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Cleaning a Cast Iron Skillet

When I was living in Richmond, I recall one of my roommate discussing cooking with her grandmother. I think she was making cornbread, or some other quintessential southern fare. Her grandmother balked at our (to her) poorly-stocked kitchen. "Why, you can't hardly have a kitchen without a cast iron skillet!" my roommate recounted her saying. Imagine a female Frank Underwood uttering the phrase, and you've got the scene. We laughed, rolled our eyes, and made do with our pans. 

Fast forward 10 years, and I'm starting to agree more and more with grandma. I love that the cast iron skillet can go from stove top to oven to table, providing function and a little rustic style all at once. As someone who is constantly borderline anemic, I love the skillet for the iron it provides to my diet.

What I don't love about my cast iron skillet? Cleaning it. It has always felt very high maintenance to me. I get concerned that I will ruin the seasoning if I use too much soap or water, or scrub too hard. I highly recommend reading up on seasoning your pan well, this article by The Kitchn is a great go-to guide.

Then, I recently read the suggestion of using kosher salt to clean my pan. The results? Amazing. So I thought I'd share.

This skillet is covered in bacon grease. I had already poured out what I could, but you can see there are still little bits of bacon along with a good amount of grease left behind. Some might encourage you to keep all the bacon fat for the next use, but I prefer to start with a slightly cleaner (and healthier) canvas.

I shook out some kosher salt, covering the bottom of the pan with a very thin layer. Depending on how much grease and stuck-on food you have, you might need more or less than what I have in the photo.

Then I took an old rag, and rubbed the salt around. Almost as though I was exfoliating the pan. You can see that the salt becomes nice and brown, complete with the grease and grime from the pan. Note that this is all happening on my counter - no water, no soap needed.

After about 30 seconds, the pan is clean. I discarded the salt. You can see the rag is also holding onto a bit of the grime from the pan, but nothing a little "rags-only" load of laundry can't handle. The final photo is the real winner, though. You can see that the pan has a nice glimmer, indicating that I didn't strip the seasoning from the pan when I cleaned it. No additional oil needed. It's ready for use!

What's your favorite cast iron skillet recipe? Have you found other ways to clean or maintain it that work for you?