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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.


        2 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.

        2. I don't care how "seasoned" you get that cast iron skillet....it 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. Cast iron for me is the way to go. I have 10 skillets and love every one of them. I have 2 lodge skillets that are as smooth as ice and these I use for omelets. Just a quick spray of Pam in there and I am good to go. All my other skillets are rough on the bottom and that is the way I like those for frying chicken as well as making cornbread or cakes in them. To be real honest also, I am real lax on seasoning my skillets. I haven't seasoned them for over 10 yrs and I always use dish soap on them every time. As far as the original post with her skillets being from China, I personally don't use anything from China. I just purchased 4 skillets from QVC from Paula Deen, and they are going back. Made in China and they looked like crap. I will stick with new ones from Lodge and those ever favorites from garage sales. Those are the best, the bargains from garage sales and antique stores. And for Teflon lovers, what happens to Teflon when it gets scratched? It sticks.

                      1. I would never attempt to polish cast iron. Some folks don't even like to scrub too hard. My cast iron is more than 70 years old and I do scrub it with a soft pad - no wire or SOS. Then I dry it really well and put it in the slow oven after wiping veg oil on it.

                        It does not ever perform like a teflon or any other non-stick but it is the best frying pan I have. I could not make crispy hashbrowns in anything else because nothing else holds the heat the same way. But I don't use it for everything. For pancakes or omelets I do use non-stick.

                        14 Replies
                        1. re: pengcast

                          the cast iron that I use for omelets is so smooth, they just slide right out as if you were using teflon. the same for pancakes, I use my cast iron griddle that is real smooth to. I dont even know how they got that way. guess the cast iron fairy did it!! I have an email into lodge right now about using sanders on the bottom, cause to me, that dont seem right cause you are starting to expose more raw cast iron and get that irony taste. Probably wont hear from them till next week tho. I havent even seasoned for so long, probably should do that some weekend.

                          1. re: thecountryrose

                            I'm right w/ you. All my teflon went out w/ Pres. Reagan. My cast iron is like a buddy. I take care of him and he takes care of me. I'm about to fry some fish in one and spuds in the other.

                            1. re: Passadumkeg

                              You've missed out on a lot of advances in manufacturing by turning your back on 20+ years of non-stick technology. I'm pretty sure my truck back then had carburetor and crank windows...

                              1. re: renov8r

                                Hey, I'm a greenie iconoclast and am comfortable w/ it. The fact that I'm on line now was a leap of faith brought on by my kids living in other countries (Include Texas.). I got an old British motorcycle with a kick start and no choke and a '67 VW van. And I can work on the; few electronics and no fuel injection. Just good ol' rebuildable carbs. I organic garden and shoot, pick or dig or catch a lot of my food and and heat w/ wood. I am suspicious of agribusiness and large corporations. Chain restaurants are ant-ifood. Gimme my cast iron, double-clad copper/stainless and my wood cook stove. I guess I grew up too close to a Dupont factory in chemical alley NJ and am suspicious of expensive chemicals on my cookware. To each his/her (Gotta be policitically correct, ya know.) own.

                                1. re: Passadumkeg

                                  I like vintage technology also, but there is an inconsistency in claiming an aversion to "chemicals" while preferring old vehicles which put greater amounts of pollutants into the air than modern, fuel-injected vehicles. Likewise, burning wood produces far more pollutants than burning natural gas.

                                  PTFE (Teflon) is so inert that chemists use it instead of glassware when they need maximum purity.

                                  1. re: GH1618

                                    Yes, teflon is fine at room temperature, but if you heat teflon to high temperatures (as is likely to happen in... I dunno... a frying pan?), it will kill birds. That's reason enough for me to avoid it.

                                    Look up any number of pet websites or pet stores that deal in pet birds, and you will hear plenty of cautions about pet birds that have been killed by heated teflon pans. Makes me think of the old canary in a coal mine.

                                    That said, I do like fuel injection.

                            2. re: thecountryrose

                              How long does it take for cast iron to get smooth enough for the eggs to just slide right off? I've seen some cast iron pans that look as smooth as glass. Mine has all sorts of pock marks on it and I would never think of making eggs in it.

                              1. re: takadi

                                my husband had this peice when we got married and he got it from an antique shop before that. And it is a lodge. Lodge did say that I could take 220 grit sandpaper and smooth out some pock marks. Dont use a sander or anything, just use your muscles. Sonce the last time that I posted, I did try it with a generic cast iron skillet and it did work. But every Lodge & Griswald that I have or seen at antique stores, pretty much all of them are smooth and worn real good.

                                1. re: thecountryrose

                                  I'm wondering if you have to sand them in order for them to become smooth, or if the seasoning will smooth out the pans over time. Perhaps all that cooking wears away at the actual iron and makes it smooth?

                                  1. re: takadi

                                    Well, cast iron is pretty soft, so any high spots will get worn by being scraped with spatulas and what not. And the low spots will get filled by the seasoning.
                                    But the quality of current production Lodge stuff is pretty low. I'm not sure if they've dropped post casting machining, or if they've changed the casting process in a way that creates a rougher surface. Older stuff, and other brands, have a much flatter surface. It's easy enough to do it yourself, though, particularly if the pan is big enough to use power sander on.

                                    1. re: dscheidt

                                      Yea it's sad how American industries are getting lazier

                                      1. re: takadi

                                        Laziness has nothing to do with it. It's all about money. For most things that get cooked in cast iron, there's no need for a mirror smooth surface. It makes no difference for things like meat, or things cooked with lots of fat. It does cost money to make the smooth surface.

                                2. re: takadi

                                  Mine that is that smooth came from a garage sale and so who knows how long it has been around. The bottom is so smooth that it has a light black gray cast to it. I only use that skillet for omelets. Nothing else touches that skillet. It may not even get washed for 6 months. just wipe out with a paper towel.

                              2. re: pengcast

                                can you post whatever recipe you use for the hash browns please?

                              3. I just got an email back form Lodge and they said not realy to use a sander, drill with a sander attachment or wire brush. The best way to sand a skillet they said was just good ole fashioned elbow grease and a piece of sand paper and then re-season.

                                1. The way I visualie your surface it would break an over-easy egg if it were to slide across it, regardless of seasoning!
                                  I agree that 80 grit is not as fine as I would go. I think you can still have lots of tooth from 220. I used to be a modelmaker and I have painted a lot of materials. What is being forgotten is that cast iron, in particular, is porous. I don't think you will have any issues seasoning it if you have it quite smooth, if that's your desire. You don't have a lot to lose if you're not happy with it.

                                  I have sanded some of mine. I inherited a very small, rusty Lodge skillet and had to do some sanding to get it back in shape. I always cook eggs in this little Lodge, with a pat of butter. There is nothing better than cast iron for baking cornbread. Take that Teflon!

                                  4 Replies
                                  1. re: Scargod

                                    Right on Scargod. When this post came out, I had to look at my cast iron pans. I have 2 Norwegian, 25 year old Hoyang frying pans, a dutch oven sauce pot, and a cast iron waffle maker, Wagner muffinand sauce pans, a "Made in USA" griddle, a Made in Korea dutch oven and a large Lodge frying pan that I inherited from one of our kids after college. I also have Hoyang double clad copper/stainless pots. The Hoyang frying pans are beautiful w/ very smooth bottoms w/ mahogany handles w/ brass knobs on the end of the handle. The lodge was abused when I inherited it, half scorched and unseasoned. I just scrubbed it, oiled her up and baked in a slow oven and she's been great since. Until this post, I never noticed how pimply her complection is. Beauty in the eye of the pan holder, I guess. We use cast iron at the cabin too; either antiques or yard sale specials. My wife says she now longer needs her iron supplements. As the other man of iron (in spinach) said, "I am what I am and I am what I am."

                                    1. re: Passadumkeg

                                      I was looking at the antique cast iron pans online just yesterday and noticing how much more nicely finished they seem to be compared with my Lodges. Maybe I'll try sandpaper. Seems like it might be a lot of work, though.

                                      1. re: justjoe

                                        Also, go to your local antique dealer. I have found so many nice smooth ones there. And most of them have not a single splotch of rust on them. And they have the lids too.

                                    2. re: Scargod

                                      Hey Scargod, I am following you!!!!
                                      Pineapple upside down cake too!!! In that skillet that is so smooth, I only use it for omelets, nothing else. and if anyone in my house wants on over easy egg, they have to fix that one for themselves. I have seen my share of those to last me a life time.

                                    3. I, too have a very rough pan that I've been using on an almost daily basis for something like 4 YEARS and is STILL rough. It takes WAY too much oil/grease to cook things like eggs. All of my other iron cookware was easy to season and use, but not this latest one. The Lodge cast iron I've seen lately is abysmal! Even their 100 dollar plus super-duper stuff is too rough to cook in. When I emailed them about this, they replied that they don't polish their cast iron *anymore*, meaning they did at one time. And by the way, I have about a dozen various bits of cast iron and know how to use/season/clean/maintain it, and only this newest piece has ever been a problem. I'm about to try sanding this pan too. I feel I have nothing to lose since it's not improving with age like every other iron pan I have. My main workhorse pan is my 9 inch that I use for everything including pancakes and takes only the tiniest spritz of oil to keep it nonstick for several pancakes. I have a 12 inch I use for large skillet work and cornbread -- TIP: put it in the oven during preheating and pour your cornbread batter into the HOT greased skillet and pop it back in the oven. Superb! I have two 10 inch skillets I keep in reserve and only use when I make German Pancakes. I also have two small "cauldrons" that I like to use when serving chili.

                                      A bit off-topic, but I don't like Teflon. Why should I buy a pan that I KNOW is going to wear out? Sure, as long as you only use it on low heat and take special care with it, it might last a long time. But Teflon wears OUT while iron wears IN. I have seen a few rare examples of broken/damaged cast iron, but I have never heard of an iron skillet wearing out, even after a hundred years of use. A lot of people will scream that they love their Teflon. Good, use it if you like it. That doesn't make it "better" than iron since they're two entirely different cooking surfaces, like stainless steel and glass.

                                      Still Off-topic: And by the way, I've retired ALL my aluminum pans. Why run the health risks of cooking in aluminum when there are better alternatives...like cast iron.

                                      1. According to the folks at Lodge, they gave up polishing many years ago as a cost saving measure. Many people recommend buying an old pan in order to get one with a polished surface.

                                        As for buying one made in china - I wouldn't. They have been known to use recycled scrap, and this can contain a variety of unwelcome impurities including lead from engine blocks. Lodge tests their iron and manufactures here in the usa where I think there is a far greater assurance of getting something healthful.

                                        As others have noted, cast iron has a porous surface. As a result, even when polished, there would be a large amount of surface area to adhere the seasoning to. If anything, I would expect the seasoning to work better on the smoother surface. High spots / bumps are areas where a spatula would be more likely to abrade off the seasoning. A smooth surface is also easier to effectively wipe clean, and will stick less to food because it has less area in contact with it.

                                        I wish Lodge would bring back the polished finish. I would pay double for a polished finish skillet. If you feel the same, call and tell them...

                                        1. If you want an smooth surface, especially for things like eggs and pancakes, take a look a carbon steel. I have a French crepe/omelet pan that is great for these items. It takes seasoning just like cast iron.

                                          Carbon steel woks are common, and need to be seasoned just like cast iron. Inexpensive Mexican griddles, 'comal', likewise. Expect some warping of a comal if it is much larger than your burner area.

                                          1. I recently polished up my small, rough cast iron skillet and it worked beautifully! I used a drill-mounted sanding disc of the flap variety available at most hardware stores. If you do this make SURE you wear eye protection and a dust mask would also be a good idea, you're throwing a lot of particles around. After sanding, the pan was smooth but certainly not polished. It seasoned quickly and it cooks like a dream. Just a tiny touch of oil is all I need to keep my eggs from sticking. So, for those of you wanting to get into cast iron and can't find a good used pan, go ahead and buy a new one and sand it down. It works fine.

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: ironmonger

                                              I've been following this thread, and I have to corroborate with the "old vs. new" observations of others on here. After purchasing and using a new Lodge skillet about a year and a half ago, I had the same exact issues with the rough surface as mentioned by previous posters. Additional seasoning attempts never "filled in" the rough pits on the surface, and after noticing the surface of an antique cast iron skillet over at a friend's house I decided to go that route instead. It was like black glass; all deeply seasoned with years of use, and amazingly smooth. (A Griswold, I believe)

                                              So about 3 months ago, I bought an old Wagner skillet off of ebay, which looked like it had been barely used; the cast iron was still gray in color, with no seasoning evidently applied. It's much smoother, and has taken the oil that I've applied to it VERY well--- much better than the Lodge skillet did. I have been applying very light coats of canola oil, and allowing my oven to do the rest... about 2 hours at 300 degrees, and the surface has been gradually building up to a nice hard sheen. The Wagner worked like a charm this weekend, while I browned and then braised some duck legs/breasts.

                                            2. AHHHH! Don't Do It!! Take it from me, I had the same idea that the old pans are better than the new pans and the old pans were smooth and so if my new pan is smooth it should work better right? Wrong!! The pans work exactly the SAME! I have old smooth finish pans and new pans with the unground finish and there is absolutely no difference in performance. The new pan will take a season just as well as a smooth pan and will eventually be just as non-stick. You just need some patience in the matter. I wasted a few hours of my life rubbing down my lodge chef skillet and would never do it again. Sure it was shiney and kind of cool looking for about a minute, then I seasoned it and it has been as ugly as SIN ever since! It is all splotchy and has spider webbing and runners all along the walls of the pan where the seasoning was thicker. It is finally turning a very dark brown and in patches it is black but it will be ugly for probably another year.

                                              But you should know, this pan is a solid little performer. I works great and I love using it even though it is the ugly duckling of the bunch. If you still want to embark on this endeavor, I would recommend that you not take on the project of hand sanding your skillet. You will wear out your hand long before the finish on your pan. If have a drill then go to the hardware store and tell that you need a disk sander attachment for grinding metal and they will show you the proper tool for the job.

                                              Good luck! lg