a regular basis.
So what is the best way?
The best way to clean your old-fashioned cast iron cookware is with an old-fashioned ball of steel wool, and a bit of salt to help. When you’re done cooking and you’ve scraped the pan empty, let it dry for a bit. Then pour on a good tablespoon or so of salt, break out the steel wool and start scrubbing. Most of the salt will get caught in the steel wool but remember to empty out the bits that don’t. It’s also a good idea to finish by giving the pan a wipe down with a dry cloth or paper towel.
Clean pan, surface intact, ready to go again!
All images © LK Hattinen