(I’m clearly never very good at the short story option, but I’ll try to include both here. The Short Story will get you there, while the Long Story is if you want to go the extra mile, or have maintenance issues.)
Short Story: Stainless Steel
Stainless steel cookware is very easy to clean, particularly if you’ve cooked in it properly. (Dorky foodie-types like myself get a kick out of joking: Why clean a pan with soap and water when you can clean it with wine?, referring to deglazing to make a pan sauce after cooking. It does get the pan pretty clean when you’re done!)
Some brands of stainless steel are dishwasher safe. I, personally, always handwash cookware (and knives). I’m not convinced that dishwasher detergents wouldn’t hurt the finish; if you choose to use the dishwasher, I’d recommend removing your pots and pans after the wash cycle and drying by hand to reduce spotting.
Hand washing stainless cookware is usually quite easy. Use a gentle dish soap (post coming soon on choosing a safer dish soap!) and a nonabrasive sponge (like nylon) or brush (a kitchen brush will soon become your best friend). Remember to clean the rivets. If there is hard-to-remove food residue, you can soak it in hot, soapy water. (For tougher issues, see the Long Story below.)
If you want to avoid water spots, hand dry. Otherwise, air-drying is fine.
Do not use abrasive cleaners, such as steel wool, chlorine bleach or oven cleaning solutions. You should also avoid Bar Keepers Friend or other stainless steel cleaners you will see recommended. They have questionable ingredients, and we’re talking about cookware, here: it touches just about every piece of food your family ingests.
Short Story: Cast Iron
You should never put cast iron in the dishwasher.
After cooking, clean your stainless steel with a stiff nylon brush and hot water. Using soap is not recommended, and harsh detergents should never be used. (Make sure you never put a hot cast iron pan into cold water. This can cause thermal shock, which can warp or crack the metal).
To keep up the patina on your pan (see this post for more info), towel dry immediately (never let it air dry as it can rust) and apply a thin layer of fat. Here’s how I do it:
*Towel dry the cast iron pan and place it on a burner over very low heat.
*Take a small amount of fat (I usually use coconut oil or tallow) and a soft cloth or scrap of paper towel and rub the oil all over the surface of the pan. Make sure to go up the sides and get in the corners. (Common sense precaution: Don’t burn yourself. Metal and oils get hot.)
*Heat for another minute or so to set the oil, then let it cool before storing. (If there is excess oil, wipe it off before storing.)
(Some people skip placing it on the burner if the pan is still hot from washing. I’m a creature of habit. My mom did it this way, I do it this way.)
Store in a cool, dry place. If you have a cover for your pan, place a folded paper towel in between lid and the pan allowing air to circulate (or store separately). This prevents moisture from collecting inside the pan, which can cause rust. (If rust becomes a problem, see the Long Story below.)
Long Story: Stainless Steel
To keep glass lids clean and shiny, periodically clean with a soft cloth dampened with vinegar or lemon juice. Rinse and dry completely.
To remove spots or discoloration, use a solution of equal parts water and vinegar. Apply vinegar solution with a cloth, allow to sit for 10 minutes, and then rinse and dry completely. (If your tap water has a high calcium content, you might notice a more substantial chalky white residue on your cookware. To remove it, fill the pot or pan with 1 part vinegar to 3 parts water. Bring to a boil, let it cool to the touch, then wash thoroughly with hot, soapy water and dry.)
To bring back that brand-new shine, wet the pan’s surface and sprinkle on some baking soda. Rub gently with a nylon sponge, rinse thoroughly and dry. This can sometimes even buff out minor scratches.
For seriously burned-on food that isn’t removed with soaking, fill the pan with enough warm, soapy water to cover the mess and let it sit for an hour. Then put the pan back on the burner and boil the soapy water for 10 to 15 minutes. Let the water cool to the touch, then scrub with a nylon scouring pad. Wash out again with hot, soapy water, rinse and dry. Repeat for stubborn residue.
Long Story: Cast Iron
If you are having trouble removing stuck-on food, boil some water in your pan for a few minutes to loosen residue, making it easier to remove.
If you see rust, or for some reason your pan develops a metallic smell or taste (maybe someone “helped” you by washing it in the dishwasher), don’t worry. Simply scour off the rust using a very fine grade of sandpaper or steel wool and re-season (process below).
Lodge cast iron is pre-seasoned, which means it comes with a patina already established. Since Lodge uses a soy-based vegetable oil to produce this patina, you may want to scrub it off and re-season. Or, you may need to re-season at some point for another reason (see above, or if food begins sticking excessively to the surface, or you notice a dull, gray color). Here’s the process:
1. Wash the cookware with hot, soapy water and a stiff brush. (It is okay to use soap this time because you are preparing to re-season the cookware). Rinse and dry completely. [Update: I just learned this great tip: You can also just place your cast iron pans in the your oven and run a self-cleaning cycle. When it's done, they'll be stripped clean and ready to re-season! I can't wait to try it.]
2. Apply a thin, even coating of liquid fat to the cookware, inside and out (so for most fats, such as tallow, you will need to melt it first).
3. Set oven temperature to 350 – 400 degrees (F). Place a baking sheet on the bottom rack of the oven to catch any dripping.
4. Place cookware upside down on the top rack of the oven.
5. Bake the cookware for at least one hour. (This will probably smoke, so turn on your kitchen fan if you have one, or open a window.) After the hour, turn the oven off and let the cookware cool in the oven. Store the cookware uncovered, in a dry place, when cooled.
And that’s it! With proper care, your stainless steel and cast iron cookware should last a lifetime, and beyond.
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