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Poor Cast Iron Pans...

Hello everyone,

I am new to ChowHound. I have been searching all over the web for info about what to do with my cast irons. I have two of them. An 8-inch that has some nasty black flaky deposites all over the inside of the pan and nothing I do seems to take the stuff off, except using something to chip the stuff away. Then, my pride and joy. I have inherited my father's 11 3/4-in pan from the 40's. This poor pan was in a house fire earlier this year and it's the only thing I was able to salvage from the remnants. It's rusted and has a few pits, but I think it'll survive.

Does anyone have an idea what the black stuff is on the 8-inch? And, do you think that sanding, scrubbing, and curing the other will work? I actually had to "flame" it with gasoline (outside of course) and then scrub it like mad to get it clean it due to 50+ years of non-proper cleaning.

Help please!!

Mo

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  1. Happy to hear that you have these pans, Mo, but sorry to hear about the condition. Fortunately, you can restore them pretty easily, much as my family did with ours after they were submerged for weeks in Katrina's floodwaters. That black gunk is just accumulated cooking grease that's been carbonized and will come off easier than you think. Even the rust will be OK.

    Run both pans through the self-cleaning cycle in an oven. If you don't have one, find a friend who does. Much better than all the sand-blasting, scrubbing with salt, wire brushing, or other labor intensive methods. It gets done in a few hours with virtually no effort on your part. All the gunk will fall away and the pans will be down to the raw cast iron. Then treat them as you would new, unseasoned cast iron pans.

    I think the easiest way to season cast iron is to cook a lot of bacon in them and use them for cooking meals that require the addition of fats. Hold off for awhile using them for cornbread or dishes that have a lot of liquid that will draw out the developing seasoning. The nice black satin seasoning will develop on its own gradually but more quickly than you'd imagine. You can only hurry up the process so much anyhow so it's really not worth stressing over. You'll have the pans for a long time so why worry?

    1 Reply
    1. re: MakingSense

      I have a skillet that is probably 34 years old. I have allowed it to develop hard deposits around the outer, interior edge. Even though I successfully use the pan, I would like to give it the "treatment" you describe in my self-cleaning oven. My oven's manual says to remove its racks before starting the self-clean cycle. One needs to place the pan on a rack with foil on another, lower rack to clean a cast iron pan.

      Did you have a problem with discoloration of your racks after this procedure? Thanks!

    2. Your detailed information is greatly appreciated. I'm sure your post will be used as a reference for some of us far into the future!

      I have refrained from using the cast iron pans I was given due to my preference for more vegetarian food and abstaining from eating red meat (I do eat a little bit of chicken and more fish which I normally cook in my toaster oven! The few kinds of fish I eat, such as salmon and catfish fillets bake in about five minutes in my toaster oven. I try to stay away from fried foods, but your response has gotten me to think of the possibilities of perhaps using the pans for quick frying these fish fillets. I try to minimize the use of oils when possible).

      Some of the newer cast iron skillet cookware I have seen advertises that their products have been pre-seasoned and require less maintenance than previously produced such cookware.

      Given the higher temperature that the cast iron pans reach, I wonder if certain oils, otherwise ok for medium heating, such as olive oil and canola oil, should not be used for these pans, in favor of peanut, sesame, rapeseed, coconut, and avocado oils, more suitable for higher temperatures (also high oleic safflower oil).

      If a person hasn't used his cast iron pans in a long time, what oil would you recommend for re-seasoning the pans? (Lard and other animal type fat is not something I choose to use.)

      Can extensive cleaning of pans through heavy multiple immersion in boiling water and other cleaning remove the history of prior cooking history from the previous user of these pans? At a cooking expo I was at, a cookware vendor of "waterless" cookware said that you never get rid of the prior material in cast iron cookware, that the material is imbedded in the cast iron, so your new cooking includes the energy from the previous cook. Is this true?

      If you wanted to minimize the use of oils, how would you use the cast iron skillet for cooking fish? (I normally don't bread the fish, in favor of a more simple approach, such as poaching or baking with minimal seasoning, adding lemon at the end of cooking.)

      I have thought of using the cast iron skillet for Indian breads that are cooked in a tawa, believing that the higher heat might be ideal for something like that.

      (Addition to my post here, made about one hour ago or so ...
      You stated ...
      "It's a kitchen chameleon -- nonstick frying pan, baking dish, grill, broiler, roasting pan, casserole dish and tagine." How do you figure it can be used as a tagine? That piece of cooking equipment has a peculiar cone-like cover. I have only seen that kind of cover sold only with the tagine base. It is a very unusual looking piece of equipment. Its design steers the build up of moisture away from being dropped back onto the food. Sort of like the bamboo material used in the steamer baskets made of that material, but I've always wondered how cooks clean the bamboo, particularly when a piece of fish has been steaming in that contraption. That problem has led me to just admire the baskets at a distance and continue using stainless steel steamer baskets.)

      1 Reply
      1. re: FelafelBoy

        re: Oil temperature... you can always put the pan on lower heat. I've never had any problem using olive or safflower oils on my CI skillet. Since I'm vegetarian / vegan-ish, I don't use lard or bacon for seasoning; I have found that vegetable shortening (Crisco) works better than healthier oils for seasoning, though I'll sometimes put on a light coat of safflower oil after cooking.

        I wouldn't waste too much time about the previous use of the pan, unless you are a lot stricter vegetarian than I am. I think a good cleaning in the self-cleaning mode of an oven or over a fire, or a good scrubbing with steel wool, will get anything gross off of it. If you're really upset about it, spend $12 on a new Lodge pre-seasoned pan and start from scratch, but really, if your pans are family heirlooms, I'd suggest using those. Avoid cooking beans or tomatoes, cooking with vinegar, or using anything really acidic on the pan for a while. And deep frying or pan frying stuff will make the pan happy.

        Personally, I love cooking implements that change (and improve) over time, stuff made of wood, carbon steel, cast iron, etc. It is true that they absorb some of the character of the food, but I think talking about the energy of previous cooks is more a conceptual thing than a literal thing.

        One other great thing about cooking with cast iron is that it adds a little bit of iron to food you cook in it.

      2. I just wanted to say thank you to both of you for your help. The thick and flakey black stuff comes off easily and I am going to call my favorite engine shop tomorrow to see how much they charge for sandblasting. If that fails, well I guess it's down to elbow grease. :) Either way, thank you for easing my mind. I can't live without atleast one cast iron! My mom used to make a mean killer cornbread in my dad's and I learned how, (then my grandmother told me the truth. She said to follow the directions on the corn meal box, but add Jiffy Mix instead of flour and baking soda and bake normally), I use white corn meal though, much sweeter and less grainy.

        Again, thank you very much :) Happy holidays and happy cookin'.

        1 Reply
        1. re: roxmic

          I am NOT an expert, but I have been researching because I am trying really hard to eliminate all nonstick from my kitchen. This also means I am trying to learn to work with cast iron.

          I would first try the self cleaning oven approach. IT appears to take all of the elbow grease from the process (vs sanding/sand blasting).

          Here is a great website with suggestions on how to do the self cleaning oven - cleaning approach as well as other info and recipes.

          http://whatscookingamerica.net/Inform...

        2. I rejuvenate my cast iron by coating it liberally with oven cleaner spray. Put it in a plastic bag, seal it tight and open it in a week. Most all of the stuff should hose out easily. Then I begin the reseasoning process.

          1. My original post was deleted cause I quoted an article. Here's a link to it though:

            http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article...

            This has about everything you'd ever want to know about taking care of cast iron pan.

            1. hi... i once read that we could place our cast iron pans in the self cleaning oven while its on a cleaning cycle for at least 2 hours. When cycle is complete, wash off residue with warm water and white vinager. Then you can coat with a little cooking oil for lustre and preservation.. It worked like a charm i have to say.. Good luck with it.. Hope this has been helpful.

              1. I would keep the 8" if it has sentimental value, but I can't see going through all that just to use it when you can get another 8" (I think a 10" is a more useful size though) for less than $10!

                2 Replies
                1. re: blondelle

                  Today's cast iron pans are not as well made as those in the past. Griswold cast iron has an interior cooking surface that is very smooth. Griswold must have machined the interior surfaces smooth, unlike those made today. They are also slightly thinner and lighter, unlike the clunky pans made today. Wagner cast iron is similar. I would make the effort to clean up and use older cast iron.

                  1. re: Antilope

                    Yes, Griswold pans are wonderful. I was amazed at how much lighter the pan is than current cast iron. We had an old one in our family too. The Lodge pans are so heavy and coarse compared to them, I scrubbed it and chipped off the old layers of gunk. They are however on Ebay for really not too much, especially at that size. It's just like a lot to go through, when you really can replace it easily there ;-). Check on Ebay, and you will be pleasantly surprised.

                2. honestly, the easiest thing to do is find someone with a fireplace and stick it in there with a burning fire for the night. dig it out in the morning and it will be like new! I have salvaged quite a few crusty-rusties this way.

                  1. Have you tried the "Coke" (as in Coca-Cola TM) trick yet? I haven't tried it, but sounds like it works pretty well.