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Cast iron: seasoning, care, and restoration


Kim Shook
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I have read everything I could find here and elsewhere, but my particular question was not answered. Ok, here's the deal. My mother-in-law owns a wonderful and huge old cast iron soup pot with a dimpled lid. I borrowed it to make my gravy (I was making a lot of gravy). When Mr. Kim got it home, it was obvious that it hadn't been seasoned in ages :angry: . Well, it was tough, but I managed on the pot itself by just scrubbing with salt, drying on the stove and rubbing with oil a couple of times, but the lid was more of a challenge. It was a little orange (traces of rust), so I scrubbed with steel wool and following directions, I rubbed with Crisco and put it in a 350 degree oven for one hour. I don't think that is going to do it completely. It's not totally cooled off yet, but it seems a little sticky still. So, do I start from scratch? Scrub again and then put in the oven with shortening on it? Or do I skip the scrubbing step and just go straight to the oven?? I am going to inherit this some day (I am the only one in the family who would use it) so I want to treat it well while I have temporary custody :raz: ! Thank you all in advance!!

Kim

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Hello Kim. I've had success removing rust with a product called CLR. The only caveat is that it does have a heavy chemical smell. I did find a discussion on rust removal using Barkeepers Friend. Here's the link:

Discussion of Rust Removal

I use a cast iron skillet as well and my gut feeling would be to use this product, then repeat the whole greasing/oven process.

I hope this helps.

Inside me there is a thin woman screaming to get out, but I can usually keep the Bitch quiet: with CHOCOLATE!!!

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Sounds like a great piece of cast iron.

I have found that the usual directions supplied with cast iron and which you attempted are not sufficient. They are designed to make cast iron seasoning look easy so that you will buy it. And they often result in a sticky, poor curing. At least wo food writers in the US South have also found this to be the case.

What I have done to cure many pieces of cast iron is to rub it with a thin coat of bacon drippings (or alternatively to rub it with a piece of bacon). Then put it in a 325 degree oven for about three hours. Let cool and then repeat. Do this a total of three times. And yes, do strip a piece that is rusty or trhat has lost its seasoning before doing this treatment.

But for new pieces of cast iron, the new Lodge Logic pre-seasoned makes the most sense. An easy entry into cast-iron cooking.

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One thing I might add is the stove-top seasoning. In the early life of our cast-iron, after each time I used it, and a few times before, I rubbed olive oil into it with paper towels and let it sit stove-top on a low burner for 15 to 20 minutes. Then I turned the burner off and let it sit there and cool to room temperature, and then wiped it with a towel if there was still some oil in it. And of course, which I am sure you are doing, just rinse it out and wipe it off after use, using no soap.

Life is short; eat the cheese course first.

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Our houseguest decided to do some cleaning up for us over the weekend, well intentioned of course, and she ended up scrubbing my skillet so well with steel wool and detergent that 70% of the patina (dark brown/black carbon layer) was removed. Then it was stored, dried, in the cupboard. I found it Sunday morning and there was already rust forming in small patches. The cure?

Fried up a ton of bacon, slowly, for breakfast. Then ran the thing under hot water, wiped down with a kitchen paper towel, then heated it up and more oil and more heat (low) for 10 minutes or so. The evening saute session progressed with minimal fuss, although it will take some time for the patina to build up evenly again.

"Coffee and cigarettes... the breakfast of champions!"

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I agree that one hour is simply not enough to season a raw piece of cast iron. The best seasoning is, of course, time and use. No substitute. And it is wonderful that you are the beneficiary of these lovely cooking utensils! One lovely thing about cast iron cookware is that a little rust will not ruin the utensil. It may not be something you want to cook on, but it can be reborn with some time and effort. I have purchased several flea market rusty things in the past, and a couple of them are used at least once or twice a week in my home after some initial work, and then a lot of cooking!

Personally, I would not scrub down to raw iron with the sticky situation. I would just clean in the manner that I would normally clean a piece of cast iron, described beautifully up thread, take the "sticky" stuff leaving the rest, then do another seasoning session with more time.

If it were me, I would then cook while the iron is hot, so to speak. Fry some chicken, then fry some more chicken. Then fry some pork chops. Dumpt the grease, then fry some more chicken. Then fry some fish and hush puppies. Then fry some french fries, because they kind of clean up the grease. Then fry some more fish and hush puppies. By then, a decent season should be on the iron. Fry some more chicken just in case.

Cast iron needs to be used and needs lots of love. Cast iron needs to be needed!

Lodge Logic is the bomb! Grandma would have popped the extra bucks if it were an option!

Edited by annecros (log)
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What annecros said. :biggrin: Use more Crisco or bacon fat and keep doing it. Yes, use makes for the best seasoning. Don't use any of the polyunsaturate oils as they tend to polymerize into a mess.

Linda LaRose aka "fifi"

"Having spent most of my life searching for truth in the excitement of science, I am now in search of the perfectly seared foie gras without any sweet glop." Linda LaRose

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One additional piece of advice that I have found helpful is to deep fry chicken or fish in a cast-iron piece two or three times before trying to cook something that is more likely to effect the initial seasoning..such as a steak. After this seasoning step, cooking bacon and sausage in it is always a good thing.

Also a note to avoid just covering up any rust...better to remove it entirely if you want to protect your pot.

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I cleaned and re-seasoned 3 of my mom's old cast-iron frying pans that had been in a box in my basement for a long time. They had half an inch of crud on them, so we put them on our barbecue grill to clean them off to the bare metal, they were so bad.

We scoured some rust off them, then rubbed them with lard and set them back on the barbecue grill on a medium-low heat for about 4 hours. I didn't want the smell or heat in my house because this was the middle of summer.

The next day we fried a whole mess of bacon, using all 3 pans (small, med, large) and they are nicely seasoned. They're not perfect yet, but getting there, with a shiny dark hard coating in the interior.

It may be a sacrilege to some, but I do use soap and water on my pans and sometimes a plastic scrubber if they're really cruddy, but I don't like the idea of just wiping them out. The smell of grease gets to me, and this is why they ended up so disgusting in the first place. I don't think my mom ever washed them.

Now that they're properly seasoned, a quick swish in the dishpan is all they need, no scrubbing is required at all.

:wub:

Edited by saskanuck (log)

I don't mind the rat race, but I'd like more cheese.

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I just use really hot water and a plastic scrubber thing. I don't get a greasy smelling build up. I suppose a quick dip in the dish soap wouldn't hurt. I just haven't found it necessary.

Linda LaRose aka "fifi"

"Having spent most of my life searching for truth in the excitement of science, I am now in search of the perfectly seared foie gras without any sweet glop." Linda LaRose

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I never scrub my cast iron with anything but a damp cloth dipped in dry baking soda if something is a bit stuck.

Usually, just putting it on the stove, half-filled with water and bringing it to a simmer, then whisking it with one of the "straw" brushes for cleaning woks, is enough to remove any burnt-on crud.

The two I use for cornbread haven't been washed for years. They are virtually non-stick - the interior looks like enamel.

The chicken fryer does tend to build up a rim of carbonized stuff at the top level of the grease and I used to char it off every year or so by putting it in the barbecue upside-down on the charcoal until the stuff was burnt off.

The detailed seasoning instructions at this site cast iron care are about as complete as anywhere.

This site has instruction on how to clean a really cruddy piece of cast iron:

Clean cast iron.

However, since I discovered Carbon-Off, I have used it on a couple of pieces I picked up at a yard sale that looked like they had been used to cook rubber.

Carbon-Off

I like this product much better than the old type oven cleaners.

I hope this helps.

"There are, it has been said, two types of people in the world. There are those who say: this glass is half full. And then there are those who say: this glass is half empty. The world belongs, however, to those who can look at the glass and say: What's up with this glass? Excuse me? Excuse me? This is my glass? I don't think so. My glass was full! And it was a bigger glass!" Terry Pratchett

 

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if you've got a gas oven, lightly filming the iron with olive oil (or pork fat, or whatever) and then leaving it overnight in the oven, turned off, works wonders. repeat as necessary--you're already paying for the pilot light.

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Thank you, everyone! I cooked a ton of bacon in the pot yesterday and reseasoned on top of the stove and it is beautiful now. I am going to tackle the lid again today. I also saved the de-rusting info because I have a rescued saucepan and lid that I found in my grandparents' barn a couple of years ago that is my next project. I can't wait to give the soup pot back to my mother-in-law and show her how to PROPERLY keep cast iron :wink: !

Kim

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Kim, there is one more thing that you might consider when trying to rescue a mis-treated piece of cast iron that has pitting from rust.

Take it to a metal shop or a wrought iron shop and have them grind and polish out the pitting.

It doesn't cost all that much and they can give you a base on which you can build a beautiful patina.

My local shop has been very helpful. When one of my skillets (12 inch) was dropped and the handle broke off, I took it to them and they cut the sides off even with the bottom, then ground the cut edges smooth.

This gave me a giant "flame-tamer" that actually now lives in one corner of my barbecue and is handy and stable for holding 3 or 4 little pots that would tip if put onto the grill.

Now that the rainy season has arrived, I painted it all over with melted paraffin and stored it in a muslin bag in the store room. Next spring the paraffin will burn off when I first fire up the grill.

The moral is, never throw away any piece of old cast iron. There are always ways to fix it.

I have a sand-blasting rig that I used to use to carve glass. I have used it several times to clean up the outside of rusty and pitted cast iron. However, I have the inside done by someone who knows what they are doing.

Edited by andiesenji (log)

"There are, it has been said, two types of people in the world. There are those who say: this glass is half full. And then there are those who say: this glass is half empty. The world belongs, however, to those who can look at the glass and say: What's up with this glass? Excuse me? Excuse me? This is my glass? I don't think so. My glass was full! And it was a bigger glass!" Terry Pratchett

 

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I fill my new cast iron pans with salt and heat it over high heat. The salt seems to stabilize the metal and reduce the oxidation. Once cool, wipe with an oily paper towel and store.

Introducing innovative Australian ingredients to creative chefs, cooks and foodies.

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I would recommend following Fat Guy’s directions for seasoning and re-seasoning cast iron. It’s a bit dangerous and the writers of most any author’s E&O policy would probably cringe at the thought, but it’s the best method I’ve found. I’m sure a simple search can get you right to it, but basically… Get that pan screaming hot, and while it’s still damned hot, scrub it with a heavy-duty stainless steel scouring pad and kosher salt. Scrub it down to the bare metal, which is actually pretty easy when the pan is so hot. Then schmear it with shortening and crank up the heat again, for a while (I don’t really remember the rest… the scrubbing is really what’s important to me here).

With Fat Guy’s method, it doesn’t take a lot of effort, just a pair of heavy gloves and large balls.

Edited by fiftydollars (log)
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  • 1 month later...

For day-to-day clean-up, what specifically qualifies as a "stiff bristled brush?" I have a brush I use to clean plates before they go in the dishwasher... plastic bristles about 3/4 inch long. This sort of thing? == Thanks, Tim

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I have a cast iron griddle/grill pan and that thing is a real *** to clean the ridges.

It is an unwieldy piece and I must have adequately seasoned it because there isn't any rust but it isn't a joy to use either. I had an opportunity to use an aluminum one lately and what a breeze to cook and clean.

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I have a cast iron griddle/grill pan and that thing is a real *** to clean the ridges. 

I've actually stopped using my ridged pan for that reason. My regular cast iron pan is almost as easy as a non-stick pan to clean, but the ridged pan is a real bear.

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For day-to-day clean-up, what specifically qualifies as a "stiff bristled brush?"  I have a brush I use to clean plates before they go in the dishwasher... plastic bristles about 3/4 inch long.  This sort of thing?  == Thanks, Tim

I would use a stainless steel scouring pad. Cast iron will quickly eat up your typical dishwashing brush, especially one with plastic bristles. The scouring pads do a great job on cast iron and they are cheap. For the grill pans I use a metal welding brush, which has great metal bristles. You could probably use a grill brush with good results. Cast iron is pretty damned durable, so I would probably use a hammer and chisel if I had to…

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