A pan used by pioneers 200 years ago is still one of the best tools you can have in your kitchen today. Cast-iron skillets are cheap, durable, and versatile. They can also be intimidating to home cooks who don't know how to maintain them. Luckily, keeping your cast-iron clean doesn't have to be complicated.

One of the biggest myths surrounding cast-iron skillets is that they should never be washed with dish soap. The thinking behind this is that the cleaner will erode the layer of baked-on oil that makes up your cast-iron's protective seasoning. The truth is that the oil in a well-seasoned skillet has been polymerized, so dish soap alone won't wash it away. Because most cast-iron pans available today come pre-seasoned, you shouldn't stress about using mild dish soap and a nonabrasive sponge to remove everyday grease.

Water is a much bigger threat to your pan. Iron rusts easily, so after cleaning your skillet with hot water, you need to make sure it's completely dry before storing it. You can wipe it off or heat it up in the oven or on the stovetop to get rid of every last drop of moisture. If you want to maintain your pan's seasoning, rub the inside of it all over with a well-oiled paper towel after drying it. Whatever you do, never leave a cast-iron pan soaking in the sink or load it into the dishwasher.

Stuck-on food residue is trickier to clean from a cast-iron skillet than regular grease. When scrubbing off the hard-to-remove bits, you want to avoid damaging the seasoning, so you'll need to use the right tools. Chain-link metal is a tool that's tough on burnt food and gentle on the pan itself. If you want to use something you likely already have at home, add some kosher salt to the pan while washing it with a sponge and warm water.

Looking for more affordable tools to add to your kitchen? Consider investing in these cooking essentials.

[h/t The New York Times]