How to clean black residue off cast iron skillet

Using a cast iron skillet can seem a bit overwhelming since you’ve probably heard all the rules around using and cleaning it, and to be honest it is not the same as using your typical non-stick pans.

Using it and cleaning it is different, but as soon as you jump in and begin using your cast iron, you won’t want to go back.

If you’re interested in purchasing a cast iron skillet, I’d suggest Lodge. It is one of the best brands out there, and you can find a great starter skillet.

White I explain how to clean your cast iron, I also want to explain seasoning and storing.

Knowing how to season and store your skillet will help in the clean-up process. So let’s dive in! 

Cleaning Your Cast Iron

When cleaning your cast iron, two things to remember are avoid using soap and keep it dry. I don’t suggest using soap on your cast iron. I know it seems counterintuitive, but soap is not the way for cast iron. 

Soap is designed to take away oil, and cast iron needs oils in order to work. If you really want to use soap, use a mild soap and be aware you may need to add extra oil after cleaning. 

The good news is, there are several other ways to keep your cast iron clean and working beautifully. 

The thing to remember after each of these methods, is make sure your skillet is dried off, warmed up on the stove to evaporate any remaining water and then coat the skillet with a small amount of oil. 

This should be done every time once you’re done cleaning your pan.

  • Use a hard bristle brush – Right after cooking and while your skillet is still warm, wipe away any food with a paper towel. Then, if there is still debris left, rinse it with warm water and scrub away any other food left on it. Any easy way to remove debris is using a hard bristle brush. This is the brush set I use, and I cannot speak more highly of it. It has made cleaning my cast iron skillet so easy.
  • Pumice stone – You can also use a pumice stone to clean your cast iron, but this is typically not necessary. If you’re taking care of your skillet, a scrub brush will work great. Pumice stones are typically used for more industrial types of cooking.
  • Cleaning the skillet bottom – If for some reason the bottom of your skillet got dirty, clean it the same way you’d clean the rest of your pan and then season it as well.
  • Using salt – For really tough bits of food, you can use salt. While the skillet is still warm, pour coarse salt into the skillet, then you can use a hand towel to “scrub” the skillet. The salt will work off the remaining food. Then, rinse your skillet and dry.

Oil your cast iron – You don’t need to bake your cast iron skillet after every use. Just make sure it’s completely dried and you’ve coated it with a thin layer of oil.

Dealing With Black Residue On Cast Iron

Over time your cast iron may begin to have a build-up of black stuff or there may be black flakes coming off your cast iron, do not freak out. 

It isn’t anything toxic or scary; it is just built up carbon from the oils and food you’ve prepared in your skillet. 

I would suggest the salt and potato method or using Bar Keeper’s Friend if this happens. 

You can always scrub your skillet clean and then re-season it. It will be like having an entirely new cast iron skillet!

Learn More About Cast Iron:

Best Cast Iron Skillet For Steaks

Bringing Your Cast Iron Back To Life

Even if you haven’t known how to use your cast iron or have not been maintaining it, the good news is most of the time you can bring it back to life.

  • Cleaning a rusty cast iron skillet – Rust is the thing you want to avoid with cast iron, but if you’ve run into a rusty situation there are ways to restore your cast iron.
    1. First, use steel wool to remove the rust.
    2. Wash your cast iron to remove any residue. You can use a mild soap and whatever type of sponge or scrub brush you have available.
    3. DRY IT OFF! Make sure to dry off your skillet right after washing it. Water is the reason the rust is there, so you want to avoid more water.
    4. Season your skillet.
  • Salt and a potato – Another way to get rid of rust and restore your cast iron skillet to its former glory is with some salt and a potato!
    1. Fill your skillet with coarse salt, so the bottom is fully covered.
    2. Cut the end off of your potato, and with cut side down begin to scrub the skillet.
    3. Scrub, scrub, scrub!
    4. The moisture from the potato and the grit of the salt will work that rust off.
    5. When you’ve scrubbed the rust away, rinse the skillet and dry.
    6. Season!
  • Bar Keeper’s Friend – You can also use Bar Keeper’s Friend to restore life and clean up your old cast iron. Use it the same way as the salt and potato, just swap salt for Bar Keeper’s Friend and instead of using a potato you can use a scrub brush. Rinse, dry and season!

Seasoning Your Cast Iron

Knowing how to season your cast iron skillet is one of the most important pieces of owning cast iron. You will want to season it when you first get it as well as upkeep. 

Is your cast iron getting grey spots on it? This means the seasoning is gone; time to re-season! 

Are you restoring an old skillet? You need to know how to season it!  

Have no fear, I will get into the nitty gritty of getting gunk off your cast iron, but this is a must-know technique when owning cast iron.

  1. Clean your cast iron – If it’s brand new, just give it a little scrub and rinse. If it has more build up, scrub the build-up off before going to the next step. (Keep reading for ways to get rid of intense build-up!)
  2. Dry your skillet – You can use a hand towel or paper towel. The point is to make sure it’s completely dry before oiling it.
  3. Coat skillet with oil – Most people will tell you to use some type of vegetable oil for this step, but you can honestly use any type of oil. I’ve used bacon grease before, and it actually helped to restore my cast iron! Take a small amount of oil and coat the entire skillet. Yes, you read that correctly, not just the inside but the entire skillet.
  4. Place cast iron in oven – Now, you want to place your skillet in the oven upside down with either foil or a pan below it to gather any drips. Allow it to “bake” for an hour. I typically set the oven between 350 and 375F.
  5. Let the skillet cool – After an hour, take the skillet out and allow it to cool before storing it.

Storing Cast Iron

One of the easiest places to store your cast iron skillet is right on the stove top, it’s accessible and doesn’t take up cupboard space. 

If you’re not going to be using your cast iron skillet on a daily basis, then store it in a cupboard and line it with paper towels or a towel to absorb any extra oil and to make sure it stays dry.

When To Throw Away Your Cast Iron

There does come a time when you will have to say “adios” to your cast iron skillet. Although rare, time and wear takes its toil on everything, and sadly cast iron is no different. These are the three times you should discard your old skillet.

  1. Warped – All pans will warp at some point in their life. If your pan begins to warp and has an uneven base, it is most likely time to say good-bye to that pan. While it’s not dangerous in any way, it just makes it difficult for the pan to heat evenly which makes cooking more difficult.
  2. Cracks – If your pan begins to crack, you should get rid of it. Heating and cooling the pan will only make the crack worse which could end in a disaster if it fully cracks while you’re using it.
  3. Hole – If you ever go to a thrift or vintage store, you’re likely to see cast-iron skillets. If it has a hole in it, avoid it since it was probably not used for food preparation but may have been used for car maintenance. Also, any pan with a hole in it is probably not one you want to have around.

Other Resources:

Helpful Links

Wrapping Up:

Cleaning Carbonization from Cast Iron

I cannot rave about cast iron enough. It is a great non-toxic option for the kitchen, and once you’ve learned the basics of cleaning it is easy to clean.

My hope is you now feel confident to either restore your old cast iron skillet or jump-in and join the cast iron band wagon!

Photo by Kim Siever from Flickr

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