Sunday, February 1, 2009

Article: Rescuing Abused Cast Iron Cookware

If your pan falls into disuse and/or suffers an egregious insult (such as dishwashing, heavy deglazing, overnight soaking, or a shipwreck) it will probably develop rust.

If the rust is light, you might get away with scrubbing the pan with a non-abrasive pad, oil, and kosher salt. Once the pan is rust-free, rinse in hot water, and then follow directions for seasoning cast iron.

If your cast iron has developed heavy rust, or the salt and oil treatment isn't up to the task, you'll need to burn off everything and start over.

Luckily, this aspect of cast iron care is easily accomplished, and is kind of fun.

First, you'll need to remove the rust, dirt, old seasoning, or other detritus. The best way to do this is to use your electric oven's "clean" cycle... throw the pan in, and run a full cleaning session.

You can also burn off the seasoning using your propane barbeque grill. Put the pan on the grill on high heat until it is clean... probably an hour or so.

You can also throw your pan in a fire. Build a large campfire and throw the pan into the coals for an hour or so. (Note: on older, thinner pans, this can cause warping. It can also warp the steel wire handle of dutch ovens). If you are not able to build a suitable campfire, a fireplace will work just fine. A charcoal grill also works well (throw the pan on the grill over a hot fire for an hour or so.

Once the pan is totally "naked" wipe off any remaining dirt or ash (be very careful of moisture at this stage, as the naked pan will rust very easily). Now season the cast iron (a few times wouldn't hurt).

13 comments:

  1. Thanks for this. My dad just gave me two old cast iron pans they are rusty and this is exactly what I need to bring them back to normal.

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  2. How cool. I love old cast iron pans. Good luck with the refurbishing!

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  3. Hi there... lots of good info here. love it thanks...
    Sand blasting them at your local car painting/autobody shop will bring them to bareness... then season as above (minimal cost as well)
    ~just fyi

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  4. Hey Ugogurl,

    Great suggestion! Thanks for the tip.

    -Derek

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  5. We just found some of my Great-Great-Grandmother's Griswold skillets in my Grandfather's basement while cleaning. They have been sand blasted and are currently in the oven seasoning. Thanks for all of the great information!

    -Brad

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  6. I'm new to the world of cast iron...your site is great! I keep finding myself back here for info :) One thing I cant seem to find an answer to : I have a skillet that is only enameled on the exterior (so the cooking surface is actual cast iron). Well, I made a mess in it and had heard to bring the water to a boil in it. apparently a bad idea and it immediately rusted. I tried your technique with oil and salt but it didnt work...im about to try it again with a brush i just found. so if this doesnt work, my question is...can I put an enamel bottom skillet in the oven on self clean?

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    1. Hi Maureen,

      Thanks for the kind words! You have an interesting scenario on your hands. I honestly don't know if an enameled exterior would survive an oven clean cycle. It seems like it should since the enamel is applied in a much hotter kiln... but I could also see it damaging the coating and causing it to flake off over time. Is there any way to contact the manufacturer?

      This might be a good case for cleaning the bare inside with lye, rinsing thoroughly, and then immediately oiling it and seasoning it in an oven.

      Hope that helps!

      -Derek

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  7. K..thnx. I think one problem was I was putting my food in the skillet cold!! Will follow all advise and oven season all my pre seasoned cast iron again! Also I just purchased the Frigidaire galaxy convection gas oven model LGGF3043KFR. I was told that Frigidaire..LG...and Kenmore are all the same by the salesman. He said thats why my model says "LG" and its a Frigidaire but I really like it because of the 17000.0 btu..14000.0 btu...9500.0 btu and 5000.0 btu burners and lastly the middle oval 10000.0 btu burner. Will cover quick boil to simmer!! The middle has a griddle u can insert. I read were u said you oven seasoned your griddle when you recieved it with your oven. Mine is black and I think has been seasoned. Would you recommend oven seasoning it before the first use?

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    1. Hey Angela,

      Yeah, you pretty much always want your cast iron skillet to be nice and hot before putting any food into it. Hope that helps!

      That range looks very similar to the one I bought last year... and I love it! Hope you do, too. I do think that an oven seasoning on the griddle will make you happier... and afterwards be sure to put a thin coating of oil on it so it stays shiny. It's tough, but try to avoid setting spoons, spatulas, and other stuff on it when using the other burners for "normal" cooking.

      -Derek

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  8. I had a collection of really rusty cast iron pans that I used the oven cleaning cycle to clean. It worked great by removing the oven racks and turning the pans and cover upside down on fireplace bricks. I brushed off the rust and used paper towels with oil until they came out clean. They are now great non-stick cookware that I use instead of my expensive set of Calphalon. My griddle for the camp stove is priceless. If you are a "garage-saler" you can find cheap or free cast iron. I am hoping to eventually find a dutch oven.

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    1. Howdy,

      Thanks for sharing. Glad the oven clean cycle method worked well for you! And yes, garage sales and thrift stores can get you a nice cast iron fleet at very low cost.

      Thanks for stopping by.

      -Derek

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  9. Hi Derek, My 90 yo MIL just gave me a dutch oven that she has had hanging by the fireplace at their cabin for 25 years. It is in excellent condition except for one thing...because she "wanted it to look nice" by the fireplace, she spray painted the outside black. Thank goodness she only painted the outside! I don't have anywhere nearby that I can build a fire to burn it off, and I don't want to burn it off in the oven and have all the toxic fumes in the house. I thought I might put it in my gas grill, turn it on high and shut the lid. Do you think that would work? If so, how long do you think it might take? Any other suggestions? (She also had several CI frying pans spray painted as well that I will want to do the same thing with. )

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    1. Hi Marianne,

      Sounds like a fun one! I think you'd have luck removing that spray paint with a stiff wire brush, or even sandpaper. If you found it to be harder to remove than the above... you could attach a rotary wire brush to a power drill and go at it that way.

      Sometimes vintage cast iron can warp in a hot fire/oven... as it tends to be thinner than modern cast iron.

      Once you've removed it all, a good oven seasoning should make it ready for prime time.

      Hope that helps! And please let us know how it goes.

      Thanks!

      -Derek

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