KEEP IT CLEAN
Our New Year rant on cleaning your damn pans.
Every day, there is one pan that sits on the stove of the Butter Pat Test kitchen. It’s the second pan we ever cast, and to the eye of many other beholders, it isn’t a quintessentially pretty one.
In 2015, when this whole mess began, we didn’t have enough inventory. The good pans went to customers, and we brought home whatever was left. But with two big dents in the cooking surface, and after an accidental trip through a commercial dishwasher that left it a bit whomperjawed, Number Two is now our most prized piece of iron.
Number 1—aka the first skillet we successfully cast (after 600 failures)—sits unused on its fancy pedestal in our office. But Number 2 ain’t no show pony. Nor is number 3, or number 300. They’re all workhorses.
Number 2 has never seen a nice soft silicone spatula—the kind the Internet says you should use to protect your seasoning. A pizza wheel regularly slices temporary grooves into its surface. Tomatoes, deglazing wine, and lemon juice? All are used regularly. And most importantly, Number 2 is scoured, after every use, always with soap (gasp!), and, always, spotlessly—yes, spotlessly—clean.
Now, we know that some of you are going to take serious offense.
While most of the questions we get about seasoning are from new cooks who simply don’t want to ruin something they paid a lot of money for (we get it), there are also those who have read too many food blogs, who believe in the myth of perfect seasoning, who swear that soap is to cast iron as garlic is to vampires. They wipe out their fried fish with a paper towel and give their pan a spa treatment: a “vigorous rub of coarse Kosher salt on half of a potato.” (This is absurd, never do that.)
We’re going to let you in on a secret: “Perfect seasoning” makes your pan pretty, but it won’t turn a donkey into a Thoroughbred.
Iron is naturally porous, and the idea is that seasoning—aka the layers of polymerized oil on the pan surface—helps seal the medium, protect it from moisture, and therefore prevent rust while also creating a close to nonstick skillet.
That being said, it’s really smoothness that is the key to cast-iron cooking. Many pans these days are milled into submission, leaving microscopic crevices that require a thick salve of seasoning to smooth the surface. But for your Butter Pat, which is cast smooth, all those extra strata are just a bad paint job. They trap moisture, they can encourage mold, and simply put, they’re gross. It is true that cleaning your pan might remove some of your seasoning, but that’s okay—you want a thin, even, progressive patina, which doesn’t happen overnight.
Which brings us back to our main point: Clean your damn pan. And here’s how.
For starters, we use soap—that’s right, soap. Any kind of soap, really. (We know your great-grandmother never used the stuff on her old black pan, and that’s probably because back in those days, it was made with lye, which was caustic, not the gentler versions we use today.)
And if you must, scrub—we mean it, scrub! For our druthers, we use the Ring Rag, a stainless-steel scrubber that we designed for heavy-duty clean-ups, and now, we also have the Ring Cloth for the quick swish of daily cleaning.
After washing, heat your pan over the stove to evaporate all moisture, which causes rust. Forget paper towels and dish cloths, which just don’t cut it.
Then, after drying, lightly coat all surfaces with a refined oil, like canola, which won’t get gummy or go rancid, wiping away any excess. This protects the pan’s surface. Save the extra-virgin olive oil for your cooking.
Truly, it’s that simple, but still, sometimes, there are messes unlike other messes. You accidently leave your pan outside in the rain and it begins to rust (we’ve been there). You heat the pan too quickly on a small eye of your stovetop and burn a bullseye into the center (looking at you, Mother). You let a coq au vin braise with good brandy, then drink a little too much of said brandy, and forget the time. Sure, your seasoning might be sacrificed, but your pan probably isn’t ruined.
You cook, you make mistakes, you learn—life goes on.
In fact, we have never had to strip or re-season any of our pans, ever. And there’s not much that a good clean can’t fix, and a little more cooking won’t solve. If you follow our steps, it will last hundreds of years.
Number 2, like Number 200, is a tool for your kitchen. It’s made to navigate those culinary muddles. It’s more forgiving than we give it credit for. So stop wasting time worrying about how perfectly black your pan looks. If you must, drop us a line with your question, but don’t be surprised if we answer you with:
Move on. Keep cooking. And clean your damn pan.