No matter how baby-bottom smooth your cast-iron pans are, some foods are still going to leave behind a sticky crud. For years, I used a plastic scraper to peel off these stubborn little bits, but I’ve discovered a foolproof, fail-safe cleaner that scrubs cast-iron clean without harming that shiny seasoning you’ve worked so hard to build. The best part is, you likely always have this cleaner on hand. In fact, it’s probably setting next to your stove right now.
The best cast-iron cleaner out there is simple kosher salt. The gritty grains of salt, combined with a dash or two of vegetable oil or water, will scrub away any stuck-on bits of food. And though salt is tough on crud, it’s not so hard that it will remove any seasoning. I can’t prove it, but I feel like the salt actually improves the seasoning in my vintage cast-iron skillet. It’s almost like it’s polishing the surface and making it even smoother.
Here’s how to use kosher salt to clean cast iron:
1. Heat the cast-iron over a low burner until it is just warm. Use a paper towel to wipe up any stray oil or loose bits of food, just like you normally would to clean a cast-iron pan.
2. Place a big pinch or two of kosher salt—the stuff that’s really grainy—into the pan. You’ll want about a tablespoon or a little more, depending on the size of your pan. Splash in a small amount of water, just enough to make a paste.
3. With a clean paper towel or lint-free rag, scrub the surface of the pan in a circular motion. Add extra pressure on tougher stuck-on areas.
4. Rinse with warm water. If there is any crud left over, repeat as necessary. Some stubborn areas may require a second scrub. Rinse again and wipe dry with a paper towel.
5. Place the cast-iron pan over a warm burner to dry. Before storing your pan, wipe with a thin layer of melted vegetable shortening or cast-iron conditioner. (I like Camp Chef’s Spray-On Conditioner.)