How To: Salvage Old Cast Iron Cookware

Cast iron cookware is not only indestructible, it’s amazing! It may look all worn out, but even the most neglected cast iron can be restored to its former glory with a little TLC.

So, if your grandmother’s garage or local thrift store is full of old cast iron, snag it. DIY site Curbly has some techniques that will whip ancient cast iron back into shape in no time. —MEGHANN MARCO

Salvage and Season Cast Iron Cookware [Curbly]
(Photo: stu_spivack)

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  1. robotprom says:

    I inherited several ancient pieces from my great grandmother, which added a funky taste to anything we cooked in them. The wife and I more or less had to reset the seasoning, by first baking them for a few hours at the Clean Oven heat setting, and then going through the seasoning process like you would with a new piece of cast iron. Yum bacon, and cast iron cooked ribeye steaks!

  2. ladycrumpet says:

    I have a skillet at home that’s in need of restoration. I just haven’t gotten around to it yet, so this link is great. Thanks!

  3. Spider Jerusalem says:

    Alton Brown says that cast iron harbors rust molecules that turns polyunsaturated fats into lard.

  4. GitEmSteveDave says:

    While I agree cast iron cookware is amazing, these instructions are not the best. Warm soap and water, along with steel wool and elbow grease will remove the worst rust. After that, you just need to go through a seasoning or two (Lodge Mfg, the largest USA manufacturer of cast iron cookware has a tutorial on their website), and your set. I use either melted shortening or lard, applied with a silicone basting brush.

    As for daily cleaning, after you have cooked your meal, add some oil and some kosher salt(just enough oil to have the salt slightly damp), and you can rub most gunk away. After that, just rinse in warm water ONLY, and put back on your stove to dry. After awhile of use, your pan will get more and more non-stick.

  5. jchennav says:

    Barkeeper’s Friend is also good for removing light rust from cast-iron cookware.

    Also, the oven temperature suggested by most guides to seasoning cast-iron cookware is too low and often results in a sticky mess. Setting the oven temperature to 500 degrees farenheit will produce a nicely-seasoned surface.

  6. timmus says:

    Agree, seasoning instructions absolutely SUCK. Shame on Lodge for putting out such crappy directions. The other problem is 500F is well past the smoke point of many oils, so you do have to pay attention to what you’re doing. The wiki article seems to have some ideas. I also seem to recall that machine-buffing the inside of the pan also helps get it into shape and makes it less sticky (simulates the use of 30-40 years of cooking).

  7. bbbici says:

    how time consuming! totally not worth the effort.

  8. mendel says:

    Alton Brown says that cast iron harbors rust molecules that turns polyunsaturated fats into lard.

    That doesn’t make any sense. If it didn’t come from a pig, it’s not lard. If it did come from a pig, it was lard before it went in the pan.

  9. Jerim says:

    If you have access to an open fire, best thing is to sit the cookware in the flame. Be careful to leave the handle outside the fire so you can reclaim it. I swear I saw this work one year when we were burning some debris behind our house. My mother comes out with these nasty crusted cast iron pans and throws them in the fire. At first, I thought she had lost her mind, but after about an hour or so, she took them out and they looked brand new.

  10. ladycrumpet says:

    @GitEmSteveDave – Your suggestions seem to be more to my speed. Once I had a look at the instructions on the website, they did seem pretty lengthy and intense. I don’t think my skillet is in the worst shape, but since it was a hand-me-down it is in need of work.

  11. spanky says:

    I restored a dutch oven a lot like that one a few years ago. It had spent a winter under a snow drift, so it was in bad shape. I ended up getting most of it done with the wire brush attachments on a drill.

    That’s the only time I’ve had to go that far, though. Most of the time, just plain manual scouring should do.

  12. You don’t even need sandpaper or steel wool. Equal parts veggie oil (I used canola, it was what was in the cabinet) and salt will scrub rust (and pretty much all other ickies) right off cast iron, lickety-split.

  13. Spider Jerusalem says:

    @mendel: effectively lard. Saturated fat. Trans fats, probably, since you’ve filled in the unsaturated parts of the molecule.

  14. Snakeophelia says:

    As the baby of the family, I’ve missed out on all the hand-me-down cast iron. Grrr. I’m just now starting my own collection, and once I acquire all the pieces that I want, it’s going to be a bitch for the movers the next time we change houses…

  15. swalve says:

    lard is a saturated fat, crisco is a trans fat. They are two different things.

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  17. @spiderjerusalem: can we get a source please? I tried for the life of me to find some hard facts behind this and it sounds very interesting and I would love to know the science behind this. my google skills yielded nothing.

  18. aestheticity says:

    so… whats the benefit of all this?

    when ive got a cupboardful of pans a tenth the weight i dont have to grease and salt and bake for hours just to use, and dont shatter when dropped?

    is it a discernible thing or just culinary smug?

  19. MeOhMy says:

    @spiderjerusalem: Is this better or worse than alleged problems caused by Teflon, aluminum, and just about everything else we cook with? I gotta say trans-fats are probably not a big worry.

    @aestheticity:

    so… whats the benefit of all this?

    The weight is what makes it good. It heats more evenly and holds the heat. It’s cheap, too. You can buy pre-seasoned Lodge gear that you can use right out of the box. Even a big dutch oven will be $50-$80.

    But you still need your lighter cookware. You can’t do everything with cast iron, but at the very least a skillet and a dutch oven are must-have items.

  20. @aestheticity: It costs next to nothing, lasts forever, cooks beautifully, heats evenly, doesn’t release bird-killing teflon off-gasses, and adds iron to your food.

    It also waxes your floors and washes your car. ;)

    We keep a couple of “regular” non-stick skillets on hand for when we just need to fry something up quickly and don’t want to have to hand-wash the cast iron afterwards; inconvenience is definitely the price of using cast iron. But most of the time it’s worth it for us (and we’re not food snobs; we mostly just eat spaghetti).