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Cast iron problems

Alright, I got a cast iron skillet from my mom a while ago, and I've been trying to get it seasoned and care for it properly. I have been using salt to scrub it, no soap. Rinse, dry, oil, paper towl under anything that goes on it, etc. All I've made so far was bacon, cornbread a few times, and an upside down cake. I just got a stiff-bristled brush to clean it, and the first time i used it it seemed to take off the seasoning that I'd been putting on it. Problem number 1.

I just cooked some potatoes in the skillet, with onion and garlic and olive oil. I let the pan heat up first (on medium), then the oil (a good amount) and let it heat up. Then the garlic, onions, and potatoes. The skillet basically developed a nice film on the bottom of burnt everything. I finished cooking, but I'm concerned about whether or not this is a question of poor seasoning or what. My skillet also seemed to heat unevenly, as I could see a clear outline of where the flame was hitting the pan where the food was burning first.

So basically, did I do something wrong? I'm also afraid to use the brush again for fear of removing any seasoning left on the skillet after this. Any answers you've got are appreciated. Help me, all-knowing Chowhound community!

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  1. Were you trying to cook on very high heat? Cast iron is slow to heat up, but holds its heat very well. I've not had anything burn. I use medium or medium-high heat. I have always washed my cast iron with soap and water, and so has my mom, which is where I learned it. Dry thoroughly -- on a very low burner, if you like. It has been a very long time since I seasoned a cast iron pan, but I think I mostly cooked a lot of bacon in it at first, and fried with oil.

    1. nope, i made sure to keep the heat to medium. i started trying to clean the skillet and the layer of crust on the bottom is much thicker than i thought it was. Also, the food tasted very metallic, which I thought was strange considering I didn't use anything acidic.

      maybe i'll just go back to cooking bacon and cornbread until... well, i don't know what. but i guess until it seems different.

      1. Did you toss the potatoes/onions/garlic as you were cooking them at the start? Coating the ingredients with the oil can be important to keep them from adhering to the pan and burning. Keep tossing them around during cooking. Also, garlic can be sticky if added early in the frying process. Easily goes way past a light saute and into sticky-burny mess, especially with cast iron, in my experience. I usually add it later in the cooking process.

        Don't know about the acidic taste - I'd be curious if anyone else does.

        Don't give up on your cast iron, though.

        1. Using "straight salt" to hand scrub cast iron in my opinion is just plain bad.

          Salt is an oxidizer and those meanies causes oxidation. And in only extreme cases will the oxidation become a rust layer and that is highly noticeable.

          Cast iron oxidation could be present whitish through a grayish in color, but for the most part we may not even notice it, but it is still present within the pores of the cast iron.

          Bacon and its "diluted" salts normally do not affect cast iron if we properly clean afterwards. The grease as it cooks tends to suspend (bring to the top) the damaging salt as well as block the oxidation process in a suffocating manor.

          So called breads or cakes made in cast iron may react as an acid producing item. Much of that depends on the recipe.

          Olive oil is one oil I refuse to use as I just despise its "motor oil" like taste. Perhaps I have no taste but that's me. ;-)

          If you can see a heat ring in any skillet the flame is to darn high. In the restaurant setting a infrared surface thermometer works like a charm.

          Like this >>> http://www.kitchen-universe.com/detai...

          I think the bottom line here is that the seasoning isn't taking. The salt scrub doesn't help so try only a water clean. If it was my skilet, I would do a plain water - boil out (3 minute rolling boil) of the skilet and reseason it. I prefer lard to reseason cast iron

          1. Thanks for the advice. I did toss everything together in the oil right away. I think you're right on about adding the garlic later.

            I guess I'll need to keep the flame much lower. I did have it on medium, I thought that would be ok. This is like learning everything all over again.

            I did end up just boiling water and scrubbing the rest of the crud out, then reseasoning it with some bacon fat. The skillet has a dark half and a grey half, it's been like that since I started with it. I'll go back to working on it. I guess I'd better go back to just cooking bacon.

            And I still have the metallic taste in my mouth. Ick!

            1 Reply
            1. re: annimal

              >>>The skillet has a dark half and a grey half...

              Like it has been soaked? That may need to be corrected somehow. Do you know what may have been used.?

              And just how are you seasoning it?

              I do the old fashioned 300 degree for 2-4 hours oven bake method, once coated with lard. (Never use an oil or cheap shortenings as it can create a sticky sludge like coating)

            2. It looks more like it's been scrubbed off. And after my scrubbing the dark side is more like a quarter. I don't think my mom ever used anything but soap and water to clean the skillet. Heck, I don't know if she ever even used the skillet.

              I'm seasoning the same way as you, except using bacon fat instead of lard. I'm going to try to do it every day for the next week or so to rebuild some seasoning on there.

              2 Replies
              1. re: annimal

                I am getting to think the bacon grease is coming from some rather "oddly" processed bacon with a high sugar <and-or> water content. I have noticed that lately with bacon I find in the store rather than that bacon I get at the butchers shop.

                Store bacon seams to be turning out so much different that it used to, almost from package to package. My last batch had a pink broth like substance dripping from the package. It went from limp to burnt in a flash. This bacon in my opinion isn't fit for cast iron. Just barely fit to eat.

                BTW- I am a die hard for seasoning with lard. Not even Crisco would touch my cast iron as a seasoning. Top coating after cleaning maybe, but never for seasoning.

                1. re: RShea78

                  interesting... i haven't been a bacon eater too long, I used to only buy it from a local farm, but I moved and haven't had a chance to explore the local products. what i used was Niman Ranch from Trader Joe's. I saved the fat to use for seasoning.

              2. It sounds to me like you haven't properly seasoned your pan yet. Cooking bacon in it is fine, but you need a better base. Have you oiled the pan and set it in the oven? If not, that's problem #1 right there. The "seasoning" you're scrubbing off is likely not seasoning - it's probably just burnt bacon pieces which takes us back to problem #1. This is the simplest and easiest worry free cast iron seasoning I've ever used. Use your grill... assuming you have one! Gas, charcoal, it doesn't matter. Crank up the grill to medium or medium high, slather on a serious coating of oil and grease and then forget about the thing for an hour. No worries about smoke from your oven and no messes to clean up in the kitchen. Let's get another thing clear. Oil the WHOLE thing, including handle(s) and the outside, bottom, etc. Salt scrubs are worthless in my opinion. There's no reason to use it unless you just happen to have a salt mine in your backyard. Why waste salt? It's not expensive but think about it folks, it's a lot more expensive in the long run compared to a regular old plastic scrub brush and it does the same thing. Salt scrubs sounds like a fad to me. OK, now everyone go ahead and tell me that your grandmother used salt to clean her cast iron pan... ;-) I clean mine with hot running water and a scrub brush. As long as you scrub hard, there's no need for soap or boiling.

                If NOTHING works, set this thing in your oven on self clean and start over from scratch.

                1. Was it seasoned (either by your mom, or pre-seasoned by the manufacturer) when you got it? If not, definitely follow the advice of seasoning the pan, if you haven't already seasoned it. There are a ton of methods - the one above should work, or grease it up with crisco, and put in the oven upside-down above a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil and bake for an hour or so @ 350, wipe off the excess oil. It should be at least a dark brown color.

                  Any time you scrub it, you'll probably also want to heat it on the stovetop for a little with some oil on the cooking surfaces.

                  At first, use extra oil when cooking, avoid cooking with acidic stuff. And deep fry or pan fry stuff in there - latkes, onion rings, whatever.

                  And please, please ignore the advice about cleaning with soap. This *might* be ok with a pan that's so well seasoned there are no pores for the soap to get into, but it is not a good idea in general.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: will47

                    RE: Acidic Stuff

                    Is it okay to cook with vinegar, etc. in a seasoned cast iron pan, or should it be avoided entirely?

                  2. I received a Lodge Cast Iron Manufacturing Co. Catalog No. 9 last January. Pages 3 and 4 have instructions for care and use of cast iron cookware. There website may also have the information that you seek.


                    1 Reply
                    1. re: ChiliDude

                      In my haste, I misspelled 'their' by keyboarding 'there.' Mea culpa! Mi dispiace!

                    2. You may just have a klinker! Not all iron skillets are equal. I have at least half a dozen in a variety of sizes and some have never taken seasoning properly; others have a patina like an ice skating rink! Coarse salt and a little oil is your best cleaning medium -- or, if something is baked on, salt & oil, plus a silicone scrubby. The patina has to build up over a period of time.
                      Hope that helps.

                      1. I agree with crsommers. You may have a clinker. You may have also heated the pan on too high a flame for too long and lost the metal's temper. I don't know if that is the correct term but is the bottom a little warped? Is it an off color? Too grayish? Does it lay perfectly flat or wobble? If yes, you can't fix it.

                        Also helps to see what a properly seasoned pan looks like so you know what to aim for.
                        Good luck.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: jmfrish

                          My cast iron pan has the dreaded wobbles, it won't sit flat on my ceramic cook top. Now that I've finally got it seasoned well, should I just chuck it and think about getting a new one and starting over?

                          I assume it bowed out and down because we burned it at some point, right?


                        2. I'll give a little update. I scrubbed it some more with the brush, gave it a light coat of oil, and it seemed to get better. I made some latkes in it without problem. Though it still definitely has that inner circle that's hotter. I used it today to cook some bacon and it stuck! Argh. It is a lightish gray, but with darker areas, and it's been like that since I got it. The bottom doesn't seem warped... But I get that hot spot.

                          I have seen some well seasoned cast iron, and I know mine isn't like that (yet?). I'm not sure if it will ever be well seasoned. I might just pick up a new lodge skillet and see what it's like. My other skillets are all enameled cast iron, and they really don't seem so great, everything i've made stuck and crusted on. I'll have to keep trying, as I think I was using too high of a flame with them.

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: annimal

                            As I suggested in an earlier reply, go to the Lodge website to see what cookware is available.

                            1. re: annimal

                              Your skillet sounds like a bum one. I've never seen solid cast iron develop a hot spot on the bottom. Toss it, buy a new preseasoned one from Lodge if you really want cast iron ($15 at WalMart).

                            2. that's what i'm thinking of doing at this point. as I've cleaned off successive layers I thought I had already gotten, I've discovered a weird stain/something that won't come off. I guess that's part of the risks of getting free stuff. It's still good for cornbread and skillet cakes etc. at least!

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: annimal

                                I have done some internet hunting and do not see my particular problem identified yet, so hopefully someone can help. I have made a mistake in using my *rice bran oil* to season my new pans...ugh! Beyond that, I followed all of the initial instructions. Help, please:
                                1. I noticed a very chemical like smell in the oven and house-is this normal? (Not an option to do it outside...)
                                2. After seasoning, the pans were full of sticky oil, and when I tried to scour them clean (with soapy, hot water), BLACK rubbed off on the green scouring sponge, so I stopped, and the pans are still sticky and yucky. Have you had this problem with the * black coming off?*
                                3. If the problem was the oil of choice, can you suggest a different *plant, non-animal oil (no lard or crisco, etc.)?* Can I use Sunflower, Safflower, Almond, Green Tea, or Grape Seed oils? I have all of these onhand (I read olive oil does not work.) Please, from someone who has used any of these oils....
                                4. What is the best, easiest way to start over, and *what materials do I need to do so?* (In the dishwasher or oven on 'self clean,' sand paper, steel wool, etc?) Please, from someone who has personally done so...
                                5. What type of scrub brush should I buy for future cleaning? (Metal bristles, plastic, a greenie, or what?) What do you like?
                                Thank you for your replies, everyone!!

                              2. I think you should realize that seasoned cast iron and carbon steel pans are not truly "non-stick". They do acquire a metal seasoning that minimizes sticking, but some foods will stick no matter what. Live with it! In Chinese cooking, no matter how well-seasoned the wok may be, certain foods will stick and be crispy brown (fried rice, for example). There is a Chinese word for such fried rice and chow mein perfection, where the rice or noodles are a little "burnt"...delicious, but hard to get. Its a good idea to heat and oil your pan after each use.