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Cast Iron Sticking After Seasoning – How to Fix It

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A great cast iron skillet can last a lifetime, but only if you care for it like the beloved member of your family that it is.

Most people who own cast iron know that it needs to be seasoned, but not everyone understands what to do when the seasoning doesn’t turn out right, or even why the seasoning didn’t work properly. 

How do you fix a cast iron pan that sticks after seasoning? If your cast iron is sticky after seasoning it may be because you’ve used too much oil or the pan didn’t accept the seasoning because you started with a cold pan.

If this is the case, you’ll have to clean it before cooking with it. If food is sticking to the pan, try using more fat in your recipe.

Cleaning a sticky cast iron pan may take some time, but it’s not a difficult task. This article will walk you through the best ways to clean cast iron under every circumstance we could think of.

Why Is Cast Iron Sticky After Seasoning?

If you own cast iron, chances are at some point you’ve put your hand in the skillet and noticed it felt gummy or sticky. If this happens right after seasoning your pan, it’s likely because you used too much oil

If there is even the slightest pool of oil in your pan when it goes in the oven to heat, the extra oil will cause a buildup. This can make your cast iron multi-colored as well as sticky. 

You may notice that the pan isn’t sticky everywhere, but the seasoning was uneven or splotchy. This could be because the pan was not stored on a flat surface or has some warping, allowing the oil from your seasoning to pool.

cast iron

Another reason your cast iron may be sticky after you’ve seasoned it is because the pan did not accept the seasoning.

If you try to season a cold pan, it will create a sticky residue rather than allowing the oil to soak into the iron as it would if the pan was hot. 

Before we work toward cleaning off the sticky residue and preventing it from happening again in the future, it’s important to define the difference between a sticky pan caused by imperfect seasoning and a cast iron pan that sticks.

Cast Iron Pan Sticking

In contrast to your cast iron being sticky, sometimes food sticks to the pan as you’re cooking it.

While cast iron may not be as non-stick as something coated with Teflon, if it’s kept well, it should be fairly close. The vast majority of your cooking should not stick to cast iron, and if it is, there are a few likely reasons. 

First, you may not be using enough fat or oil in the dish you’re cooking. Some foods require a bit of extra fat to slick the surface even if the pan is well seasoned.

Far more likely, however, is that your cast iron simply isn’t seasoned properly. This is different from your seasoning attempts causing the pan to feel sticky, but the result can sometimes be the same.

If you’ve not seasoned your pan frequently enough, or at all, food will stick to it.

Some cast iron skillets come pre-seasoned, but even when that is the case, you will still need to properly keep up the seasoning over time.

The longer you own your cookware and consistently season it, the more layers of seasoning will build up, and the less likely food will be to stick to it.

Another potential reason your food might stick to the cast iron skillet is if you accidentally left it on a heat source for too long. This is especially risky if you’re simmering a sauce or marinade and too much liquid burns off.

Sticky Cast Iron

If food isn’t necessarily sticking to the pan when you use it and your pan is otherwise clean but there always seems to be a sticky, greasy, or gooey film coating its surface, it’s probably because the seasoning didn’t take.

If you don’t take care of the sticky cast iron right away, it can lead to cast iron that sticks. Follow the steps below to clean your cast iron properly.

Can I Cook With Sticky Cast Iron?

You can cook with a sticky cast iron pan, but it isn’t ideal.

Your food will cook safely and probably won’t even stick to the pan itself, but you will be creating even more build-up that will need to be removed before your pan is in good condition again. 

Residue can be difficult to scrub off, so the more you build up, the more work you’re creating for yourself in the long run. 

If you’re in a rush and didn’t realize your pan was sticky, go ahead and cook your meal. But do your best to give it a good scrub and reseason before you use it again.

How to Clean Sticky Cast Iron

Cleaning sticky cast iron may be a simple task or it may require copious amounts of elbow grease, depending on how long you have been avoiding the issue and how much build-up has developed.

How to Get Sticky Oil Off Pans

If you have a sticky residue from seasoning your pan, you can lightly scour the pan and then reseason as if it had just been used.

sticky cast iron

If the residue is quite light, follow these steps:

  1. Preheat your oven to 450°F.
  2. Cover a baking sheet with aluminum foil or parchment paper and place it on the bottom rack of your oven.
  3. Place your cast iron skillet upside down on the rack above the baking sheet.
  4. Allow it to bake for 1 hour and then carefully remove it.
  5. Once cool enough to touch, use a clean, dry rag to buff the pan, distributing any remaining oil evenly and encouraging it to sink into the iron.

Placing the pan upside down will allow any excess oil to release from the pan and drip into the baking sheet below.

For slightly more sticky residue, follow these steps:

  1. Using a light scouring pad, a bristly foam brush, or some sea salt, scrub the residue from your pan until it feels like a nice smooth texture.
  2. Rinse well with hot water and a cloth but don’t use soap.
  3. Reseason your pan as you normally would after using it.

Your pan should be stick-free and ready to tackle your favorite recipes!

How to Clean Build-Up on Cast Iron

If you have stuck-on food or built-up residue on your pan, it may take a bit of extra effort to get it clean enough to season properly.

Follow these steps to remove build-up on cast iron:

  1. Do not soak your pan!
  2. Use a scraper (such as this one from Amazon) to scrape off as much residue as possible.
  3. If you cannot remove all the build-up, add an inch of water to your pan and put it on the stove, allowing it to simmer for 3–5 minutes.
  4. Use your scraper again to remove any remaining build-up.
  5. Once smooth again, be sure to thoroughly dry the skillet and rub in a layer of oil.

If there is still residue after all that, go down to the section for removing rust from cast iron and follow the steps listed there.

Cleaning build-up will get harder the longer you let your cast iron go without deep cleaning, so be sure to pay attention to the state of your pan every time you plan to use it.

How to Clean Black Residue Off Cast Iron Skillet

Black residue on your cast iron is not only normal, but it is to be expected as you build up the seasoning over time. It is not harmful in any way and it should not alter the flavor of your food when you’re cooking either. 

A bit of black residue is simply caused by cooking liquids in a pan that doesn’t have quite enough seasoning to stop it from completely interacting with the iron.

cast iron black residue

This can also happen when cooking acidic foods like tomatoes or working with lemon juice. 

You can wipe your pan before you use it, but the best way to reduce black residue is to simply use your pan more often. As the seasoning builds up, the residue will become less and less noticeable until it stops happening entirely.

How to Remove Rust on Cast Iron

If your cast iron is not just sticky but has orange sections, you may have a rust problem. To clean this, you will need a metal scouring pad and a strong arm or two.

Follow these steps to remove all traces of rust from your cast iron:

  1. Fill a bowl or sink with warm, soapy water but do not place your pan in it.
  2. Use the soapy water to soak your scouring pad and rinse it periodically.
  3. Scrub your pan until your scouring pad comes off clean and you can’t see any orange spots left on the pan.
  4. Preheat your oven to 450–500°F.
  5. Place a small amount of oil in your pan and use a clean, dry rag to distribute it evenly across all surfaces of the pan, including the outside and handles.
  6. Cover a baking sheet with aluminum foil or parchment paper and place it on the bottom rack of your oven.
  7. Place your cast iron skillet upside down on the rack above the baking sheet.
  8. Allow it to bake for 1 hour and then carefully remove it and allow it to cool.
  9. Once cool enough to touch, use a clean, dry rag to buff the pan, distributing any remaining oil evenly and encouraging it to sink into the iron.

If there is any black patina coming off on your dry rag or cloth, repeat the process starting from step 4.

How to Season a Cast Iron Pan

The secret to a cast iron skillet that will allow you to make a perfect omelet is in the seasoning. You know how to clean the stickiness and residue off your pan now and moving forward you’ll want to take steps to keep it from getting sticky again. 

To season your pan after regular use, follow these easy steps:

  1. Make sure your cast iron skillet is clean and dry.
  2. Warm up the pan on low heat until the sides are warm, not just the bottom. Note that the pan does not need to be sizzling hot and, in fact, it should not be. You want it warm enough to soak in the seasoning but not so hot that it burns off the oil.
  3. Pour a small amount of oil into your pan. Generally no more than a tablespoon is necessary, though this will vary depending on the size of your pan.
  4. Using a clean, lint-free rag, not a paper towel, thoroughly distribute the oil across the surface of the entire pan, including the sides.
  5. Let the pan sit for 5-10 minutes to allow the oil to soak in and then take a clean portion of your rag and wipe the pan again to remove any excess oil.

If you’re not sure what kind of oil to use, we have a whole article on the 9 best cast iron seasoning oils waiting for you!

Related Questions

Does Cast Iron Rust?

Yes, cast iron is very prone to rust, which is one of the reasons it’s so important to season your pots and pans regularly. It’s equally important to make sure they are completely dry before returning them to storage.

A well-seasoned, dry pot or pan should stay rust-free even if there is high humidity in the air, especially if you are using the cookware frequently. 

If you have multiple pieces of cast iron, investing in a storage unit can help prevent rust that forms from contact.

This 5-tier rack can hold even heavy cast iron pans, griddles, or lids so that they’re not touching and won’t allow moisture to be trapped between them.

What Can You Not Cook in Cast Iron?

Cast iron can really stand up to just about anything you want to cook in it, however, there are a few foods that you may want to think twice about. 

If you’re completely confident in your seasoning abilities, your skillet should be as good as – or better than – a non-stick pan.

If your pan has seen better days or has a bit of residue that you haven’t had a chance to clean up recently, you may want to avoid cooking very delicate foods like eggs or fish.

Another thing to note is that cast iron will soak up more than just oil. It can also soak up strong smells.

If you’re sensitive to smell, you may want to save your garlic, hot peppers, fish, and strong cheese recipes for a stainless steel pan, as they may leave lingering aromas in your cast iron. 

The final thing you want to be aware of when you’re cooking with cast iron is that highly acidic foods, such as tomatoes or lemon juice, can react with your pan and break down the seasoning more quickly.

This won’t ruin your pan or your recipe, but it can increase the frequency with which you need to give your cast iron a deep seasoning.

Can You Wash Cast Iron With Soap?

If you’re using your cast iron regularly and keeping it well-seasoned, there should be no need to use soap. However, the common belief that dish soap will destroy your cast iron or, at the very least, your seasoning, it not entirely true. 

A well-seasoned pan has polymerized oil, not just a thin layer. Even though soap is designed to cut through oil, it cannot break the bonds that have been melded into your iron.

There is one thing you should never do with your cast iron, however, and that is to let it soak in a sink full of water, whether there is soap in it or not.

Up Next: 7 Best Cast Iron Braisers

One Comment

  1. This is the most informative article I’ve found on seasoning a cast iron pan. I have a couple of enameled cast iron pans that I am having a trouble with seasoning them so that food doesn’t stick. I have been starting with a cold pan and most likely using a little too much oil. Hopefully following your instructions, I will be successful this time. Thank you.

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