How to Get—and Keep—a Grill Pan Clean
Hint: It starts with how you use a grill pan.
I always thought “nonstick grill pan” was the king of all oxymorons. Those ridges seem designed to trap burned-on bits, which then become industrially welded to the pan, and no amount of soaking or scouring will budge them.
“It is vexing for a lot of people,” says chef Joe Pace with the Institute of Culinary Education, who has used the same Le Creuset grill pan for around 30 years (Here's why every home cook needs a grill pan). “But that’s because they’re involving soap in the cleaning process. Soap is the enemy of cast iron.”
But cleaning a grill pan really starts before it even gets dirty. Like all cast iron, you want to make sure it’s seasoned properly. Heating it evaporates all the water in the metal, which you replace with a thin coating of oil rubbed on the surface, says Pace. Many cast iron pans come pre-seasoned, but you’ll want to reapply occasionally.
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Next, he says, make sure you’re using the proper technique to prevent foods, especially proteins, from sticking to the pan. That means heat. “Stuff will stick if you don’t get it hot enough,” Pace says. Your heat should be high enough to form a nice, crusty, brown coating on your meat or fish, which will then release naturally from the pan, even without a lot of oil or other cooking fat. If you’re working with a thicker cut, he advises starting at a high temp (around 375 degrees) on each side, then lowering the heat to 325 to finish cooking it through.
When the pan empty but is still hot, spray it out with hot water from the sink. “It’s like steam cleaning,” he says. Never use any kind of soap, which can wash away your seasoning. If you have sauces or other bits that caramelized in the pan and water won’t remove, stick the whole thing into a 500-degree oven for two hours. “All residue will carbonize, and you can brush it off with a wire brush,” Pace says. When your pan is completely clean and dry, rub it all over with a kitchen towel soaked in oil.
If neither method works for you, or you have a stainless-steel grill pan, there is a secret weapon Pace likes to bust out: a chain mail ring scrubber. It’s like a more durable, more abrasive steel wool. Andrew Zeigler, founder of RingMesh, says the same technology is used in the meatpacking industry and for shark-resistant suits. It’s basically a bunch of stainless steel rings welded together to create “a more scratchable surface.” You can slip a sponge inside (or a bar of soap, though of course that’s not recommended for cast iron) and scrub away. The best part? The ring mesh itself is dishwasher friendly.