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Reviving a Cast Iron Pan

January 25, 2010

SoupAddict recently uncovered this cast iron pan in a cabinet. And she sighed heavily. Look at that rust. It took a few seconds, but she eventually remembered how this pan got into this sorry state. But she’s not going to share that story here, because there’s already enough fodder on this site to call the kitchenware police and have SoupAddict committed for neglect.

Don’t get SoupAddict wrong: she loves cast iron. It’s just that most of her cast iron has an enamel coating on, a la Le Creuset, and requires no maintenance. However, she does have a particular affection for this little skillet, being that it’s the perfect size to bake bread.

SoupAddict has special dinner plans for this skillet, so, there’s nothing to be done other than to get to it.

First, SoupAddict must cross her fingers and hope that the rust is only profile rust, and has not eaten too deeply into the pan. Otherwise, the only recourse is a machine shop with a sandblaster.
So, SoupAddict reaches deep under her sink and drags out the long-forgotten box of Brillo pads. She loves that they come pre-loaded with soap.
Swish the pan out with hot water …
… and get scrubbin’, girl!
It didn’t take long at all for the suds to turn brown. And goopey.
This came out of the pan after the first pass. Gross. I’m just sayin’.
By the third pass, things were definitely looking better. That’s good news: it’s just profile rust.
Four passes later, it’s good as new. The hard work is done, but the work is not over yet. The steel wool has scrubbed the pan down to raw iron. If left in this state, the pan will simply rust again. No, no, it must be seasoned, and it must seasoned now.
Using shortening, lard or vegetable oil, coat the pan well. By “well” we’re not talking the thin little layer that you usually apply to a pan to prevent ingredient sticking. We’re talking a good coating. This is about a tablespoon of oil, maybe more. (It’s better to use a solid fat, like shortening, but SoupAddict did not have any on hand, so, oil it was.)
Use a paper towel to spread the oil over every millimeter of the pan’s interior – bottom, sides, top edges.
The pan should have a very obvious sheen, like this. Now place in an oven pre-heated to 350° and let heat for 30-60 minutes.
Remove from the oven and cool. Look at that pan! Much better. The sheen you see here is not wet at all, but a smooth surface off which eggs will perfectly slide.

SoupAddict has been redeemed.

More cast iron tips:

  • Never scrub seasoned cast iron with coarse materials (like a scrubbing sponge or abrasive cleansers). Use warm water with a gentle touch — wooden tools are useful for scraping off bits of food. If something is being stubborn and sticking, rub, don’t scrub. Rinse and dry thoroughly. Do not allow to air dry.
  • The use of soap is generally poo-poo’d by the cast iron lovin’ community. SoupAddict, however, sees no harm in using a gentle soap, like Ivory, with a wet paper towel as the washing tool. There’s just something icky about an unwashed pan.
  • After washing, rub a thin layer of shortening or vegetable oil into the pan and store.
  • Do not cook with acidic ingredients – it will remove the seasoning. Cinnamon chicken, goooood. Lemon chicken, not so much. If you must use acids, reseason the pan in the oven, as described above.
  • Periodically season the pan in the oven by rubbing a layer of shortening or oil over the entire interior and heating the pan in a 350° oven for 30 minutes. This will keep the smooth seasoning in peak condition.

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