Cleaning an iron skillet

Probably the quickest way to get thrown out of my kitchen is to to “help clean up” by pouring soap into one of my cast iron skillets. I have worked hard to maintain a good seasoning on all of them, and I clean them out with water and a paper towel. If something has burned on, I might gently attack it with a green scratcher, but I never, and I mean never, use soap.

I have three cast iron skillets that use regularly–nine, 10.5, and 11 inches across at the top–and one big 12-incher for frying chicken. Over 35+ years, I have fried chicken, chicken livers, pork chops, catfish, lamb chops, and you-name-it in these skillets. I have fixed countless chilis, beef stews, lamb stews, and carnitas in the skillets. The 11-incher is three inches deep and has domed lid, and is perfect for big chunks of meat or a pile of collard greens.

Over the years, however, these skillets built up a black crust on the outsides. Not the bottom, but the sides. These accretions never effected the cooking, they just looked bad. I once gouged at them with a chisel, but that made the skillets look ever worse. So I just lived with them.

Then someone told my wife that the way to clean cast iron skillets was simple: just put them in the oven the next time you turn on the automatic oven cleaning cycle, and voila!–clean skillets. So it was on a cold Colorado day I set my three smallest skillets in the oven, locked the door, set the dial to “Clean,” and walked away.

The next thing I knew, every smoke alarm on the main floor of my house was shrieking, and smoke was rolling up out of the oven. I peered in through the door to see if there were any flames. There weren’t any, so I let the process continue while I opened the windows and put on a fleece.

By the time the oven cleaning process was over, I opened the door and extracted my skillets. To my delight, every bit of the crud on the sides was gone. The skillets looked like this:


It looks like the skillet has been used as bass boat anchor, but all of that rusty looking material rubs right off with paper towels and water. Here’s what happened to the gunk on the sides:


I could easily wipe this up, which I did. Re-seasoning the skillets took a lot longer. I got vegetable oil and a paper towel and wiped oil all over the skillets, placed them on a cookie sheet upside down, heated the oven up to 250, and let them sit for two hours. It’s going to take a while to get the seasoning back–I figure that a run or two of friend chicken ought to do it–but it was worth it to get the skillets back in shape.

This blog is part of a much larger website, also entitled Tennessee Guy, that contains travel and cultural information about Tennessee. Visit it here.

One Response to Cleaning an iron skillet

  1. mel says:

    You can also build a campfire in the back yard and throw the empty skillet in the fire…or if you have a wood burning fireplace you can too a skillet on top of the fire — let it burn till the crud turns to carbon. Learned this from my Mom and Dad about 50 years ago.

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