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'You Have Been Sold a Lie' on Cast Iron Skillets

Go ahead and use soap to clean them, writes an exasperated Takeout columnist
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 23, 2021 9:45 AM CST

(Newser) – Want to start a kitchen debate? Tell a group of people who use cast iron skillets that it's OK to clean them with soap. For many, it's heresy. Their thinking is that soap will ruin the pan by destroying its protective seasoning. At the Takeout, Allison Robicelli has had it with this camp. "You have been sold a lie," she writes. "I am exhausted with this malarkey." Use soap, and your seasoned pan will be just fine, she argues after a look at the science involved. "If you put uncured cast iron under a microscope, you’d see it has a jagged surface full of nooks and crannies that need to be protected from things that can damage the iron, like water," she explains. A properly seasoned skillet—one rubbed with oil or fat and then exposed to high heat for a while—has this kind of protection.

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"You can’t simply wash the cure off a cast iron pan with soap and water, because it’s molecularly bonded to the cast iron," writes Robicelli. While you don't want to put the skillet in the dishwasher, leave it soaking in the sink, or skip drying it, "a quick scrub after cooking isn’t going to do the damage that you think it will," she writes. "A squirt of soap may be able to cut grease, but folks, it ain’t so strong it can strip metal." A post at Mental Floss by Michele Debczak agrees, calling the no-soap rule a kitchen myth. She advises protecting the cure after each use by rubbing oil on the skillet with a paper towel when it's been cleaned and thoroughly dried. Coarse salt can be used to help remove stuck-on bits, and Katie Macdonald of Food & Wine suggests a chain-mail scrubber. (Also, it's probably not a good idea to cook chicken in a hot spring.)

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