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I have a large, carbon steel comal. As is usual, the main things I make on it are made from masa. One of the few things that will adhere to even good seasoning on carbon steel or cast iron is dry, burnt starch, which seems to bond to the seasoning.

Online instructions on cleaning comals do not seem to take this burned on crud into account. For example, Masienda says:

In the event that food is stuck or burnt to Comal's surface, you'll need a little water to loosen the debris. Again, DO NOT USE SOAP OR A SOAKING BATH. Gently scrub the schmutz off with a bristle brush or sponge (never a scouring pad) and use a small amount of water.

This is vastly misleading, because the burnt masa I need to scrub off has roughly the adherence and hardness of plaster. It can be removed with chainmail or with a hard scraper, but not "gently" or without using soap.

So, questions:

  1. How do I scrub the burnt masa off the comal, while removing the minimum amount of seasoning? Chainmail seems removes most of it, but not all, and it takes off the surrounding seasoning in the process.
  2. Are there extra things I can do around seasoning this comal that would make the masa burn on less? It's been seasoned using a "wok" process, with 5 seasoning cycles.

3 Answers 3

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This is a great question. I use a carbon steel paella pan as a comal when making tortillas. I keep my carbon steel very clean and well seasoned, but I notice that when making tortillas, after the first few, the pan begins to "dry" (for lack of a better term) and the masa begins to stick in spots. When this happens I scrape it off immediately with a metal spatula and wipe the pan clean. This happens to me so frequently when making tortillas that I now keep a small bowl of oil and a folded paper towel handy. I regularly wipe the pan with the oiled paper towel, as often as every other batch (I can fit 3 or 4 at a time). It's the only way I can keep the masa from sticking in a small spot, which seems to initiate the problem.

I would love to know if this is controllable with temperature or if this is just inevitable (but I don't see Mexican abuelas dealing with this issues on You Tube videos).

So, I think quick removal of stuck masa is your best approach. Once you have a big build up, I think you will really need to work at it..then re-season, unfortunately. At least that is my experience. I am looking forward to seeing what others have to say.

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  • Youtube videos tend to leave out the unglamorous parts...
    – Ecnerwal
    Commented Aug 23, 2023 at 2:33
  • @Ecnerwal indeed.
    – moscafj
    Commented Aug 23, 2023 at 9:23
  • I'm going to try this next time I make flatbread in a cast iron pan. There always seems to be a bit of dough that sticks and burns on and is impossible to remove.
    – Esther
    Commented Aug 23, 2023 at 15:34
  • It's not just the videos. I watched women in Oaxaca, in person, making tortillas and other things, and this didn't seem to be a real problem for them. I can't remember if they wiped down the comal between batches, though.
    – FuzzyChef
    Commented Aug 24, 2023 at 1:40
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    @FuzzyChef Old-school non-stick methodology was to basically build up a layer of polymerized fat so thick it'd never be breached, but this requires constant use, and ZERO CLEANING. We all talk about "seasoned" but that's us trying to re-create a situation that just doesn't exist in the first world: a cook surface that's used all the time, and only ever wiped down with oil, with the build-up of decades on its surface. You can get there, but most of us don't. Commented Aug 24, 2023 at 20:30
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I find granulated salt, with a bit of oil or water, is great as an abrasive to get burnt spots off carbon steel without damaging the seasoning. Use a paper towel to scrub. You’ll be able to feel the spots while scrubbing and you’ll feel when they’re gone.

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  • Thanks. This doesn't work for burned-on masa though, which is why I switched to chainmail. Salt generally works for smaller/easier burned spots, I've used it quite a bit for cast iron.
    – FuzzyChef
    Commented Aug 22, 2023 at 21:38
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It may be that the instructions you found for soaking and gently wiping with nothing but water are for a clay comal, where this technique works really well! Steel is practically indestructible though, and all the weird instructions for babying it are really unnecessary. Skip the soap, but feel free to get in there with a metal spatula or steel wool and scrape away. They’re so utterly easy to re-season that the notion of “damaging” the seasoning seems to me more about being too lazy to stick it in the oven if you need to.

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