Getting burnt gunk off of cast iron skillet?

Any suggestions for getting burnt gunk (from marinated flat steak) off of a cast iron skillet? I tried heating a little oil and dumping some course salt in there and scouring with a vegetable brush, which has worked for me before, but this time I can't get it off. Also tried wiping it out with half an onion (I heard this was a good way to clean a barbeque grill), but no luck.

Kristen W.


Kmwells December 26, 2018
Heat pan until hot and pour in 1-2 ozs of red wine. Remove from heat and wipe with a paper towel. Oil pan afterwards. Stuck on gunk will release from the pan easily and not remove pan seasoning. Also works well on cast iron cooktops!!!!!
Kristen W. April 19, 2012
Well thanks to all -- I now feel I have an arsenal of strategies to try here! I am going to accept that re-seasoning is a likelihood and proceed from easiest to most pain-in-the-butt method (though I think I'd probably just buy a new pan before taking a cast-iron skillet to an automotive shop) and hope for the best!
Chrisppp April 18, 2012
Maybe not great for cast iron (though I do use water on all my cast iron) but for other baked on gunk I boil the water with a little bit of dish washer detergent (dry powder, not liquid soap) in it. Smells awful, but gets the gunk out really well!
ChefOno April 18, 2012

Oven cleaner is indeed toxic but it will all come off with soap and water after it has done its job. The only danger is getting any of it on your skin, in your eyes, or breathing any of the mist or vapors. That's the tradeoff for a product that can cut through the worst baked on crud virtually without effort on your part.

The other time-tested method is to burn it off. A couple of posts above suggest either a high oven or the oven's self-cleaning cycle to accomplish the task. The problem there is smoke, both unpleasant and carcinogenic. Mary's suggestion of throwing it on the barbie (right in the coals) would be the way to go if you want to take that tack. Personally I'd rather take the chemical route than deal with the soot and grime.

Incidentally, I just saw the blog reference posted a few up from here. [Shaking head] So much misinformation I wouldn't know where to begin…
pierino April 18, 2012
Vinegar and water works for me, but yes, you will have to re-season. Yesterday I bought a cast iron skillet that according to the antique dealer is 100 years old. Amazingly well maintained. These things last forever.
Kristen W. April 18, 2012
Isn't oven-cleaner pretty toxic stuff? Will rinsing it out with water after (but before reseasoning) be a enough to make it safe to cook on?
ChefOno April 18, 2012

Sounds like it's time to get serious. Lots of ways of getting rid of the problem.

Here's an article from Cook's Illustrated:

And here's an easy method:

Spray a heavy coat of oven cleaner on the pan and place it in a plastic bag. Allow it to sit for two or three days. Scrub with a brass brush or similar. Reseason. Wear gloves.
Quinciferous April 18, 2012
Oh no, it still won't come off? That must be some seriously baked-on gunk! If several rounds of heating a half inch of water and boiling for a few minutes hasn't worked, I don't know what to tell you -- you aren't boiling off all the water, are you? I suppose you might have to strip the pan and re-season it.

If you do need to re-season the pan, this is a great explanation of how to do it, with plenty of science!
Sam1148 April 17, 2012
Put in the oven if you have a self cleaning might need to re-seasoning it as it could burn off some of the oil at high heat.

The worst case: Take it to a auto-body shop that has a sandblaster and have them resurface the pan. Look for a mom/pop shop that's independently own. Of course you'd have to re-season in that case.
Kristen W. April 17, 2012
Tried heating the pan and scouring with lots of Kosher salt to no avail. I thought of vinegar but didn't know if the acidity would be a problem. ChefJune, if water removes the cure, wouldn't vinegar do that also?
mensaque April 17, 2012
Boiling some water and vinegar for a few minutes always does the truck-but it smells bad!
mensaque April 17, 2012
Trick!!!I meant to say trick...rsrsrs!
ChefJune April 17, 2012
When the pan is (still) warm, coat heavily with Kosher salt and scour the pan with that. I never put water in my cast iron skillet. It removes the cure.
Kristen W. April 17, 2012
Thanks, I'll try the oven if boiling water doesn't work. And good to know about my pan's fire- resistance :).
maryvelasquez April 16, 2012
Burning off the gunk in a very high oven, followed by a scouring with coarse salt, once worked for me. If you have a charcoal grill, you could do the heating outside, eliminating any smoky vapors. Cast iron can stand very high heat.min fact, if your house burns down, you may be able to find your skillet in the ashes.
Kristen W. April 16, 2012
Ah, thank you! I forgot to mention it, but I tried water but didn't heat it all the way to boiling. Will definitely try it that way. What does "thorough cleaning" mean, if not the procedure described above, by the way?
sfmiller April 15, 2012
Put a small amount of water (1/2" is plenty) and boil until the crud loosens. Then scrub it out. If it's really stubborn, you may need to do this more than once.

Once it's clean, put the pan back on the stove to dry completely, then while it's still hot wipe the inside with a light coating of vegetable oil. Cool and put away.

If you get the same sticking problem next time, your pan probably needs a thorough cleaning and reseasoning.

Voted the Best Reply!

Quinciferous April 15, 2012
I always add enough water to cover the bottom of the skillet, then put it right back on the stovetop and heat it until the water begins to boil. This usually loosens up the gunk so that you can brush/sponge/wipe it away once the water cools. I have not found that it unduly strips the cast iron of its finish, either.
Recommended by Food52