How To Clean Crud Off A Cast-Iron Skillet (Step-by-Step Guide)

How To Clean Crud Off A Cast-Iron Skillet

Cast-iron cookware is amazing, hands-down; it is durable, excellent at heat distribution, and doesn’t get scratched after regular usage. You can even put a cast-iron skillet directly on the campfire and enjoy well-cooked food.

But if there’s one downside of cast-iron cookware, it’s rust. Iron gets rusted pretty quickly, leaving you with a weird cooking surface that also impacts your food’s colour.

Luckily, regular seasoning prevents rusting, but the real problem starts when there’s residue above the seasoned layer, i.e., crud. When you frequently use a cast-iron skillet, food accumulation above the seasoned layer can distort its effectiveness, rendering the non-stick patina layer ineffective.

If your cast-iron skillet has got crud buildup, you’re at the right place. Today, we’ll discuss ways to clean the crud off a cast-iron skillet, so your cookware performs equally well all the time. Stick around and learn to clean carbon buildup from your cast-iron cookware!

What Causes Crud Build-up Inside Cast-Iron Cookware?

What is crud, and why does it accumulate on cast-iron cookware? Here’s an easy breakdown for you:

Cast-iron gets rusted when it comes in contact with air and moisture; hence you must build a protective fat layer inside this cookware to prevent rust. A polymerized fat layer protects your cast-iron cookware’s surface and offers an impressive food release; great.

However, it’s important not to scrap/scrub that seasoned layer while cleaning your cast-iron skillet/pan because it can become ineffective after vigorous cleaning. This pre

requisite limits home cooks to gentle rinsing and occasional deep cleaning because they cannot use elbow grease with seasoned cast-iron cookware.

Now, when you avoid thorough washing and use a cast-iron skillet regularly, food particles start accumulating inside it. These particles get darker with time, eventually leaving your pan with stuck gunk that alters everything you cook. This layer of black/dark brown particles above the seasoned layer is called crud.

Although crud is not harmful, it impacts your food’s colour and taste; perfectionist cooks hate that. So, if your eggs come out brownish when you fry them in a cast-iron skillet, crud is the culprit.

How To Clean the Rusty Crud Build-up?

Cleaning crud off a cast-iron skillet is quite tricky as you cannot go around scrubbing that layer off (remember the seasoning?), but it’s doable. You need a few kitchen ingredients and some patience to fight the crud off.

Here are the top three tricks you can try to remove grime:

1. Salt & Scrapper

Sea salt is a harmless abrasive agent, often used as a cleaner. If food starts to stick on your cast-iron pan, sprinkle a gentle amount of sea salt on the cooking surface and scrape the stains off.

We recommend silicone/plastic scrappers instead of the wooden ones, as these don’t disturb the patina layer. If crud doesn’t come off in one go, wash the sprinkled salt, towel dry the skillet, and repeat the process.

This salt and scrapper technique is good for a thin crud layer; if your skillet has gone bad, move onto the following method.

2. Steel Wool & Elbow Grease

If you’ve been cooking in a cast-iron skillet every day, chances are it’s got a thick crud layer by now, which calls for some intense cleaning.

You’ll need steel wool, dish soap, and warm water to remove the thick crud layer. Pour the liquid dish soap and start scrubbing the crud. Steel wool might also remove the polymerized fat layer, but you can always get it back.

For now, scrub the crud unless it’s entirely off. This step will leave your cast-iron skillet with a bare surface, ready to be re-seasoned.

3. Potato & Salt

If you want to avoid vigorous cleaning but need good enough results, potato and salt will do. Sprinkle some salt onto your skillet, cut a potato in half, and scrub the salt with it.

Potato juice and salt collectively make a good cleaning agent; try them if you’re cautious about your new cookware.

All these three methods are good at removing crud from cast-iron cookware, try whichever trick you want, and maintain your cookware’s original color.

Re-season the Skillet

Once you have cleaned the crud layer, it’s time to re-do the seasoning process. Steel wool, scouring agents, and brushes can collectively scratch the polymerized fat layer, leaving room for food to stick.

After cleaning the crud layer off your cast-iron skillet, pour some high smoke point oil, i.e., flaxseed, grapeseed, etc., to it (don’t forget to coat the skillet’s outer layer).

Put your skillet in the oven and bake it for an hour at 250F; the oil layer will polymerize and form a plastic-like layer on the cast-iron surface, making it non-stick.

Every time you cook in cast-iron cookware, this seasoned layer will thicken and get darker because of the added fats, which improves the skillet’s performance.

As long as the patina layer doesn’t affect your food, don’t bother removing it. Gently rinse the skillet after each use and store it in a dry place to avoid rust.

When the patina layer starts leaching into your food, follow any of the above cleaning methods and remove crud from the cooking surface.

Maintain the Patina Layer

Seasoning cast-iron isn’t a one-off job; it requires some upkeep to perform well. Apply a thin oil film to the skillet’s surface once or twice a month to protect the cooking surface from scratches and dents.

Don’t expose your cast-iron cookware to sudden temperature changes, harsh chemicals, and brittle cleaners to keep its patina layer intact.

If, however, the layer gets damaged, you can always re-season it with good quality oil and regain its look.

Related Questions:

How do I get black burnt stuff off the bottom of a pan?

If your skillet/pan isn’t seasoned and food burns inside it, you’re free to use some elbow grease with it.

Add 1 part white vinegar in 3 parts water and bring this mixture to a boil in the skillet. The acetic acid in white vinegar will loosen the burnt stains, ensuring you don’t struggle while cleaning the skillet.

Remove the water-vinegar mixture and add some baking soda to the skillet. Use a dry scouring pad to rub baking soda over the remaining stains. Complete the process by thoroughly rinsing the skillet.

Are burnt cast-iron pans toxic?

No, cast-iron is a safe cookware material, as it doesn’t leach toxic fumes/particles into your food. If food burns inside your cast-iron pan, remove the burnt food gunk, and your pan will be safe for daily use.

However, if you’re unable to take the gunk off completely, it will alter your food’s colour; be patient during the cleaning phase if a food burning accident happens.

Final Thoughts

Cast-iron cookware doesn’t become a pain in the neck if you do things the right way, regardless of the time it has spent in your kitchen.

Here’s a quick summary of this guide for you:

  1. Season your cast-iron cookware with good quality fats.
  2. Don’t put it through vigorous cleaning; gentle rinsing will suffice.
  3. If there’s crud buildup, clean it with safe ingredients and re-season the skillet to enjoy a good cooking experience.

We hope your questions related to crud buildup in cast-iron cookware are answered by now; happy cooking.

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