How to Clean and Store Cast Iron
Unless you're hanging your newly seasoned skillet for decoration, you're going to need to care for it slightly differently than you would your other cookware. Because it must be maintained differently, cast iron scares away many people, but if cared for correctly, you'll find clean up time is actually faster than with other pots and pans.
Cleaning is Easier Than You Think
The main rule of cleaning a cast-iron skillet is never to use soap with it. Using soap won't ruin it, but will remove some of the seasoning that you've worked to build up. Most messes can be cleaned with hot water, a stiff-bristled brush, some salt, and occasionally a potato. A hot pan is easier to clean than a cold skillet because the metal is expanded and more likely to release what is stuck to it. Place a hot pan under running water and scrub it with the brush to remove the stuck-on bits.
What is the best way to clean a dirty pan?
Make sure your pan is hot before you try to clean it. Pour in ½ tablespoon of water and a tablespoon of kosher salt. Wad up a paper towel, hold it with tongs, and rub it over the surface of the pan to loosen anything stuck to it. The salt will help grind it away. When the salt looks dirty, dump it out, wipe the surface clean, and your pan is sealed and ready for storage.
If you have a particularly stubborn mess or if your paper towel starts to fall apart, don't break out the heavy artillery until you've tried cleaning it with oil. Pour two tablespoons of salt (kosher or pickling salt works best) in the skillet and cut a potato in half. Hold the potato like a scrub brush and rub it firmly over the surface of the skillet. The salt should act like scouring powder to help you rub off the stuck-on food. Neither the potato nor the salt will damage the surface of the pan and the potato will protect your fingertips from abrasions.
If you still can't remove the mess, which is more likely to happen with a new skillet, try scraping it with a butter knife. This may result in spots that are lighter than the rest of the pan, but these will disappear after a few uses. And if nothing else seems to help, use some hot and soapy water. This should be a last resort since it does remove some of the seasoning.
Storage of Your Cast-Iron Pan
Since these pans don't scratch, you can stack them together. You can also hang them from a firmly attached pot rack. Or, you can leave them on the stove top or in the oven, like many cast-iron users do. If you rarely cook or have to store your pans for an extended period of time, it's best to coat them lightly in vegetable oil inside and out. It's a good idea to oil newer pans after each use and pans that you've had to clean with soapy water. The oil not only keeps the pan from rusting, it also keeps the oil on the rough surface of the pan from drying up and after time makes the pan easier to clean and cook with.
Special Care for Enameled Cast-Iron Cookware
Cast-iron cookware that has an enameled coating on the inside and/ or the outside requires slightly different care than non-enameled cookware. The surfaces that are enameled won't rust and can't be seasoned. With a quick wash they're ready to use straight out of the box. Because they can't be seasoned, you may find yourself using more oil than a recipe calls for. But, because the iron isn't in touch with the food, you don't have to worry about cooking dishes high in acid in a new skillet.
An added benefit of cooking in a non-enameled cast-iron pan is that you can use any cooking utensil you please. Wood, metal, plastic, and silicone are all perfectly fine in these pans. Because the surface doesn't scratch, you can even use a regular fork for turning meat or adjusting things in a pan.
Cleaning enameled cast-iron pans is relatively easy. You should wash them with hot, soapy water. Because the enameled surface can scratch, you should use only plastic scrub-brushes and sponges.
Day-to-day care for enameled cast-iron cookware is trickier than non-enameled cookware. Because the enameling can scratch, be sure to use only wooden, plastic, nylon, or silicone cooking tools. The lighter-colored surfaces can stain fairly easy, but soaking them for a few hours in a mild bleach solution will remove the stains. The enameled surface is also prone to chipping so you may not want to stack your enameled cookware when you store it. Dropping the pans can result in chips and cracks, as can using the pans over very high heat. Because high heat can damage the enameling, it's safest to not use these pans on a grill, over a campfire, or when cooking over high heat on a stove top.