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Jan 31, 2008 03:00 PM

polish cast iron?

I purchased a cast iron skillet on the basis of expected durability. To me, this skillet appears to have the surface left by the casting process. It has a made in China sticker on it. I know cast iron can be polished, probably to a mirror finish. I wondered if smoothing the interior before seasoning could lead to the skillet requiring less oil/grease for cooking.

The internet provided information I never guessed, especially the claims on this site that "proper" seasoning produces an excellent, permanent, non-stick surface. I have not found the information I wanted, however, perhaps because I did not think of the proper search terms.

I see mention of using 80 grit sandpaper on "unpolished" cast iron. It isn't clear to me, however, if this sanding recommendation is to actually change the metal's surface or just to remove anything that might coat the metal. I don't think 80 grit will produce an especially smooth surface, although it probably could be smoother than what I'm starting with, assuming enough sanding.

I also saw the post about Lodge marketing a rough finish as a way to improve the eventual non-stick qualities by providing more surface area to season. There was no information as to whether this is good or rather backwards, however.

Will the skillet ultimately have a better non-stick surface, or be better is any other way, if I polish the interior before seasoning? I'm aware this could be a major undertaking, maybe more effort than I'm willing to give to it, but that isn't part of the question. Only "is it a good thing to do?" is being asked. However, if the undertaking is worthwhile, any suggestions to ease the effort are also appreciated.

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  1. Ever try to paint on, or glue something to a polished surface? You *need* those little scratches and pits for the seasoning to adhere strongly.

    What you really want is flat. No raised bumps or ridges, and that's where 80 grit sandpaper comes in. Get one of those circular sanders that you put on your drill, and a few sheets of a GOOD 80 grit, and sand away. Once you get to a surface finish that looks to be half bright metal and half dark pits, you're done. Note that this happens naturally over time as the metal implements you use slowly abrade away the high spots of the finish, the sandpaper is simply a way of accelerating that process.

    1. I prefer a Nylox cup brush in power drill. These have a fairly aggressive grit to them and will make quick work of a crummy casting job. You don't want a "mirror finish" on the pan, as that won't last (a glossy surface on cast iron would almost instantly rust) nor will it "hold" the seasoning. If I had to describe the finish that you get from from the Nylox brush I'd estimate it somewhere between smooth sidewalks and beach sand.

      1. I don't think it really matters. As noted, the main US manufacturer of cast iron, Lodge, does not machine the surface after casting. But I have a couple of old pans, Wagner brand I believe, that have smooth interior surfaces. I also have smooth steel pans, such as a wok and crepe pan. In my experience seasoning requires similar effort and care, and has similar durability, regardless of the finish.


        3 Replies
        1. re: paulj

          Agreed. I have several pans of both types and they all hold the seasoning just fine. In any event, I don't think you'd be able to do a good job of smoothing cast iron with sandpaper or hand tools. But if you have a lathe or work in a machine shop, you're all set.

          1. re: Zeldog

            I have several old Griswold cast iron skillets and camp dutch ovens. They are very, very smooth and hold seasoning well. There is no reason that such a surface cannot be achieved in an evening or two by hand. Amateur astronomers used to grind their own mirrors by hand (some still do). Some of the most beautiful lacquered surfaces I have ever seen were done by hand before the invention of sandpaper or machine tools. Tedious, yes...difficult, no.

            1. re: paul.helbert

              I look forward to the world to come where we have such time as months, years or a century to finish a such great work of love and then to hand it to a stranger who who could use it for the next 1000 years with gratefulness. Then then then repeat that labor of love a trillion times over.

        2. I don't care how "seasoned" you get that cast iron will NEVER perform like a teflon or other contemporary "nonstick" finish. Yes, it will be less sticky than slightly seasoned, but even with polishing, you're not going to get equivalent performance. Season the damn thing, cook bacon in it a few times, fry some chicken, and it will last forever. Just don't ask it to act like teflon. You will NEVER be able to fry or scramble an egg using just a spritz of Pam in a cast iron skillet, not even your grammaw's 100-year-old beauty that's never been washed. It will always take a fair amount of lubrication to do such things in cast iron.

          8 Replies
          1. re: Hungry Celeste

            Huh? I can make fried eggs in cast iron with a spray or wipe of oil, and no sticking. No problem at all and you get the crispy edge, I like the results for fried at least as well as teflon.

            As for the original question, I don't see any harm in a light polishing. The grooves do tend to wear down after long use, although they don't completely disappear. The pan in the attached photo is probably over 25 years old, and you can still see them.

            Just don't try to rush the seasoning by using a thick coat of bacon grease as often suggested. Here's a good discussion from Melinda Lee (our local radio food expert).


            1. re: mlgb

              I can confirm this.
              And as for polishing the cast iron you could and it will work just fine. Or you don't have to it will gunk up and work fine also .

            2. re: Hungry Celeste

              that is not entirely true, I can get better performance out of my cast iron without the worry of nasty chemical smells in the house if I forget to take the pan off the stove. also there are studies regarding teflon as a potential carcinogen. cast iron requires technique and use to get an egg to skate out of the pan and onto a plate. after seasoning you have to use the pan about 5 times to get working correctly, if you are not veggie, cook up a little bacon it will hasten the process. also cook the egg on medium heat and don't put the egg into a cold pan, try throwing a drop of water in there and if it pops then it's hot enough to cook the egg. have a little patience. it is so worth it!

              1. re: Hungry Celeste

                Celeste my dear...
                I have seasoned my crepe pan and have no need to even grease it or spray it before using. if I do put butter on it and then the crepe batter, it won't even stick enough to form a crepe, the batter just swirls around. These pans CAN out perform any teflon or non-stick. BTW I never use aeresol sprays on any of my pans, ones that contain elcithin actually defeat any non-stick qualities over time.

                1. re: Hungry Celeste

                  This is simply not true. I'd never trade my hand polished (with 1000 grit sand paper) carbon steel frying pan for a teflon pan. I scramble eggs or make omelettes in it with a small pat of butter (which is required by a good egg) and when I'm done I can wipe it clean with a paper towel--ALL the egg comes off. This also browns better than teflon. Also this pan won't make you or your birds sick and it will last a lifetime--not a few months to a year like teflon.

                  I wipe it down with a very small amount--a very negligible thin film--of home rendered tallow (from ground beef) after I'm done, with a paper towel--both inside and out.

                  If I sprayed this pan with pam I'd be able to easily fry/scramble an egg with it--but why would I want to do that when an egg demands butter?

                  I don't own a single teflon/"nonstick" pan and I never will.

                  1. re: Hungry Celeste

                    You obviously don't know a lot about cast iron. A properly seasoned and cared for, old vintage (as opposed to lodge crap) cast iron skillet can be easily as slippery as any of the "nonstick" finishes. Yes you may need to use a small amount of oil, but I can slide eggs around, whether fried, scrambled or an omelet. And you can use any type of utensil you desire, without worry about trashing the finish.

                    But the bigger issue is that Teflon and similar finishes may be safe at room temperature. But when overheated THEY WILL KILL EVERY BIRD IN YOUR HOUSE! I don't know about you, but I don't want anything in my house that can produce lethal vapors. If the vapor can kill a bird, what is it doing to human especially young, human lungs?
                    No thanks. I have a undergraduate degree in chemistry, don't get me started on Dupont and safety!

                    Lastly, I have restored close to 100 cast iron pans of various sizes and shapes, starting everyone by burying the pan in a wood fire without any casualties.

                    1. re: wesn001

                      My opinion is that birds should be flying free outside, except for fowl, which should be eaten.

                  2. I'm with Melinda. If you can't get an egg sunny side up to scoot around the bottom of your skillet with just a light wipe of oil, then it's not properly seasoned. Also, if you've got some patience and a talent for yard sailing, remember that the world is full of old cast iron skillets, most of them better quality than what you can buy today even from Lodge. The season for tag sales is fast upon us. By Fall, you should be able to acquire a full nesting set from the five through the twelve. Come to think of it, buy two size 12's. Trust me, the time will soon come when you'll need to use both at once.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: rubysdad

                      I want a size 12! I have a feeling that old pans are going to start going up in price dramatically; it's a generational thing. The babyboomers'kids are starting to yearn for the genuine.
                      Oh... and your absolutely right about fried eggs. I don't often get them to slide around the pan, but pretty close. Scrambled eggs... not so easy.