How to Recondition & Re-Season your Cast Iron Cookware

First of all, I just wanna say that as much as I would like to take credit for this awesome post, I cannot.  I saw this pic on Pinterest and thought that this would be a good post for my blog too - but, the full credit goes to I Believe I can Fry (cute name by the way) 

I'm sure most of us have one, if not more of these rusty old things out in the garage or in the basement taking up space, so now is the time to go and grab them and put them to use! 

I have always wanted to learn how to do this and I'm sure many of you have to so......Here ya go! 

Most people typically find cast iron cookware in poor shape; neglected, rusty, and coated with years of caked-on burned food and seasoning. Luckily, these pieces can be fully restored for just a few dollars, a bit of elbow grease and patience 
All that is needed for the reconditioning process are a few inexpensive, readily available items:
  • Heavy-duty Oven Cleaner (I used Easy-Off)*
  • Gloves Garbage Bags 
  • White Distilled Vinegar 
  • Steel Wool (#0000)

Coat the cast iron piece (top and bottom) with the oven cleaner*, making sure to wear gloves. (see more about oven cleaner at the bottom) Oven cleaner is basically aerosolized lye foam and is very caustic. It WILL burn your skin. 

Place the coated piece in a garbage bag and seal tightly to prevent the oven cleaner from drying out.

This is where patience comes in. You will need to wait several days for the oven cleaner to loosen and remove the old seasoning. I usually check after 2 days, then wipe off the cleaner and apply a fresh coat and check again after 3 days. This pic is a Griswold Cast Iron skillet after a 2 day soak in oven cleaner.

For especially grimy pieces, letting the pieces soak for about a week is usually sufficient. Once the old seasoning has been removed, the skillet will be restored to it's original cast. The iron will be a silvery-gray color. There may still be surface rust present, which has to be removed before the skillet can be seasoned.

Remove the lye and old seasoning by wiping off the grime with a paper towel and then washing the skillet with hot water. 

Next, the lye needs to be neutralized, and any surface rust will need to be softened to make it easier to remove. Soak the cleaned skillet in a 2:1 solution of hot water and white distilled vinegar for 30-60 minutes. This should soften any surface rust enough that it can be easily scrubbed away with steel wool. Wash the skillet with soap and hot water and dry it thoroughly. 

This pic is after a 5 day soak in 
oven cleaner

This pic is after a vinegar soak to remove the rust

At this point, the skillet has been cleaned down to the bare metal and must be seasoned immediately to prevent rusting.

To season, place the cleaned, dry skillet upside-down in a 250-degree oven for 15 minutes. Increase the temperature to 500 degrees and let the skillet heat up for 45 minutes. At this point, the skillet will be EXTREMELY hot, so be careful removing it from the oven. Turn off the oven.

Season the skillet with a coating of lard. I (meaning I Believe I can Fly) render my own lard for cooking and baking, but use inexpensive store bought lard for seasoning. Some people also use shortening (Crisco) or olive oil. Rub the lard all over the entire skillet with paper towels; the hot skillet will absorb the oil and begin to turn brown. The oil will likely smoke as well; this is normal. Using clean paper towels, rub off the excess oil so that the skillet just appears wet. With seasoning, like painting, your aim should be for multiple thin layers rather than a single thick layer. 

Return the oiled skillet to the oven (upside-down to prevent pooling) and let the skillet cool while the oven cools. Wipe any excess oil off every 10-15 minutes to prevent any pooling or buildup. Every 30 minutes or so, repeat seasoning with a fresh application of lard or oil, remembering to wipe off the excess oil. After one hour, open the oven door slightly to help cool the oven faster. 

At this point, the skillet should be completely reconditioned, seasoned and ready for use. 
                                        Before and after of the Bottom

It will take time and additional layers of seasoning before the piece becomes black and glossy. To preserve the seasoning, do not use soap on the skillet unless absolutely necessary. 

The best way I have found to care for my cast iron is to clean the pieces while still hot after cooking. My well-seasoned pieces need little more than a wipe with a clean paper towel. On occasion, depending on what was cooked, I will use hot water and a nylon scrubber (see the Amazon link below for the brand I prefer). Afterwards, I towel-dry the skillet thoroughly and warm it over a low to medium-low burner to be sure that all of the moisture has evaporated. I then apply a tiny bit of lard to the skillet while still hot, and, using clean paper towels, remove all of the melted lard except for the thinnest possible layer. 

Also, storing your skillets stacked with paper towels in between each one to prevent scratching and absorb any moisture. 

The best way to quickly build up a good layer of seasoning on cast iron? Use it! Cook as many meals as possible in your cast iron. It will thank you with years of use and provide you with an heirloom piece of cookware to pass down to another generation.  
Oven cleaner contains lye, which IS a caustic agent, typically sodium hydroxide or potassium hydroxide. The lye residue is washed off of the skillet, neutralized with an acid soak (vinegar), then washed again and coated with seasoning.

Lye is used in many everyday items such as soap; it also shows up in food preparation, from olive curing, to lutefisk (eww), to making authentic pretzels. It's also used for biodiesel!

Lye is very hygroscopic, meaning it will pull moisture out of the air. This is why, when being used on grimy cast iron, the aerosol foam ends up becoming a brown liquid. It's dissolving when it contacts the air, which results in VERY little if any of the lye being absorbed into the metal.

Even groups such as the Griswold & Cast Iron Cookware Association RECOMMEND the oven cleaner method for reconditioning cast iron.

Some people advise using high heat or a self-cleaning oven cycle (which uses high heat) to clean cast iron. I shy away from this method mainly because the majority of my cast iron collection is antique. High heat CAN and WILL warp or even crack fragile cast iron.

Black Iron Bag also has another way to restore your cast iron that has been successful

1 comment:

  1. It's a good thing I bookmarked this. My son(yes he's still alive) melted a plastic plate on top of my griddle and now I will be scrubbing that crap off for ages and have to start all over on seasoning my pan.


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