A cast iron skillet is the most versatile tool in the kitchen. With proper care, these incredible pots and pans can cook anything and last a lifetime. The most important maintenance for cast iron is cleaning it correctly. A well-seasoned cast iron is non-stick, and cleaning the cast iron is a straightforward process. For tips on properly seasoning cast iron, check out the article, What Does a Well-Seasoned Cast Iron Look Like?
However, sometimes food gets charred onto the cast iron, leaving behind hard-to-scrub bits and pieces of food. What is the most efficient way to remove these food particles without damaging the cast iron? A potato. Yes, a raw potato and a little coarse salt can do wonders on dirty or rusty cast iron.
What is Seasoned Cast Iron?
Cast iron is a porous substance. When cast iron is heated, the flavors and oils of food soak into the cast iron and polymerize. This polymerization builds layers of fat that protect the cast iron from rusting and adds flavor to cooked food. The more cast iron is seasoned and used, the more non-stick it becomes. When cast iron is cleaned, it should be done so that the seasoning does not come off.
Cleaning Cast Iron
There are numerous ways to clean cast iron, but no matter the method used, detergents and soap should always be avoided. Soaps and detergents tend to scrub the seasoning off the cast iron, and this causes hotspots or rusting. When a cast iron develops hot spots, heat cannot distribute evenly, which causes the food to be over- or under-cooked.
Cast iron is easiest to clean when it is hot. This can be done in several ways, from boiling water, using a wooden spatula to scrub off food bits, or lightly scrubbing with an SOS pad. How To Clean Baked-On Grease From Cast Iron.
Using a Potato to Clean Cast Iron
The potato method works for stuck-on food, routine cleanings, or removing rust from cast iron.
Adding a little baking soda makes this method even more effective if the piece is rusty.
Cleaning a cast iron with a potato is a two-step process that includes a raw potato and a healthy amount of coarse salt. The coarse salt adds abrasiveness to the cleaning process, and the potato adds a natural cleaning agent that works wonders on cast iron.
The 3 Main Steps
- For routine cleaning, add enough coarse salt to cover the bottom of the cast iron. Next, cut a raw potato in half to rest comfortably in your hand. Place the potato flesh-side down and gently scrub the cast iron until it is clean. Remove the salt with a paper towel and reseason the cast iron using the oven method.
- If the cast iron only has particularly bad spots, such as from sauce spillovers, you can add the salt directly to the potato and scrub the affected areas.
- If the cast iron is rusty, cover the bottom with baking soda and gently scrub the entire cast iron with the potato. Once the rust is removed, wash out the baking soda with a small amount of water and paper towels and reseason the cast iron using the oven method. Never allow water to sit in cast iron too long, as the piece will rust.
How Does a Potato Clean Cast Iron?
Potatoes contain oxalic acid, a non-toxic acid that forms compounds with iron. Oxalic acid is a natural cleaning agent found in many household cleaners. When the acid is added to cast iron, particularly rusty cast iron, it gently scrubs away the contaminated spots and removes rust. Potatoes are a great, natural cleaning agent not limited to cast iron. They also clean knives, stainless steel, and sinks.
Cast iron cookware is the workhorse of the kitchen. Once they are seasoned properly, they will become your favorite pots and pans. With a little maintenance, cast iron will provide a lifetime of wonderful dishes. Potatoes are a safe and effective way to clean cast iron, particularly rusty ones. The process utilizes materials readily found in most kitchens and takes virtually no time.
My name is Jason Phillips and I cooked for many years, primarily aboard Merchant Marine vessels and in fast-paced commercial kitchens. My passion for culinary arts led me to attend a culinary arts academy in 2019 where the instructor piqued my interest in food and beverage writing.