Cast iron is an incredibly important part of my kitchen arsenal. One of the pans I have – a 10″ skillet – was used by my 65 year old father to cook breakfast for his brothers when he was a kid. I have no idea where the pan was before that – could have been my grandmother’s when she was a kid for all I know.
Then, for Christmas last year, my lovely partner Milo bought be a Lodge Cast Iron Dutch Oven – complete with handle and little points on the underside of the lid so the condensation disperses evenly… I’m a cast iron fanatic, and a dutch oven is one of the core pieces!
Why do I love cast iron pans? Well first of all you can do anything in them: sauté, bake, even throw them on the grill… Everything from pot roast to Irish soda bread can be done with cast iron! It goes from stovetop to oven to campfire seamlessly.
When they’re new, cast iron pans need a lot of love. Raw cast iron is not the perfect cooking surface, and you have to “season” cast iron pans in order to make them useable, and keep them seasoned to make them last.
Your friend Lindsay (hi that’s me), having been spoiled to death with a seasoned-perfectly-over-60-years cast iron skillet forgot that very important rule when she got her new cast iron dutch oven that she promptly messed up by mishandling it. (I am definitely done talking in third person maybe forever.)
Yeah, I biffed it – hard. Left it to dry on its own after washing it and boom: rust central.
Cue my eternal shame. Doesn’t that look awful?
There are hundreds and thousands of cast iron pans that look just like this. They are out in the world, discarded by their owners who didn’t know that trendy cast iron came with responsibilities. Thrift shops have them as “decorative” hipster crap, but they are seriously one of the best cooking tools you could possible have.
Your charred veggies and steaks will never taste as good as they do coming out of a perfectly seasoned cast iron pan. Plus, when properly cared for, cast iron will last forever!
Here’s how I fixed my rusty cast iron pan in one day:
0. Preheat your oven to 350°F/175°C. In general terms, we’re going to restart your cast iron. Get it back down to a fresh, clean pan and bake some lubrication into it, slowly but surely turning it into a fabulous, non-stick, immortal cooking vessel to can pass down to your cats.
1. Use steel wool to remove the rust spots. I wore some latex gloves for most of this, and because I used superfine steel wool (we have 0000 steel wool at home for using on guitar bodies), I also wore a mask over my nose & mouth. Add a little water if you need to.
2. Rinse and lightly wash the entire cast iron pan. You’ll notice right away that the spots that once had rust now just look like raw, bare iron. That’s good – we’re starting from scratch. Use a mild dishsoap* to really clean the pan. Don’t forget the outside and the handle(s)!
* Honestly, you should never, or at least very rarely use soap on cast iron pans. Cleaning them immeiately after use is the best option, stiff bristle brushes and abrasives like salt can really help get food out. Then, add water and…
3. DRY IT. DRY IT NOW. Dry it with a cloth, paper towers, your wedding dress, just dry it. You have to do it manually and immediately because otherwise, oxidation is going to eat your pan and we’ll be right back to square one. It takes 15 seconds, do a good job, it’ll pay off.
4. Rub it down with some fat. Gentle but firm… We’re going to add what everyone likes to call “a whisper” of oil to the pan before we put it in the oven to cure and seal. You can use any type of high smoke point fat: vegetable oil, flaxseed oil, coconut oil, bacon fat is an old school favorite, many believe that linseed oil is the best… No matter what, the heat is going to make the fat and oil turn into a polymer which acts as a sealant and non-stick surface.
I used Caron & Doucet Cast Iron Oil ($12.95), which is a coconut based blend of oils and extracts that made my cast iron very, very happy. Use a cloth (preferably) or paper towel (more gently as it flakes off) to rub the oil into the clean, dry pan.
Don’t forget the outside, handle, and bottom of the pan! You’ll see right away that the pan starts to look much more dark and luscious. Glimmer of hope!
5. Bake it (cure it) for an hour. Put it on an oven rack upside-down with a cookie sheet on the rack below (just in case of any oil-drippage) and bake it for an hour. Once it’s done, you can just turn the oven off and let it cool while the oven does, or you can very carefully remove it and let it cool outside of the oven.
6. Repeat! If you have a new cast iron, I’d recommend repeating this process 2-4 times. The more you do it, the better the seal and non-stick coating will become! Some people will tell you to do this after each use, but I find that way unrealistic as I am way too lazy for that. If you make sure it’s clean and dry after each use, you can do this once a month or even every other month and be just fine! It’s worth it – cast iron is amazing!
Next time you see a cast iron pan that just needs a little love, I hope you will give it a couple hours of your time in exchange for a lifetime of delicious food!
Do you have any cast iron stories or tips?
Caron & Doucet provided the cast iron oil for this post.