The durability of cast iron, which can last for centuries, is just one of its many advantages. A nice piece of vintage cookware is a great first step for those looking to take their cast iron cooking to the next level. It’s not that vintage pans are infinitely superior to modern pans—the smoother finish of very old cast iron provides only marginally better nonstick properties.
On the other hand, Vintage cast iron has a lot going for it for those who get excited about the details. First, it is lighter than its modern counterparts, which can make a difference in your quality of life if you use cast iron regularly (at the very least, your back will thank you for it).
Secondly, it still has that polished appearance, which was formerly the last production stage but was subsequently dropped in favor of production effectiveness and speed. Aside from the slight improvement in nonstick qualities that the smooth surface provides, it’s also a lot more visually appealing.
The fact that these pans date from a time when cast iron was a serious industry and was used for things like steam radiators and wood-burning stoves, bridges, and even buildings makes them maybe the best thing about vintage cast iron cookware (the Serious Eats headquarters just blocks from SoHo, home to an amazing collection of 19th-century cast-iron architecture).
That is the allure of vintage cast iron, but what about the reality of purchasing it? You could save time and money by purchasing a piece that has already been refurbished.
You can also do it yourself by purchasing a rusted old clunker at a garage sale or flea market and repairing it yourself. If you look online, you’ll find many different suggestions for cleaning it up.
What is Seasoning?
When you buy a new cast iron skillet, it will most likely come pre-seasoned, but you’ll want to add more layers to ensure it’s in good condition.
What does all of this mean? When oil is heated to its smoke point, its fatty acids oxidize to form a plastic-like layer of molecules that essentially becomes part of the pan and forms the slick coating known as seasoning. Adding layer after layer becomes even more nonstick and ideal for cooking.
A New Cast Iron Pan’s Seasoning
Your new cast iron skillet almost always has some pre-seasoning on it when it leaves the factory, but you should usually add a few more to ensure it’s good. After adding your seasoning levels, you need to use the pan, and you’ll be ready to go for a very long time.
Cause of Cast Iron Rust
We use a combination of pig iron, steel, and alloys to make our cast iron cookware. Cast iron is prone to rust without seasoning, which is a layer of carbonized oil. Even a well-seasoned pan can rust if placed in the dishwasher, allowed to air dry, or kept in a place with a lot of moisture.
A cast iron skillet that is a bit (or a lot) rusted doesn’t need to be thrown away. Consider the possibilities the next time you come across some rusty pots and pans at an antique shop or flea market. Cast iron cookware can return to its former splendor by following these five simple methods.
How to Restore and Reseason a Cast Iron Skillet
Why Reseason Cast Iron?
Cast iron cookware is nearly unbreakable. It’s versatile, retains heat, is long-lasting, and is completely nonstick with the proper seasoning. The seasoning process is critical because it is a hunk of metal.
There’s a lot of conflicting information on the internet about how to season a cast iron skillet, and it’s all a little confusing. The same is true for re-seasoning cast iron, which is required when a pan has been used extensively or when you purchase an old one (like from an antique shop or garage sale). I’ve described the stripping and re-seasoning methods I ultimately chose, and so far, so good.
Try these simple steps to remove rust from a rusted cast-iron skillet, Dutch oven, or even your stovetop the next time you find yourself staring down a rusted cast-iron skillet, or Dutch oven, or even your stovetop. Prepare to put in a lot of elbow grease.
What You’ll Require
- The steel wool
- Dish detergent
- scouring pad, scrubbing brush, or sponge
- Paper towels or dish towels
- Oil from vegetables (or cooking oil of choice)
- Foil made of aluminum
Cleaning Rust From Cast Iron
Clean your pan. Utilize warm, soapy water to wash the cookware. Since you’re getting ready to re-season the cookware, using soap is acceptable. Thoroughly rinse and hand dry.
Make use of an abrasive scrub pad. A seasoned pan’s surface can be removed with abrasive scouring pads, but cast-iron rust requires a rough scrubber to remove. Use a wire brush or a steel wool pad to clean the surface. To speed up the process, add a little hot water.
Incorporate the baking soda and vinegar. Scrubbing alone will not remove the rust from your pan; coat it in a thin layer of baking soda. Add a few drops of warm water to help it cake on the pan’s surface. Then, pour the white vinegar over the baking soda. It will start to bubble, and the liquid will cool. Allow this mixture to sit for up to 30 minutes before returning to scrubbing.
It is possible to scrub with salt. Some chefs swear by scrubbing a pan with kosher salt or sea salt. Fill the pan halfway with coarse salt, make a paste with warm water, and then rub it with a brush.
If the rust is particularly stubborn, try dish soap. If exposed for an extended period, soap can eat away at the oily seasoning that has accumulated in the pan. However, soap may be required to remove rust from your cast-iron pan. After soaking the pan in soapy water, scrub it with steel wool. This will most likely remove the rust from your pan’s lining.
Dry the pan quickly. After you’ve finished scrubbing, you’ll need to dry your cast-iron skillet quickly because standing water causes rust. Because cast iron can stain fabric, use paper towels or clean dish towels that you don’t care about. After the pan has dried, you can begin reseasoning it.
Reseasoning Cast Iron
It’s time to reseason your cast-iron cookware once it’s no longer rusted. Consider this straightforward approach.
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit before putting your cast-iron cookware in. Place a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil inside the oven to catch oil drippings.
Grease the pan. Apply a thin layer of oil to the entire pan, paying special attention to the cooking surface. Most vegetable oils will suffice, but canola and corn oils have high smoke points and are ideal for seasoning. Some chefs prefer grapeseed oil, but keep in mind that its smoke point is 390 degrees Fahrenheit.
Avoid using oils with low smoke points, such as flaxseed oil or extra virgin olive oil. Chefs may make a layer of seasoning out of lard in some cases, but this renders the pan unsuitable for vegetarian cooking. Lard has a low smoke point as well.
Place the pan upside down on a baking sheet lined with foil. The next step in re-seasoning cast iron is to allow it to reach a high temperature. Open the oven and place your pan upside down on the preheated baking sheet from step one. Place the pan and foil-lined baking sheet on the bottom rack of your oven.
Bake the cookware for one hour. One hour at 350°F should be enough to burn off any excess cooking oil while allowing your pan to retain its signature seasoning.
Allow your pan to cool. Allowing the pan to cool in the oven is the final step in re-seasoning. When your pan has cooled, it is safe to use again. This seasoning method can be used on brand new pans, including pre-seasoned ones, to improve the quality of your cookware.
Rust Prevention Tips
Want to avoid having a rusted cast-iron skillet to begin with? Keep the following suggestions in mind:
- Never, ever soak the pan. Because cast iron is so prone to rust, you should limit your pan’s exposure to water as much as possible.
- Allow the pan to air dry. Immediately after rinsing, use a towel to wipe away any excess water. To remove excess moisture from your skillet, place it on the burner.
- After use, lightly oil. Before storing your skillet, rub it with a thin layer of vegetable oil.
- Certain foods should be avoided: Acidic ingredients such as tomatoes or vinegar can eat away at seasoning and cause rust. If you have a well-seasoned pan, this shouldn’t be a problem, but avoid cooking that tomato sauce in your brand-new skillet.
- Use frequently: Cast-iron skillets adore being adored. They’ll rust if they’ve been cooped up for an extended period without much air circulation or use. This is especially true in coastal climates, where salty air can significantly impact.
Now that your pan has been thoroughly cleaned, seasoned, and prepared for usage, here are some pointers for maintaining its top condition:
- When cleaning the pan after each use, use coarse kosher salt to remove the cooking residue in place of dish soap. You can choose to apply a thin layer of shortening or oil after that.
- If you choose, you can next add a thin coating of shortening or oil. Additionally, if your cast-iron cookware includes a lid, make sure to store it separately and never on top of the pan to avoid humidity buildup and rust.
Some people believe cast iron requires a lot of maintenance and that seasoning the pans repeatedly is necessary to keep them in excellent working order. Not so! From this point on, all you have to do is use your pan. You will be adding extra seasoning each time you cook in it with fat of some kind. Once you’ve built up a solid layer of seasoning, you may use your cast iron pan without fear of acidic foods like tomatoes and pan sauces.
Need assistance coming up with ideas? Try pan-searing steaks, frying eggs, sautéing veggies, and frying chicken. Even bread cooked in a skillet, like cornbread, can help season the pan.
The main lesson here is that a well-used cast iron skillet has been well-seasoned. It’s a great start to spend more time using it in the kitchen and less time reading debates about it online.
Will seasoning on cast iron be harmed by cooking acidic items there?
It can, unfortunately. Tomatoes and other highly acidic foods can damage the seasoning on cast iron. Before the seasoning has fully developed, we advise avoiding acidic foods and dishes with a lot of liquid.
What can be done to revive a cast iron skillet?
Set your oven to 350 degrees and cover the bottom rack with some aluminum foil. Then place the skillet on the upper rack, upside down, for about an hour. When the pan is cool, turn off the oven and leave it there. The oil will bake into the pan’s pores and create a non-stick surface.
What type of oil should you use to season cast iron?
Cast iron can be seasoned with any cooking fat or oil, but because of their availability, low cost, effectiveness, and high smoke point, Lodge advises using vegetable oil, melted shortening, or canola oil, such as our Seasoning Spray.