Cast iron pans are exceptionally durable. They improve with age, are nonstick (without the use of chemicals) and retain heat very well for cooking. Carbon buildup on cast iron pans can be problematic, but it is not that hard to remove. Fortunately, it is not harmful, but you will want to get rid of it because over time, it looks unpleasant and can get into your food.
Cast Iron Black Flakes
Cooking residue from grease, fats, oil and burnt food tends to accumulate in the bottom of cast iron pans and can cause food to stick to it or can make it taste charred. Many people enjoy this flavor and don't mind the cast iron black flakes, but too much buildup is not a good thing. Chemical bonds form between the food and pan material. Beef, poultry, dairy products and eggs are all high in protein and are more likely to create the residue.
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Seasoning a new cast iron pan can prevent carbon buildup for a while, but if you use the pan often, the residue will eventually build up. The longer you leave that residue in the pan, the harder it is to remove. When you eventually have to clean the pan, you will then want to season it again afterward. This technique is the best way to use these pans and will help them to perform better and last longer.
How to Dissolve Carbon Buildup
What dissolves carbon deposits? Believe it or not, salt is the best material for this process. Pour about 1/4 cup of it into your dry cast iron pan, take a flat-edged kitchen utensil (like a spatula) and push the salt all around. Another method is to use an oiled paper towel instead of the kitchen utensil; be sure to use the same kind of oil that you used to season the pan.
If black flecks from your cast iron pan are still a problem, soak it in water for an hour. After the soak, take out the pan and scrub the surface with a small amount of dish soap and a stiff brush. Dry it off with a towel and put it on high heat on your stove until the moisture evaporates. Some experts advise against using soap in cast iron pans, though, so the choice is up to you. Either way, season the pan with a light coat of oil after it is clean and dry.
Rust can also be a problem with cast iron skillets. To remove it, scrub the surface well (use some elbow grease) while holding the pan under hot water. You can prevent rust from forming by always drying the pan completely after washing it and keeping the surface seasoned.
Seasoning Cast Iron Skillets
Many people might instinctively shy away from the idea of seasoning cast iron skillets, but it is pretty straightforward. You can start the process by heating your oven to as high as it goes and cleaning the pan if needed. Remove any carbon buildup, rust or other undesirable residues and make sure that the surface is completely dry. Next, you'll want to cover it with oil and remove the excess with clean paper towels.
Now, you should put the pan into the oven and set the timer for one hour. After the time passes, you'll want to turn off the oven but don't open it quite yet. You'll want to let the pan cool inside first. Use potholders just in case when removing it from the oven; the handles can get extremely hot. You should always protect your hands when using these pans and remember that they can also be pretty heavy.
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- Taste of Home: If You See Black Residue on Your Cast-Iron Skillet, This Is What It Means
- Uno Casa: How to Clean Black Residue Off Cast Iron Skillet [Tips]
- Science of Cooking: Science of Cast Iron Skillet Cooking