It's no secret that cast iron skillets are enormously popular. Considering the durability, affordability, and how they make food taste just that much better, what's not to love? Well, they have a reputation for being pretty darn difficult to clean. As you might guess, a basic sponge-and-dish-soap routine is not going to do the trick here. But if you learn how to clean a cast iron skillet properly, you'll be able to ensure that it stays sparkling for the long haul.
According to Cook's Illustrated, you should be prepared to clean your cast iron skillet after every single use with a few specific steps. While your skillet is still warm, wipe the interior with a paper towel. Then rinse it under hot running water while scrubbing with a non-metal brush or non-abrasive scrub pad until there are no traces of food. Dry the skillet thoroughly with paper towels, then put it back on the stove and heat it over medium-low heat until every last bit of water has evaporated. Finally, add about 1/2 teaspoon of cooking oil to the skillet and use a paper towel to lightly coat the entire interior. Keep wiping until no oil residue remains and your skillet looks nice, dark, and smooth again. Let it cool completely before storing it. If all goes well, your work here is done.
If all the paper towels in the world and your trusty scrub pad are just not doing the trick? You might need to try a different skillet cleaning technique. For the toughest messes, Consumer Reports recommends adding a little water to your skillet and simmering it over the stove for about a minute. If that doesn't loosen those stubborn gunk, then try gently scrubbing the skillet with coarse salt and a splash of water before wiping dry with paper towels. According to The Pioneer Woman, coarse salt acts as an abrasive agent, which makes it ideal for pans that are more soiled or still have stuff stuck to them. Cornmeal can also work as an alternative. Just make sure you wipe the whole thing dry after all the food is gone. Consider rubbing it down with a bit of cooking oil and paper towels if it's looking a little less dark and smooth than you'd like.
Understandably, you may feel the urge to clean your skillet fast, but experts say cast iron cookware should never go in the dishwasher, and a round in the oven self-clean cycle is often considered "overkill." In both cases, you may actually put your cast iron skillet at risk for a less-slick surface and even rust. So long story short: It may take more time to get your cast iron skillet clean than you'd like, but you can rest easy knowing the results are worth it.
Just think of it as a labor of love, and your cast iron skillet will hopefully show you the love right back in the form of a beautiful pan of scrumptious food!