A carbon steel pan is lighter than cast iron or copper cookware, has non-stick capabilities, and has the same high heat capacity that stainless steel does.
However, if you've ever used non-stainless steel, you know how easily it can rust when you neglect it. Keeping carbon steel clean isn't difficult, but it requires diligence to prevent any rust buildup.
You especially want to avoid rust residue in a cooking utensil because it affects the taste of your food. Rust, or iron oxide, won't harm you in small quantities but you still don't want to have it in your food.
We'll talk about the step-by-step process of the best ways to clean a carbon steel pan. We'll also give you ideas on what products to buy, how to store your pan, and what not to do to keep the pan effective for years to come.
5 Ways to Clean Carbon Steel Pans:
1. Clean Immediately
This goes for all dishes, but you should always begin cleaning your waterless pots and pans immediately after using them. This habit helps to keep your kitchen clean, for one thing. It also lessens the likelihood that food residue will have a chemical reaction with the metal of the pan.
2. Cleaning with Hot Water
Rinse the pan in hot water. Do this for only long enough to get the food residue off the surface of the pan. Whatever you do, do not leave the pan to soak. Water is dangerous to carbon steel it creates rust, which is what you're trying to avoid in the first place.
Take a paper towel or soft rag and gently scrape the pan to remove the food residue, and then make sure you dry it thoroughly. Use a different cloth than the one you used to clean it. If possible, use a microfiber cloth to avoid damaging the finish.
If you have any doubts about moisture being on the metal still, then place the pan on your stove eye and turn it to medium heat. Doing this will evaporate the water. Next, place a teaspoon of mineral oil on the inside of the pan and work it in with the cloth.
The oil acts as an insulator against moisture and helps to prevent potential rust buildup. Wipe away any excess. You don't want a pool of oil, you just want to have a thin film of it coating your carbon steel pan. Store it in a dry cabinet.
3. Cleaning with Salt
If you have sticky food on your pan, you can also use oil and salt to remove it without risking the accumulation of moisture. The best thing to use is kosher salt, which is coarse and acts as a mild abrasive compound.
First, you need to let the pan cool from cooking when using oil. You'll be scrubbing it with a paper towel or a small cloth. Allow the pan to cool so you can safely touch it.
If you don't want to wait, use a set of tongs to hold the cloth as you scrub. You should use enough salt to coat the bottom of the pan. Gently scrub around the bottom and along the inside rim.
When you're finished, rinse the pan with hot water in undermount sink and immediately dry it thoroughly. You can put it on low heat to evaporate any remaining moisture that the towel doesn't soak up.
4. Getting Rid of Rust
Preventing rust is the ultimate goal of cleaning, but what do you do if you have a carbon steel pan that someone has neglected? Don't worry, you can remove surface-level rust stain.
Two ways exist to get rid of rust. First, you can scrub at the stain with steel wool or a scouring pad. Put some force behind it and use small circular motions to ensure you don't miss any. This method works well for surface-level rust
If you have more stubborn stains, fill the pan with equal parts vinegar and water. Bring the mixture to a boil and pour it out. The vinegar breaks the molecular bonds between the rust and the rest of the pan, so you should be able to remove it easily.
After you remove rust, you need to re-season the pan. Doing this creates a coating to protect the pan. To season the pan, heat it over medium heat and use an oil-soaked paper towel to coat the entire pan, both interior and exterior. If rust sets in and is not treated, it can eat through the entire pan.
Put the pan face-down in your oven and leave it at about 400 degrees. You'll see smoke, but don't worry, this is normal. When the pan cools down, it's ready to use. The heat from the oven acts to bind the oil to the metal and create a coating. This coating will create a slight patina, which is normal.
Carbon steel doesn't have to be difficult to maintain, but you need to be diligent about keeping it clean. Get rid of the notion of letting dishes soak; you can't leave carbon steel in water.