Whether it is for crispy Dosa or for soft chapati, cast-iron Tawas are a must-have in an Indian kitchen. The texture and taste that you experience in a dosa made on cast iron can never be replicated by a non-stick Tawa. Even so, many homemakers avoid cast iron fearing it would be too much of a hassle cleaning maintaining it. But, that is not the case. As someone who has been using cast iron cookware for almost a decade, I can say that the hassles are minimal and totally worth it.
There are two schools of thought about cleaning cast iron Tawa on a daily basis. Most people use the Tawa, wash it, apply a layer of oil and then keep it away. Others scrape away any residue with a spatula after use and keep the Tawa in the cabinet. They wash it only before taking it the next time. The advantage of this method is that the Tawa maintains its seasoning far better and the chances of rusting are almost none. But on the flip side, it may attract ants and other pests.
I personally follow the former method. But before use, I wash the Tawa with soap because the layer of oil may attract dust, which is plenty in a Bangalore home. Based on my experience, we discuss how to clean cast iron Tawa before first use and other maintenance tips so that you can use them with minimal fuss.
Related reading: Best Cast Iron Cookware In India
How To Clean Cast Iron Tawa Before First Use?
If you are using a preseasoned cast iron Tawa like from Indus Valley, Rock Tawa or Dynamic Cookware, you won’t have much prep work before using the Tawa for the first time. All you need to do is clean it thoroughly using soap and a soft scrub and then dry it on the stovetop and apply some oil.
However, if you are buying an unseasoned cast iron Tawa from the local market, you have to clean and season it before use. Here is how to go about with it.
Time needed: 30 minutes.
How To Clean Unseasoned Cast Iron Tawa Before First Use?
- Rinse And Clean The Tawa To Get Rid of Any Residues
Unseasoned cast iron Tawa may have a coating on it to prevent rusting while it is in the shop. So, you have to first remove it and any other residue that may be embedded on the Tawa. For this, soak the Tawa in rice water for 6 hours. You can either use the water obtained while rinsing and cleaning the rice. Or you can use the starch obtained after cooking.
- Wash Thoroughly
Using diluted dishwashing soap and a soft nylon scrub or Scotchbrite, clean the Tawa thoroughly. Ensure that you scrub the top and bottom of the Tawa, the handle and every nook and corner. If you find any stubborn stain on the Tawa, use rock salt or normal salt to scrub and remove the rust. You needn’t worry even if there is a little bit of rust on it as it will be removed in the coming steps.
- Dry The Tawa
After washing, dry the Tawa on a stovetop. This expands the Tawa and also helps open up the pores for seasoning the Tawa properly.
- Apply Oil
Apply a thin layer of oil to the cooking surface and the handles of the Tawa while it is hot. Once it has cooled down, apply oil to the reverse side as well. You can use a silicone brush to apply oil as this helps spread the oil evenly. You can use any vegetable oil for seasoning. Ideally, it should have high unsaturated fat content and low smoking point. Options like gingelly oil and sunflower oil, which are commonly available in Indian kitchens are suitable for seasoning.
- Remove Any Excess Oil
Wipe off any excess oil using a paper towel or napkin. This step is very important because if you have excess oil on the surface, it won’t polymerize properly to form the seasoning. As a result, the surface will be sticky.
- Heat the Tawa
After wiping off the excess oil, heat the Tawa on a low to medium flame on the largest burner till you find the oil smoking. Usually, it takes about 5-15 minutes.
Sometimes, the oil may not smoke sufficiently at the edges. In such a case, you may have to move the Tawa around so that all the areas are heated. Else, the edges will have a sticky residue. This residue is just semi-polymerized oil that can be turned into beautiful seasoning with sufficient heat.
Alternatively, you can also heat the Tawa in an oven to 100 C.
- Reapply Oil
While heating the Tawa, you will notice that after a while, all the oil would have smoked and the surface would get dry. At that time, reapply oil and wipe it off carefully using a paper towel without scalding yourself. Then heat it to the smoking point again. This helps build a thicker layer of seasoning that will last.
- Cool and Store Away
Leave the Tawa on the stovetop. It would be a good idea to put a post-it note nearby saying “Hot” so that no one around touches it accidentally. Once cooled, keep it away in the kitchen cabinet.
Before use next time, rinse it in water and use it as normal.
Related reading: How to Clean Cast Iron Kadai?
How To Clean Cast Iron Tawa on A Daily Basis?
On a daily basis, once the Tawa cools down, wash it using soap and soft scrub. If there is rust, use salt as an abrasive. Avoid using steel wool as it may cause the seasoning to flake off. After washing, dry it on the stovetop or use a kitchen towel to wipe it dry. Then, apply a thin layer of oil and keep it away.
After several years of use, your cast iron Tawa will develop a thick layer of seasoning which protects it well against rust. In such cases, you needn’t oil the Tawa before storing it away. Just let it dry and keep it in the cabinet.
If you use your cast iron Tawa on a regular basis, it will develop seasoning through the cooking process itself. So, you won’t have to go through the seasoning process separately.
Related reading: 6 Reasons Why Dosa Gets Stuck To Tawa?
Tips To Maintain Cast Iron Tawa
- Preseasoned Tawas have just a thin layer of seasoning. So, take care not to immerse it in water. After use, dry it, apply oil and store it away.
- If you find rust on Tawa, do not panic. It doesn’t mean your Tawa is of bad quality. It just means that it is made of iron. Scrub it using a scotchbrite or use some salt. Then, apply some oil and heat it on a low flame for 10-15 minutes before use.
- Keep seperate Tawas for Dosa and Chapathi. Else, the Dosa will get stuck to the pan.
- Avoid cooking acidic ingredients like tomatoes and tamarind if you want to preseve the seasoning. That being said, iron content of the food cooked in cast iron increases when it has acidic content.
- Line the cabinet where you keep cast iron cookware with thick cloth, towel or cardboard so that any rust doesn’t discolour your cabinet drawers.
Related reading: Common Cast Iron Problems and Their Solutions
What To Do When Dosa Gets Stuck On Cast Iron Tawa?
Even though I have been using cast iron Tawa for over a decade, there were several instances when the Dosa would get stuck on the Tawa and cause a mess. It is simply the worst thing to happen during the morning rush! This happens because the seasoning has flaked off.
To overcome this, apply a thin layer of oil and heat the Tawa on a low flame for 5-10 minutes. This helps develop a thin layer of seasoning. You could do this proactively every time you make Dosa so that it never gets stuck to your Tawa. I usually put the Tawa on the stove, apply oil and heat it and in the meanwhile prepare chutney so that by the time I am done, the Tawa is hot and ready for the Dosa. Preheating also helps regulate the heat throughout the Tawa so that your Dosas don’t have burnt centres and uncooked edges.
A few websites suggest using onion or bottle guard dipped in oil and applying it on the Tawa. As long as you use oil, it works even if you don’t use onion. My favourite go-to tool is a silicone oil bottle with brush. It makes applying oil on cast iron and greasing cake tins incredibly easier and mess-free.