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Please Help Me Save My Cast Iron Frying Pan

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Read this horror story at your own risk! (may induce tears and garment rending in the faint of heart chowhound chef):

My holy grail - the twelve inch cast iron frying pan with a perhaps fifty year old slick black natural non-stick patina. Yes, it was black and beautiful - until I left it on a shelf with another pan on top of it, which somehow trapped ambient moisture, and (Eeeeek!!!) RUST developed in patches on the cooking surface. To add insult to injury my attempts to re-season it by leaving it in the oven, which is kept semi-warm by the gas pilot light, with a thin coat of oil on it - resulted in the oil somehow reducing to a semi-hard sticky (horrible) resin. I attempted to remove same with a copper scrubber and further scratched the original black patina, which is now totally eroded from perhaps 20 % of the interior cooking surface.

PLEASE tell me it can be saved!

God help me! I'm praying that you, God's earthly agents in the cooking world will have a solution which will save this, the most precious and revered icon of cooks everywhere: the well-seasoned black cast iron fry pan.

P.S.
I'd call it a skillet, but I recently read a post from a cook in the UK claiming never to have heard that term.

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  1. Totally saveable! if it was me I'd start over....scrub with steel wool and kosher salt and then apply a liberal amount of peanut oil and bake in a hot oven with all your windows open. Repeat as necessary.

    1 Reply
    1. re: jbyoga

      So, what temp and for how long? Does the surface where it's worn down to the grey iron get black again?

    2. Exact temperature is not critical, but your pilot light won't do the job. Anywhere between 350 and 450F will do. You can even do it on a stove burner at medium heat. I've found when starting from scratch that several very light applications of oil over 3 or 4 days works better than one heavy coating. Whatever method you use, never apply so much oil that it pools in the bottom of the pan.

      And don't use it for anything but frying or sauteing for a few weeks. Before long it'll be good as new. I mean old.

      1. I think it is better to use shortening (Crisco) or lard, or even bacon fat, rather than oil for seasoning. Oil does leave a sticky residue. That said, do not fret that you have ruined your pan. You have not. It is totally fixable. You could just go ahead and cook some bacon in it to help restore the seasoning.

        1. I followed the seasoning instructions on the Lodge website to a T, and still got the sticky/tacky residue. Since I'd followed the instructions, I just decided to throw caution to the wind and cook in it even though it was still sticky/tacky -- dark, but sticky. Worked fine, and now it's not sticky anymore. I have no idea why, but it's back to it's old seasoned self (almost -- mine wasn't nearly as old as yours).

          1. If you would prefer for your house not to smell like a foundry, you may find that it is more pleasant to reseason your cast iron in your barbecue grill. Assuming you have one, of course.

            The trick to seasoning is that you basically want to bake the oil or fats into epoxides, like latex paint, or a fully polymerized plastic. As it happens, polyunsaturated oils are among the easiest to oxidize (because of their double bonds). The resin you got is what happens when you don't run that reaction hot enough. Which is another argument for flipping on all the burners of your BBQ grill and doing it there... ideally at 600-700 degrees.

            This will certainly ease the process of reseasoning. I have done my dead-level best to destroy my Lodge and older Wagner Ware skillets and each time I just reseason them and they take it good as new. Once you have got the seasoning back, try oiling them lightly before storage. It is so much easier to burn off a little dust than to scrape off a little rust.

            1. I never let anyone in my family touch my cast iron ware. Never. Only hot water and kosher salt for cleaning off gunk, (usually just salt and a paper towel, no water) then drying on top the range on high heat. Thanks for that tip on using the BBQ grill.

              1. Ttriche - Using the grill - that is effin' brilliant!

                I have always read that you're supposed to use a much lower temperature (in the two hundreds), but then I have also always gotten tacky results the first time 'round, so there may be a connection. The stickiness was disappointing to me, but I just cooked my way through it and all was good.

                Ttriche's explanation was frankly over my head (crap science background) but fwiw I've heard that saturated fat works better than unsaturated (not sure where polyunsaturated comes into the equation). As in... lard, Crisco or coconut oil. I used lard; Crisco is a transfat so lots of people stay away from that these days; my veggie friends use coconut oil.

                But keep in mind the singular of "data" is not "anecdote", and moreover I'm no cast iron expert I'm just sharing what I've done, read & heard, and hoping to pick up some good ideas myself. :) Good luck everyone!

                1. Update: I re-seasoned a pan and a big (14 inch) lid the other day on the grill. In the name of Science, I ran them at various temperatures between 250 and 600 degrees, and the most effective seasoning (durable, no poofy bubbles of char, no sticky pools of crap) was had by grilling the lid upside down at 400 degrees for about an hour after preheating, applying the oil (some mix of "healthy" polyunsaturated stuff including canola oil which was languishing in the cabinet), and closing the lid.

                  My conclusion is that a medium temperature (350-450 degrees) is best for seasoning.

                  1. Heat pan add Kosher Salt. Scrub pan with salt . Rinse and reheat. Coat with peanut oil . Cook bacon in it for a few weeks it will bounce right back . Make some fried chicken in it.

                    1. I've found the best way to re-season cast iron is to scrub it out well with salt, and then deep fry in it a few times. Seems to work just fine.

                      1. Re-cure then clean/scrub with coarse salt and paper towels as needed
                        or use creek sand and water.
                        A patina will become manifest after a while.