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

CRYSTAL H.  | ,   |   Updated
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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 cooking bacon in cast iron skillets and what to know and do to about that brown residue.

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Let’s start with the basics of cleaning a cast iron skillet after using it in the kitchen. There are a few ways of doing this and some folk swear by a certain method they use. I include answers below to help you solve your issue and find what works for you.

Ways to clean a cast iron skillet after cooking

Here’s how I clean my cast iron pan after cooking… in 4 steps:

  • 1) Allow it to cool (never put cold water in hot pan for risk of thermal shock)
  • 2) Cover the crusty bits stuck to the pan with water and let sit for 15 mins or thereabouts
  • 3) Scrub with warm water, mild detergent, and a stiff nylon brush and scraper
  • 4) Dry well

An optional method:

  • 1) Let cool
  • 2) Add teaspoon of salt and teaspoon of oil and scrub with a paper towel
  • 3) Wipe away and then rinse in hot water
  • 4) Dry well

Options for the excess fat left in the pan: Before the pan cools, drain the excess fat or oil into a container for later use in a recipe or let the pan cool with the fat hardening and then remove it using a paper towel. By not pouring it down the sink you won’t contribute to ‘fatbergs‘, which block sewers.

Alternatives: If you don’t have salt on hand, use sugar, or try coffee grounds mixed with oil. If you don’t have oil to spare try a little water to make a paste.

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

Why does bacon stick on cast iron skillet

Bacon is one of those best foods done in a cast iron skillet.

Three possible reasons it sticks…

  1. Preheated skillet is too hot
  2. Bacon flipped too soon
  3. Skillet needs seasoning

What’s The Brown Residue After Cooking Bacon

Three possible sources…

  1. Bacon sticking to the pan leaves bits that brown or char
  2. Sugar content of bacon caramelizes, which is the brown residue
  3. Salts, juices, and fat from the bacon burn, leaving a brown residue

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

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

…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.

How to cook bacon in cast iron skillet without it sticking

  • Try putting the strips of bacon onto a cold cast iron skillet and then heating the pan (a tip I found on Spruceeats).
  • 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.

Brown residue on cast iron skillet from cooking bacon

Should I scrape off the brown layer after cooking bacon? If you’re not fussed about it, you can just keep using the pan until the brown layer cooks away. But if you’re worried about the look, attracting pests, or rust, it’s best to scrape off the brown layer and clean and season the skillet properly before storing.

A seasoned pan is much easier to clean and will resist rusting. In humid areas, the growth of mould can can be another worry.

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.

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.

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

On cleaning cast iron after cooking bacon

To clean the cast iron skillet after cooking bacon, first remove the baked-on or crusty residue — soak it in a little dishwater for 10–15 mins to soften the dried on crust and then give it a good scrub with a stiff nylon brush with scraper. You’ll find these steps above.

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 a spoonful of coarse salt with same 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.

If you don’t have salt, try sugar or coffee grounds.

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.

ARM & HAMMER Pure Baking Soda 8 oz (Pack of 6)
For scratchless cleaning

available at Amazon

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 |

© original article created: 2020-03-04