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Found a cast iron skillet...can it be saved?

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I just found a skillet on the street (it doesn't have a label or mark so I know it's not a Lodge). Anyway...it's a bit of a mess. Sort of got a crackly bottom mixed with rust. Can this be brought back to life? How?

 
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  1. Cast iron skillets are generally indestructible. Not sure what you meant by "crackly," but if you can scour out all the rust and gunk you should be able to re-season it and you're good to go.

    If the gunk is really hard and stuck, you might try to heat it with some water in it--that should help loosen things up. Won't do any long-term harm.

    Saving a cast iron skillet from the scrap heap is a noble chow thing, IMO.

    4 Replies
    1. re: johnb

      Rock salt is a good scrubbing agent if you don't want to kill the seasoning already there.

      Barkeeper's friend is pretty good if you plan to re-season. Once you get all the rust off, rub it with Crisco (or spray it with PAM if that grosses you out) and cook it in the oven at high heat. You may need to repeat that a few times.

      1. re: johnb

        If they are rusted so badly that they are badly pitted, the salvage might not be worth it.

        I have two beloved ones that I bought for $2 each (Canadian, of course) - a wee one made here in Québec (smaller than the smallest Lodge) from a yard sale and a medium-sized one from Carleton Place, near Ottawa, also not far at all, from "Le Chaînon", a charity shop. Other than cooking, I also use them at a low heat to reheat things, like grilled chicken or imperial rolls. Also to bake flatbread. Yum.

        1. re: lagatta

          What a coincidence, I got a great cast iron grill pan at Le Chaînon, too. I looove that place. If you go often enough, you can find just about anything.

        2. re: johnb

          I agree. Boiling water in it should clean it up nicely. I had to save my own dutch oven from the garbage pile because it got waterlogged when a pipe burst in my kitchen. Mine had a sort of crackly look to it along with the rust and came back to life with some hot water and steel wool. Definitely don't forget to reseason it before you use it though.

        3. This is a job for a self-cleaning oven. The high heat will sterilize the skillet and burn off all the rust and gunk, taking it down to the bare metal. You have no idea what that stuff is or where that skillet has been.
          We did this with all the family cast iron that had been submerged in Katrina's floodwaters for weeks. Didn't even want to know what was in that slimy water.
          After the cleaning process, if there's any rust or rough patches left, you may need to use steel wool to finish the smoothing. Then season the pan as you normally would. My family usually just cooks bacon for awhile until the skillet seasons. Doesn't take long and we enjoy the bacon.
          If you don't eat bacon, lard or Crisco are the second best alternatives.

          5 Replies
          1. re: MakingSense

            I have been cleaning my cast iron skillets in the self cleaning oven. They are about forty years old. I do it once every three or four years.

            1. re: MakingSense

              I'm not sure if my oven is self-cleaning. The manual doesn't mention anything about it. Is there a special setting or do I just crank the heat and let it sit in there? For how long? If that isn't the way to go. I was thinking of using steel wool and rock salt then season the hell out of it with bacon or Crisco. Am I on the right path?

              1. re: pastoralia

                There should be some indication - a dial or switch marked "self clean" - so chances are yours isn't. If you don't have a friend willing to run your skillet through their self cleaning cycle, you could try putting it in your oven at the highest heat for an hour or so. That's probably about 550. That will kill a lot of germs and burn off much of the gradoux (old cajun word). The traditional method was to put cast iron right in the embers of a wood fire. Cast iron is damn near indestructible.
                Rock salt breaks down. Salt can be ground in a plain old salt mill, remember? And steel wool fiber breaks down too. Those methods are good for maintenance but maybe not for restoration. A fine wire brush on an electric drill might get the built up off pretty quickly. My grandfather used to do that before self cleaning ovens. Depends on how much gunk is on the skillet.

                1. re: MakingSense

                  Just bury it in a charcoal bar-be cue pit, fire it up ,cook a meal ., by the time the pit has cooled the problem will be halfway solved. Brush off any remaining residue. Wipe clean. Do this maybe every year or two.

                  1. re: gae

                    An oyx-acetylene torch will do the trick, too. And it's kinda fun to burn off al the gunk that way.

            2. The other posters are all right on on how to recondition a damaged pan but you might want to ask what the pan was doing on the street in the first place. If you know where it came from you could try to save it but if there is much of a meth problem in your area i'd never cook food in it. Cast iron is porus which why it can be seasoned but the same would be true of its ability to absorb any nasty chemicals used in the manufacture of meth. If you think someone might have just discarded it rather than try to clean it or weather it could have been used by someone with a criminal bent.

              1 Reply
              1. re: nothingman

                Not a lot of meth labs in Park Slope, Brooklyn. So, I think I'm OK and if not it might jazz up some of my cooking.

              2. I used my cast iron skillets as fireplace radiators for three years before I decided to use them again for cooking. They were scorched, rusty, crackly, and just plain horrible. One washing and rubbing with mineral oil made them look, well, conceivable for cooking. A little more, and they now look like cooking pans.

                I don't know how likely it is that you will come in contact with toxic materials from a discarded pan, as NothingMan suggested. It certainly is possible. So maybe boiling water in it for a while *and* cleaning in a self-cleaning oven might denature any undesirable coating.

                1. Years ago I went to a appliance class and all the stove that were self cleaning had
                  a lock handle in the front of it. I have one on mine and dearly love it and I really like
                  the way it cleans up the oven. with your problem of your skillet I think this is the way
                  I would do it. because when your stove gets up to about 500 degrees you want that
                  tobe locked where you cant open it until it cools down. good luck.