Cast iron cookware is an age-old kitchen item. Prevalent since the times of our grandmothers and great grandmothers, it was one of the most valued and much used cookware then. Later, with the advent of modern cookware, its application deteriorated. But now, it is staging a comeback. Thanks to its excellent and versatile appeal, it can be used for a lifetime if properly cleaned and seasoned. On account of its caustic properties, lye helps in the cleaning of cast iron cookware. So, if you have a relic-like cast iron cookware as a gift from your grandma, take it out and use it now after cleaning with lye.
How to clean cast iron cookware: You can put your cast iron back on kitchen duty with a little cleaning and seasoning. Though there are many methods, the lye cleaning method works out well. In ancient times, people used to bury the cookware in the embers of an outdoor fire to let the heat burn off the built-up residue. This is an old-time method and is not in much use now as it can sometimes damage the cookware, causing a crack or warp on its surface. As far as the lye method is concerned, it is easier, safer and less expensive. It can be done at your home, with your available kitchen equipments.
Below is a step-by-step approach to cleaning cast iron cookware with lye:
1. Supplies required: You will need the following ingredients: Red Devil lye, dish cleaning pads, brass-bristled brushes, dish washing liquid of your choice, little amount of vinegar, mineral oil or animal fat, cheap white shortening and other ingredients if needed. You would need the following equipments: rubber gloves, goggles, plastic garbage can or large bucket with a sealable cover, wooden blender, oven or barbecue stove to heat and the cast iron to be cleaned.
2. Protection first: Lye can be very harmful to the skin and body. To avoid any injury, wear your protective gear all through the cleaning process. Better to do this exercise outside your home as it is safer and less toxic outdoors. Keep away the lye water or any resulting mixture out of reach from children and pets. It can be very caustic and even fatal to both.
3. Prepare lye solution: Make lye solution by mixing lye pellets with water in the large plastic garbage can. Beware of the fumes that may rise and wear mask if required. Carefully, stir with a wooden spoon to dissolve lye completely in water.
4. Handle your cookware well: Before you insert your cookware to the lye solution, tie a twine to it and then, insert it. This is to avoid a sudden splash of lye on to your face or outer surface and to place the cast iron cookware gently.
5. Immerse cookware into lye solution and seal: Immerse the cookware slowly into the lye solution and then, seal the plastic can completely. Let it rest for a few days and let the lye work on the residue on your cast iron cookware. Remember, you can do a full immersion only with cookware that do not have wooden handles.
6. Change lye solution if required: In hot weather, it may take about four to ten days for the lye to work on the carbon residue. It takes a bit longer in cold weather. If your cast iron cookware has a large gunk to be washed off, you can change the lye solution every 4 days or so. Do it carefully with all protective gear on.
7. Lift cookware out and clean: If the carbon or other residue is washed off to your satisfaction, lift the cookware using fireplace tongs. This is because lye water is caustic and hence, should not be touched directly. Then, start the cleaning process.
8. Clean with dish wash or soapy water: Use pads and clean the cast iron cookware with dish wash liquid. Initially, you can use even a garden hose to rinse all the lye in the cookware and then, handle it with gloves on. Once cleaning is over, rinse with clear water. Repeat this till your satisfaction.
9. Soak in vinegar: Next, soak the cast iron cookware in a mixture of water and vinegar for thirty minutes. This will remove any remaining lye residue in the cookware, making it clean and free of rust also.
10. Wash again with soap: After the vinegar bath, wash again with dish wash liquid and clean with water. Then, dry the cast iron. You can even dry it on an oven or open stove to evaporate any existing fluid.
11. Season your cast iron: Your cookware is not complete without seasoning. Season it with mineral oil or animal fat and follow the appropriate procedures to make it look new and polished.