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Okay, this question is kitchen utensil-related. I have an iron skillet and everyone tells me never to wash it in soap and water. However, I wonder if this is really safe given all the food-borne pathogens out there? I know that the heat from cooking will kill many things, but I wonder if that means that I don't have to wash with soap and water? I am especially concerned about e coli and salmonella from eggs, chicken, or pork, but there are obviously many other potential danger sources. What do people think: soap/water or not for my iron skillet?

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Okay, this question is kitchen utensil-related. I have an iron skillet and everyone tells me never to wash it in soap and water. However, I wonder if this is really safe given all the food-borne pathogens out there? I know that the heat from cooking will kill many things, but I wonder if that means that I don't have to wash with soap and water? I am especially concerned about e coli and salmonella from eggs, chicken, or pork, but there are obviously many other potential danger sources. What do people think: soap/water or not for my iron skillet?

I believe that e coli is killed at temperatures around 150F and salmonella around 140F. I believe that the surface temperature of the skillet will be well above that for just about anything that you are preparing.

Considering the fact that you are not storing raw food product in the skillet I don't see how food borne pathogens will be cause for much concern. Just be sure to scrub it out shortly after cooking to remove any food product. A good stiff brush works well along with some kosher salt for an abrasive, rinse with hot water, and finally dry well.

If you do wash it with soap and water then you will need to re-season it as the soap will remove the protective, and non-stick, coating of oil.

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Don't worry about food-borne pathogens. You're not going to catch one from your pan. If you could, I would have, years ago.

However, feel free to use soap and water on your skillet. As little as possible, but whatever you need it. And then, after drying, rub a little oil into it with a paper towel to restore the seasoning.

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If you do wash it with soap and water then you will need to re-season it as the soap will remove the protective, and non-stick, coating of oil.

You won't need to completely re-season it. I use joy liquid to clean mine all the time and I have yet to need to re-season it. Honest.

However, feel free to use soap and water on your skillet. As little as possible, but whatever you need it. And then, after drying, rub a little oil into it with a paper towel to restore the seasoning.

Correct. Rubbing a small amount after cleaning and drying is ideal and is probably the main reason I have never had to re-season my cast iron skillets.

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Instead of soap and water, I usually just boil water in mine. That tends to go a pretty long way. Granted mine doesn't have quite the patina that I imagine many have, so it's a little easier to clean anyway. After I dump out the water I put it back on the stove really quick to cook off any residual water, and after it cools rub some oil on it. Just as an aside not the best idea to use cold water on it when it's hot so you don't stress the metal too much.

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If a iron pan really is gunky, then you can recondition it by placing it in your oven during the self clean cycle. This will remove and kill everything, and I do mean everything that was ever built up on the pan. I have done this withpans that a boy scout troop used for years over camp fires and the pan then looks brand new. You then need to condition the pan and build the panteen back up using traditional methods. The less you clean it (and never with soap) the better. I have redone many pans this way (my mother has a collection) with good success. Go to the lodge website or google for more information.

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I don't use soap. Once I am done cooking with the cast-iron skillet I add some hot water to it (while it is still warm). After the skillet cools I use hot water and one of these stainless scrubbing pads to clean out any remaining mess. The scrubbing pads are available in most supermarkets. They work great and don't damage the cast-iron.

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A really interesting thread. I'm surprised by several of the answers. Before my mother passed away she had a cast iron skillet that dated to the late 19th century which was a crusty black for lack of a better description. To the best of her and my grandmother's knowledge (it originated with a great grandmother) it had only been seasoned once and soap had never come near it. All three of them (mother, grandmother and great grandmother) are said to have only used it for frying. Never anything else. For probably a hundred years.

I always thought that the pork chops, fried chicken, fried anything that my mother made in that skillet were better than any I had ever tasted anywhere else. Once I took my seasoned skillet which then was ten years old to my mother's house. We took a half dozen pork chops, dipping them in egg and flour and fried them in, I believe, Crisco or Fluffo. Her's were better than mine. Same package of chops, same egg package, same box of flour, same can of shortening and her's were better.

I'd be real careful what you do to your skillet.

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A really interesting thread. I'm surprised by several of the answers. Before my mother passed away she had a cast iron skillet that dated to the late 19th century which was a crusty black for lack of a better description. To the best of her and my grandmother's knowledge (it originated with a great grandmother) it had only been seasoned once and soap had never come near it. All three of them (mother, grandmother and great grandmother) are said to have only used it for frying. Never anything else. For probably a hundred years.

I always thought that the pork chops, fried chicken, fried anything that my mother made in that skillet were better than any I had ever tasted anywhere else. Once I took my seasoned skillet which then was ten years old to my mother's house. We took a half dozen pork chops, dipping them in egg and flour and fried them in, I believe, Crisco or Fluffo. Her's were better than mine. Same package of chops, same egg package, same box of flour, same can of shortening and her's were better.

I'd be real careful what you do to your skillet.

The way I've always cleaned my cast iron skillet is by using oil & salt. I put them in the oven or on a flat top and let them " burn out". After the oven I use a towel & tongs to wipe them clean. The salt helps remove anything stuck in the pan and "seasons the pan". This does create a high risk of being burned, but I'm very careful. My cast irons never touch water( mine told me they don't like it...lol). My mother taught me this and I've seen this in many many restaurants. Just the way I do it. Cheers!

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The way I've always cleaned my cast iron skillet is by using oil & salt. I put them in the oven or on a flat top and let them " burn out". After the oven I use a towel & tongs to wipe them clean. The salt helps remove anything stuck in the pan and "seasons the pan". This does create a high risk of being burned, but I'm very careful. My cast irons never touch water( mine told me they don't like it...lol). My mother taught me this and I've seen this in many many restaurants. Just the way I do it. Cheers!
This is also the approach I use. I think I read about this in one of Alton Brown's books. Just heat up the pan, pour in a tbsp of two of kosher salt, and rub with a paper towel.
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All of the posts in this thread have been very informative, but I am not sure they are really answering the question. I know that everyone says that one should never use soap and water on an iron skillet because it will ruin the seasoning and may rust the skillet if not completely dried. Believe me, I get it. And if I checked a thousand web sites on the subject, I am pretty sure that I would get a thousand people telling me never to use soap and water on an iron skillet. And I understand that the seasoning is what makes an iron skillet special. That is all stipulated.

BUT, we are told by all the experts that every (other) piece of equipment in the kitchen needs to be cleaned with soap and water because of the danger of contamination or cross contamination. I just don't understand why the iron skillet gets a free pass. (And all one thousand web sites that tell me not to use soap and water will not, I predict, explain WHY the free pass for the iron skillet except that it may ruin the seasoning.) I don't understand if there is some special quality about cast iron that makes it less likely to transmit bacteria or if there is something else going on. In other words, forgetting about the taste of the food produced in it, is there a scientific reason that makes it unnecessary to clean an iron skillet in the same way we clean other kitchen utensils?

Thanks to all!

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All of the posts in this thread have been very informative, but I am not sure they are really answering the question. I know that everyone says that one should never use soap and water on an iron skillet because it will ruin the seasoning and may rust the skillet if not completely dried. Believe me, I get it. And if I checked a thousand web sites on the subject, I am pretty sure that I would get a thousand people telling me never to use soap and water on an iron skillet. And I understand that the seasoning is what makes an iron skillet special. That is all stipulated.

BUT, we are told by all the experts that every (other) piece of equipment in the kitchen needs to be cleaned with soap and water because of the danger of contamination or cross contamination. I just don't understand why the iron skillet gets a free pass. (And all one thousand web sites that tell me not to use soap and water will not, I predict, explain WHY the free pass for the iron skillet except that it may ruin the seasoning.) I don't understand if there is some special quality about cast iron that makes it less likely to transmit bacteria or if there is something else going on. In other words, forgetting about the taste of the food produced in it, is there a scientific reason that makes it unnecessary to clean an iron skillet in the same way we clean other kitchen utensils?

Thanks to all!

Personally, my cast-iron pan is always so hot by the time I'm ready to cook with it that there's no way anything that could be living on it still would be toast once I was ready to use it. If I'm cooking steaks, say, my pan is sitting in a 500-degree oven for a while, and that's going to do a much better job of sterilizing it than any soap on the market could ever do.

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All of the posts in this thread have been very informative, but I am not sure they are really answering the question. I know that everyone says that one should never use soap and water on an iron skillet because it will ruin the seasoning and may rust the skillet if not completely dried. Believe me, I get it. And if I checked a thousand web sites on the subject, I am pretty sure that I would get a thousand people telling me never to use soap and water on an iron skillet. And I understand that the seasoning is what makes an iron skillet special. That is all stipulated.

BUT, we are told by all the experts that every (other) piece of equipment in the kitchen needs to be cleaned with soap and water because of the danger of contamination or cross contamination. I just don't understand why the iron skillet gets a free pass. (And all one thousand web sites that tell me not to use soap and water will not, I predict, explain WHY the free pass for the iron skillet except that it may ruin the seasoning.) I don't understand if there is some special quality about cast iron that makes it less likely to transmit bacteria or if there is something else going on. In other words, forgetting about the taste of the food produced in it, is there a scientific reason that makes it unnecessary to clean an iron skillet in the same way we clean other kitchen utensils?

Thanks to all!

Thought I already mentioned in my first post above that the skillet will be hot enough to kill anything that may reside on it from the raw foods. Other kitchen utensils, are not going to be hot enough for long enough to do that, although other pots and pans will be. The reason that you need to use soap and water to clean other pots is to remove the oil, grease, and foodstuffs that accumulate on the surface of them. The foodstuffs on the cast iron can be removed with the salt scrub. The main reason for not using (much) soap on the cast iron is that you don't want to remove the protective coating of oil.

The physical properties of the iron skillet and say an aluminum or stainless steel skillet are much different. The iron skillets expand when heated. During the initial seasoning and continued cooking the oil becomes "part" of the skillet surface. The material in the other pots and pans do not expand nearly as much and the oil is never becomes a "part" and remains on the surface. Washing with soap removes this.

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This is a good reminder that I need to see if I can salvage my grandmother's skillet. I'm sure it was washed with soap and water many many times over her lifetime. In fact, I'm not really sure why she had it - she didn't do a lot of frying, and I think she treated it like just another pan.

That said, it's been on the floor of a gas oven for...years now. Don't ask. I wonder, if I rescue it, will it respond to salt and oil?

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This is a good reminder that I need to see if I can salvage my grandmother's skillet. I'm sure it was washed with soap and water many many times over her lifetime. In fact, I'm not really sure why she had it - she didn't do a lot of frying, and I think she treated it like just another pan.

That said, it's been on the floor of a gas oven for...years now. Don't ask. I wonder, if I rescue it, will it respond to salt and oil?

Unless it's corroded it should be good to go after the salt and HOT water scrub (hottest your tap water gets and let it soak for a couple of minutes). With the provisos of mdt's post about making sure you heat it to the smoking point before cooking anything. And you will probably --- no definitely -- want to reseason the pan.
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This is a good reminder that I need to see if I can salvage my grandmother's skillet. I'm sure it was washed with soap and water many many times over her lifetime. In fact, I'm not really sure why she had it - she didn't do a lot of frying, and I think she treated it like just another pan.

That said, it's been on the floor of a gas oven for...years now. Don't ask. I wonder, if I rescue it, will it respond to salt and oil?

I would just do it a few times and it will be fine.

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A soak in regular white vinegar (full strength at 5%, or diluted with water anywhere down to 0.5%) seems to be widely suggested.  Here's one person's illustrated blog.

(BTW, I'd encourage the moderators to consider merging this thread with this one and this one)

If Kickstarter is any indication, we're on the verge of some kind of cast iron revival period.  First Borough Furnace successfully launched two years ago, then Alisa Toninato funded her art piece "Made In America" (50 state-shaped skillets), and now this fall in quick succession: Toninato's project to productionize states beyond her initial run of Wisconsin, Illinois, and Minnesota (stalled at New York; eventually Maryland would have been a pretty useless shape), Finex's octagonal-sided skillet (succeeded at 800% target), and Nest Homeware's attempt to fund the casting of their line (launched today and already 1/3 funded; open thru Dec 18).

Interesting times.  Too bad the market for a ventworm cornbread pan is probably really small.

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Someone I worked with a long time ago suggested that all the paperclips that would ever be needed till the end of time had already been made, since they're more or less indestructible and endlessly reusable. It seems to me that the same is true of cast-iron pans. There's no reason that a cast-iron pan manufactured a hundred years ago, in 1913, shouldn't still be perfectly serviceable in 2013, 2513, or 3013. I have several cast-iron pans, a couple of them recently made Lodge "Logic" models, and the rest old Griswold pans from the 1930s. I have no descendents to leave them to, but if I had they should all last for a hundred generations. I'm not entirely sure why I bought the Lodge Logic pans (although they're seriously useful), since if I needed more cast-iron pans I could easily get old ones on ebay or other marketplaces of old stuff, for not much money. Why do they make more?

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Someone I worked with a long time ago suggested that all the paperclips that would ever be needed till the end of time had already been made, since they're more or less indestructible and endlessly reusable. It seems to me that the same is true of cast-iron pans. There's no reason that a cast-iron pan manufactured a hundred years ago, in 1913, shouldn't still be perfectly serviceable in 2013, 2513, or 3013. I have several cast-iron pans, a couple of them recently made Lodge "Logic" models, and the rest old Griswold pans from the 1930s. I have no descendents to leave them to, but if I had they should all last for a hundred generations. I'm not entirely sure why I bought the Lodge Logic pans (although they're seriously useful), since if I needed more cast-iron pans I could easily get old ones on ebay or other marketplaces of old stuff, for not much money. Why do they make more?

Because people want new things, not old?  I know of only two ways to wear out cast iron.  #1 is to use it over open flame, like in a campfire.  It will eventually burn through until it is unusable.  There used to be an enormous cast iron wash cauldron in my Grandmother's yard, and the bottom was burned out.  (I should have had the foresight to save it.)  My Dad also burned out a little Lodge cast iron grill from using it so much that the iron wore through.   #2 is to pour water in the pan while it is smoking hot, like a friend did making potstickers.  His pan cracked into two pieces.  Cast iron is brittle, so there are probably other ways to break it.

If you have a fireplace and pick up an old, crusty pan at a market somewhere, set it in the hot coals then fill it with more coals and let it stay in there until the fireplace is cool.  It will burn down to the clean iron and you can season it from there.

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 Why do they make more?

Because my nephew is living in an apartment off-campus and has to do his own cooking. I'm still using my cast-iron pan and I found a really good deal on a new Lodge pan, so got that for his birthday this month. Everybody needs a cast-iron skillet and sometimes you just can't find exactly what you want when you need it.

Also, a lot of extant pans have been badly abused; so, it's cheap enough to buy a new one rather than trying to rehabilitate an old one--especially if you don't have the knowledge or means to do that.

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Because people want new things, not old?

[....]

If you have a fireplace and pick up an old, crusty pan at a market somewhere, set it in the hot coals then fill it with more coals and let it stay in there until the fireplace is cool.  It will burn down to the clean iron and you can season it from there.

People want new things, but (at least until Lodge came out with the Logic line of pre-seasoned pans) old, well-used cast-iron is not merely better than new, it's miles and miles better.

My mother tells me that her grandmother, I think it was, used to put cast-iron pans into the furnace to burn off the gunk. Doesn't work so well with a heat-pump. I have an old Griswold pan that was so encrusted on the outside that it would catch on fire. Following a suggestion I saw somewhere, I put it in through the self-cleaning cycle of my oven. That certainly did the trick. Cleaned up the baking stone as well.

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Because people want new things, not old?  I know of only two ways to wear out cast iron.  #1 is to use it over open flame, like in a campfire.  It will eventually burn through until it is unusable.  There used to be an enormous cast iron wash cauldron in my Grandmother's yard, and the bottom was burned out. 

 Could it be that what actually happened was mostly rust?  Those yard cauldrons are practically impossible to keep dry and there is always some water puddled in the bottom.  Rust city.

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People want new things, but (at least until Lodge came out with the Logic line of pre-seasoned pans) old, well-used cast-iron is not merely better than new, it's miles and miles better.

My mother tells me that her grandmother, I think it was, used to put cast-iron pans into the furnace to burn off the gunk. Doesn't work so well with a heat-pump. I have an old Griswold pan that was so encrusted on the outside that it would catch on fire. Following a suggestion I saw somewhere, I put it in through the self-cleaning cycle of my oven. That certainly did the trick. Cleaned up the baking stone as well.

I put one through the self-clean cycle only to have clouds of smoke billowing out of the oven.  Then the smoke alarms went off.  :ph34r:

 Could it be that what actually happened was mostly rust?  Those yard cauldrons are practically impossible to keep dry and there is always some water puddled in the bottom.  Rust city.

I was told it was put out after the bottom burned out of it.  They used it until that time.

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It's a pity that people would rather buy new than quality. Lodge was always pretty crude stuff, even when only Wagner was left to compete with them. My medium Wagner skillet was bought new, but my little pan was a no-name yard sale rescue that had obviously seen decades of breakfast fry-ups in somebody's home in rural Frederick County, and will hopefully see decades more.

I do love the look of the hammered exteriors on old Chicago Hardware pans.

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