How To Clean A Cast Iron Skillet [Sticky Bacon & Rust]

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What’s the best way to clean cast iron cookware? Why does bacon stick to your cast iron skillet? What’s the brown residue on the cast iron after cooking bacon? Could the brown residue be rust? Here’s what to know on cleaning cast iron skillets and how to get rid of hard burnt-on residue or rust.

protecting cast iron from rust

How to clean a cast iron skillet after cooking?

How to clean a cast iron pan after cooking with it… in 4 steps: 1) allow it to cool. 2) Cover the crusty bits stuck to the pan with water and let sit for 15 mins or longer. 3) Scrub with warm water, mild detergent, and a stiff nylon brush and scraper. 4) Dry well.

For hard-to-move burnt-on residue (or rust), see my deep cleaning tips described below.

To know about bacon in cast iron skillet cooking and how to remedy the sticking etc., read on.

Why does bacon stick and what’s the brown residue after cooking bacon on cast iron skillet

Here are the answers in a nutshell…

  1. Pan was preheated – bacon sticks
  2. Bacon flipped too soon – bacon sticks
  3. Pan not seasoned – bacon sticks
  4. The bacon sticks – this leaves bits that brown or char
  5. The bacon has a sugar content that caramelizes – this can leave a brown residue
  6. The bacon releases salts, juices, and fat that can burn – this can leave a brown residue

Read on for more on what to expect on cooking bacon in a cast iron skillet.

Bacon tastes great, and cooked bacon in a cast iron skillet is tasty. But sometimes it doesn’t work out as perfect as you’d like it.

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…or it’s an effort to clean up the skillet after because it stuck.

Why does bacon stick to the cast iron pan? If the bacon has sugar added to it for flavor or as part of the curing process, the bacon will stick to the cast iron pan when cooking and leave a brown residue.

Other reasons for bacon sticking to a cast iron pan include whether or not you’ve preheated the pan, you’ve tried to turn it too soon, or the pan may need re-seasoning or priming with a dob of oil or fat on the surface.

  • Try putting the strips of bacon onto a cold cast iron skillet and then heating the pan (I found Spruceeats has this tip).
  • Wait until the bacon is ready to lift off the pan before flipping. Use a set of tongs to lift the edges to see if it is ready and turn the bacon over when it easily releases from the skillet.
  • Priming the pan (by adding a little oil, fat, or ghee) will help keep the pan seasoned.

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brown residue on cast iron skillet from cooking bacon

Cooking bacon can leave a brown or burnt residue on the cast iron pan, especially if it contains sugar. Often sugar is used to cure bacon. Sugar caramelizes when heated and can be what leaves that brown residue after cooking bacon. Burnt juices and fat from the bacon can also create the brown residue.

If you’re not fussed about that, you can just keep using the pan and it will eventually cook away. But if you’re worried about the look, attracting pests, or rust, it’s best to clean it properly before storing. In humid areas, the growth of mould can can be another worry.

Bacon also contains salt and it may help to clean the skillet well after cooking to remove any salt residue as this may promote another brown residue…rust or iron oxidising.

A seasoned pan is much easier to clean and will resist rusting.

See also: My article on the black residue from cast iron pans…is it harmful?

How to clean cast iron after cooking bacon

An easy way to remove baked-on or crusty residue after cooking bacon or similar foods on a cast iron skillet or griddle is to soak it to soften the dried on crust and then give it a good scrub with a stiff nylon brush with scraper.

This will work best if your skillet or griddle is kept seasoned. Always make sure your pan is dry before storing it.

Also, never run a hot pan under cold water! This applies to cast iron, stainless steel, ceramic, and non-stick pans alike.

How to deep clean cast iron

Here’s how to deep clean a cast iron skillet – using a salt method.

There’s no need to discard or recycle that cookware. Rusty cast iron pans are still safe to use, as I explained elsewhere, with a proper cleaning and sealing of the cast iron surface.

Using salt to clean a cast iron skillet with rust or char

How to clean a cast iron pan with rust on it? Or even with charred remains? This salt method will deep clean your cast iron skillet:

  • Take a warm pan and then use coarse salt with a spoonful of coconut oil and scrub.
  • Use a paper towel to wipe it out, and rinse with very warm water
  • Dry in the oven or over a burner for a few minutes.

Extra tip: Use a cut potato with the cut-side down on top of salt to help the salt around to scour the residue away.

How to deep clean cast iron skillet with baking soda

You can use baking soda instead of salt for a deep clean. Moisten the pan and then sprinkle baking soda to cover the surface of the skillet. Leave it sit overnight. Then in the morning give it a decent scrub with a good brush and scraper. Rinse. Dry. And then follow this with seasoning, so that it’s protected from rusting and ready for next use.

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The important part of deep cleaning a cast iron skillet is to make sure you properly dry it and then apply a coating of oil to re-season it. See a recommended product below.

Bottom line

On why does bacon stick to cast iron pan, the reasons include the pan needing to be seasoned or the bacon is flipped too soon. The brown residue after cooking bacon can be from the sugar content that caramelizes.

Try to avoid harsh detergents or scourers when cleaning a cast iron skillet. A stiff nylon brush is useful. Always dry well before storing. And, I recommend giving it a spray to help keep it seasoned and prevent rust from forming. Scroll to the recommended product that’s makes this easy below.


To keep cast iron cookware in top condition, seasoning is important. This product by US company, Lodge, will make that a breeze…

Lodge Canola Oil 8 Ounce Seasoning Spray
Available at Amazon

Info sources

Bacon & Food Safety |

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