So asks reader Cindy. Cindy, the short answer is: yes. Oh yes I know that the cast iron cognoscenti claim that a properly seasoned cast iron pan can’t be allowed within a yard of a bottle of dish soap, but the fact is that a well-seasoned pan can absolutely tolerate a washing with soap. So enough with the home-fashioned scrubbers made of kosher salt and lemon halves, go ahead and break out the Palmolive.
But Joe! Seasoning on a pan is made from fat and detergents disperse fat! You know not what you say! Au contraire, my good friend. The seasoning layer on a pan may be made from fat, but it ceased being fat when you heated it to a zillion degrees Fahrenheit. At that point the lipid molecules in the fat were literally torn apart, and the pieces reorganized into a hard and shiny polymer that is absolutely not fat. Just how soap resistant is this non-fat polymer? If you’ve ever tried to scrub burned oil off of the lovely chrome finish on the outside of an expensive saucepan, you know how soap resistant it is: maddeningly so.
So go ahead and scrub. Not a lot, just a little. If your pan was only recently seasoned, and then at low heat, maybe you do want to baby it some. But once the surface turns a nice shiny black (after, say, half a dozen uses), feel free to apply the suds. I wash mine out probably three times a week with some form of detergent, and they remain slick and lovely.
But I can hear the objection: Joe, why, if your pan is seasoned to the point that it’s virtually non-stick, would you ever want to wash it versus just wiping it out? Because tarte tatin shouldn’t taste like liver and onions, it’s that simple.
Thanks for the question, Cindy!