By Reeva Ripley, Bulk Buyer, Co-op Owner
Once your cast iron has been well seasoned, creating a natural non-stick surface, you’ll want to protect all of your hard work with proper maintenance. The big question; to use soap, or not to use soap? The non-soap, or limited soap method, suggest soap will strip the seasoning off of your pans, because soap is meant to remove oil from surfaces. The soap method points to the fact that a properly seasoned pan is polymerized or ‘hardened’ oil and therefore will not be easily striped off of your cast iron. Both schools of thought agree that under no circumstances should you soak your cast iron pan.
The best approach to cleaning cast iron without soap is to put a shallow layer of water into the pan while the cooking surface and burner are still hot, bringing the water to a boil to help remove food residue. The pan will hiss and steam, so use caution while cleaning with this method. For stubborn food particles, use a wide spatula to gently scrape while water boils, do not over scrape the pan, because this may damage the pan’s seasoning. Carefully transport the pan over to the sink to dump out excess water, return to burner and turn off heat. Add a small amount of the oil or fat of your choosing and wipe carefully with a paper towel while the pan is still warm to coat thoroughly and remove the excess oil.
When cleaning cast iron with soap, wash like you would a normal pan, using a non-metal scouring pad, and do not allow to soak. Rinse thoroughly and place pan on a burner set to high heat, leave it there until the water is evaporated. Then add the oil or fat of your choice and wipe with a paper towel, heat until pan just barely starts to smoke, rub it down (very carefully) one more time, remove from heat, and allow to cool.
Either method you choose should help maintain the pan’s seasoning, keeping the surface non-stick and sealing it to prevent the development of rust. To create and maintain a well-seasoned pan, sear, fry, or bake with it as much as possible. If it does happen to rust, all you need to do is a little scrubbing and re-seasoning. Treat your cast iron right and you will have a good pan that you can pass on for generations!