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Aug 4, 2008 05:06 PM

Another cast iron Q. The seasoning seems to be flaking off!

I am the person who started the "Washing cast iron vs. no washing," board. I am a "non washer." For those who haven't read my story, from the other thread, then I'll just say that I am a new cast iron user. I just bought a 12" Lodge Skillet, about a month or two ago. I accidentally scrubbed the preseasoning off, and so I reseasoned it about 2 weeks ago. I used lard to reseason it. I lightly coated the skillet, and baked it at 400 for 2 hours, and then let it cool. I was surprised that the skillet came out a brownish color, rather than black, so I continued to reseason it. I probably put about 5 or 6 layers on it. It still didn't turn black, but it wasn't sticky. So then I did a layer or 2 of olive oil. Hehe, I know...I got pretty obsessed with getting a black finish. I now know that it's okay for it to be brown, but it'll turn black the more I use it.

So now, my problem. It seems to be flaking off from the bottom, around the edges. It's so weird, b/c where my burner actually touches the skillet, I've got what looks like a nice finish forming. But where the burner is not touching the bottom, it's flaking. The sides of the skillet aren't flaking, either, but I figured that's b/c food doesn't touch that.

For cleaning, I just spray it down with my sink sprayer. I always put a thin layer on it, between uses. I've been cooking fatty/oily foods, at least once a day, in an effort to form a fantastic finish. I'm not cooking acidic foods, and I stopped boiling water in it, to clean it.

Where the seasoning flakes off, there's some gray. I'm not sure if it's flaking right down to the metal, or if it's just flaking off a couple layers.

Is this b/c I put too many layers on, when seasoning? Is it b/c my burner's not big enough? Do I have to start over again, or will it fix itself?.

Thanks, a bunch!

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  1. I've never tried to post a picture before, but I'm going to go ahead and attempt to post a picture of my skillet. If this works, than you should be able to see some of the gray on the left hand side of my skillet. You can also see how nice the middle of the skillet looks. Such a shame that the whole thing doesn't look that nice.

    1. Multiple incomplete layers of seasoning will create a little flaking, it's nothing to be alarmed about. The other possibility is that the pan was not dried completely when put away and microscopic rust that formed under the seasoning is pushing up some of it. It should fix itself if it's the first and not the latter. If larger flakes come off it's the rust issue.

      1. My personal rule is "Never Clean Cast Iron Cookware with Water" - no matter how it's applied.
        To clean my cast iron, I warm the pan (warm to the touch) and pour in enough kosher salt to cover the bottom. I follow that with a paper towel (or two) that I use as a pad to vigorously scour the pan's interior with the salt as an abrasive. Depending on how much debris is stuck to the pan, it sometimes takes two treatments to get it as clean as I want it. I then wipe out the salt into the trash, and put the pan away. Periodically I put a few drops of olive oil on a paper towel after the salt cleaning and wipe it over the interior surface before putting it away. Been doing that for many decades and my cast iron collection is still perfect in every way.

        17 Replies
        1. re: todao

          There's all kinds of magical tricks described by all kinds of people from all kinds of places: water/no water, soap/no soap, salt, etc. and just about any other twist that people can come up with.

          Here's one that will trump all others: PATIENCE. I am 99.999% positive that you rushed it. When you oil and bake the pan 8 times in one day, you're cooking oil on top of oil, nothing is being absorbed or truly baked on to the pan. Rockfish42 nailed it in the first sentence of his/her post. Multiple, incomplete seasonings. You cannot season a cast iron pan in one afternoon.

          You should season a pan once and then cook with it. A thin wipe of oil in a slightly heated pan after every cooking foray is PLENTY.

          1. re: HaagenDazs

            I really appreciate your responses. I it is a case of over seasoning, too quickly. Microscopic rust could also be a possibility, so I'll keep an eye out for large chunks of seasoning flaking off. Just by looking at it, I can't see any rust, and I always dry it off right after washing, but I'm sure it's called microscopic rust for a reason. Anyway, I hope that's not the case.

            I don't know where I got the idea that it needed to be black from seasoning. I guess because I had read people's posts saying that if you properly season it, it will have a great patina on it. They made it sound like it should have a great patina right from the start. But after i bought a book, "Cast Iron Cooking for Dummies," and read about seasoning, I realized that it's not going to be perfect right from the start. The book suggests to just do one coat, and use it for awhile to just cook fatty foods. I didn't really think of the seasoning as a working progress, untill I read the book.

            So, HaagenDazs, do you agree with Rockfish, in that if it's a case of incomplete seasoning that it will just fix itself? Should I just continue to do what I'm doing? There is no uneveness in texture, just in color.

            1. re: amselby81

              It does look like it's coming off down to the metal. As others have suggested, maybe the layer was too thick and incompletely carbonized. Did you turn the pan upside down in the oven? If not, maybe the edges had a greater thickness of fat, often the center of the pan is slightly raised. I personally don't use lard OR the oven method for restoring the finish.

              To speed things up, use a wipe of oil with a low smoking point (I use peanut oil) and heat over your cooktop until it stops smoking (then the oil has carbonized). While you're doing this use a piece of bread to soak up the excess oil (you'll get a nice piece of toast in the process). Repeat.

              1. re: amselby81

                Hey amselby81 - This is what I would do and I consider it to be the best cast iron seasoning method. Sure, maybe I'm a little biased, but hey, I think it works very well. Here are some pointers.

                First decide whether or not you want to start your seasoning process over (again) from scratch. In my opinion, I would wait it out and see what happens. You're not going to hurt anything, and if the seasoning starts to come off you can start over anytime. This way you can at least see if it starts to flake off.

                1) Don't be afraid of water. People who say otherwise are silly. I have 4 cast iron pans and I run them under water after every use. Want some pictures? Well, just imagine that they are shiny and black with no rust on them. I can promise you that they will not be hurt by water. ;-) But, do be sure to wipe them dry, place them over a heated burner and wipe a thin film of oil over the pan's surface. I think you're completely capable of determining when there are no more water droplets in or on the cast iron.

                2) Don't use salt to clean your pans. It works, but you end up wasting 1/4 to 1/2 cup of salt every time you clean your pan. I don't know about where you live, and while salt isn't as expensive as gold, I certainly don't have a pile of it sitting it my backyard! Use a stiff, plastic scrub brush to scrub your pans clean under running, hot water. If the brush gets dingy and oily from the cooking grease (say you just cooked bacon) throw the brush in the dishwasher. It'll come out like new. You can find the world's greatest scrub brush at any grocery store worth their salt (pun intended).

                3) The holy grail and RARELY used God of seasoning: The Grill.

                No doubt, you have experienced a good bit of oil smoke in your kitchen as a result of your last seasoning party. Well, here's the best way to avoid it (and the heat your oven generates in your house in August), take it outside to the grill! Gas, charcoal - it doesn't matter. You can put the oiled pan in/on your grill without anything else or... a better idea is seaoning AND cooking at the same time... and we're not talking about a smoky, hard as a rock piece of toast either. (Sorry mlgb. And peanut oil has a HIGH smoking point or more correctly, high smoking temperature.) Here's a dinner idea and a seasoning idea. Make some fajitas. Fire up your grill and grill up some steak, chicken, or shrimp (or all... who am I to say?!) and be sure to put your new cast iron pan on the grill to heat up. Of course, you're going to have this pan oiled up and ready to season, right?! You're going to cook with it as well. Put the pan on the grill and saute some onions, peppers, whatever you want to have with your fajitas. But make sure the pan is screaming hot! Do this a couple times and you end up with no smoke in your house, a lower energy bill in the middle of summer and a good dinner! Let me know if you have any questions.

                Next adventure: a good, French, solid carbon steel pan. You'll treat it the same way as cast iron, and you'll get wonderful, professional results. My carbon steel is my favorite pan, way above cast iron. Buy a deBuyer. Happy cooking!

                1. re: HaagenDazs

                  Haagendazs, thanks for the great advice. I really appreciate all of your help, and everyone else's help as well. Unfortunately, I don't have a grill.:o( I'd love to have one, but we live in an apartment w/o a porch or balcony, so we've become good friends with the George Foreman.

                  What are your recommendations for the oven? Should I just follow the Lodge directions, since I haven't actually tried that? LOL It's pretty funny that these skillets have been used for ages upon ages, but then we have a generation raised on Teflon, and all of a sudden it's complicated to use the iron skillet.

                  I wanted to do it right, and in my efforts, I've come accross so many different recommendations. The first time, I put layers upon layers of olive oil, in a 500 degree oven. The season flaked off really bad. So then I thought I'd try lard at a lower temp, but again I did many layers. As we can see, it's also flaking off, but not as bad as the olive oil/high temp method.

                  1. re: amselby81

                    Oh, I wanted to add that I'm seriously thinking about just starting over, and reseasoning. I know, I know, I won't hurt anything, but more seasoning is flaking off. It's still nice in the middle, but flaking like crazy around the edges. I haven't gotten any big flakes, just alot of small, black fleks.

                    I don't know. I'm still undecided, but I went ahead and bought some oven cleaner, today. If I do begin over again, that's how I plan to take the current seasoning off. Using oven cleaner is one of the methods described in the book that I got, "Cast Iron Cooking for Dummies." Yes, I got this book after this last seasoning. :oP If I would have gotten it before, I wouldn't have been so concerned about having a black finish, since they say that newer pieces are lighter, and get darker with use. Anyway, the book is also recommended on the Lodge website, so I assume that the methods described in the book are Lodge approved.

                    I find it hilarious that I went and got a book on using cast iron. This stuff shouldn't be rocket science, but we've lost something when Teflon became mainstream. My mother never used cast iron, and if my grandmother ever used it, then she stopped by the time I was old enough to remember, b/c I don't ever remember her using it. Oh, BTW, I was born in 1981, so you have an idea as to the age of my mother and grandmother.

                    1. re: amselby81

                      Born in 1978 myself!

                      Do you have a community grill anywhere on your property? That would work as well. If not, the oven is a fine place. The stove top seasoning described above will create 10 times more smoke than the oven and that's the last thing you want in an apartment. Avoid it unless you want to be the one that sets off the smoke alarm for your building...!

                      If you're wanting to start over from scratch I would use your oven's self clean cycle, not oven cleaner. Your oven likely has one even in an apartment. It's personal preference I guess but I'd rather not spray cast iron stripping chemicals on a pan that I'll eventually cook my Saturday morning bacon in. The self clean cycle will burn off any seasoning and will kind of create a gray dust on the surface of your pan (I did it once with a friend's pan who left theirs out in the rain). After that, I would use peanut oil or lard and wipe it all over every surface of the pan in an thin layer. Turn it upside down in an oven (eliminates any puddles of oil/grease) and place some foil underneath the pan (catches the drips of oil or grease) and bake it at 350-400 for an hour or 2. When the pan turns brown/black, you've done your job. Let it cool, take it out and clean it. Personally, this is where I take it and run it under hot water and scrub it. We're not talking 20 minutes of scrubbing here, just a very light scrub, enough to get some of the stickiness out of the pan. Take it to the stove top to dry it out and if you're up for it at that time, cook some bacon or ground beef. If you happen to cook bacon, have yourself a little treat (bacon) but let the grease sit in the pan. The next day reheat the grease enough to liquefy and pour the grease into a container and place it in the trash. Never pour lots of fat down the sink. I know it's an apartment, but it's not good for any pipes and future residents will thank you.

                      Start using the pan for things like sauteed onions and vegetables, maybe a steak, but don't put anything acidic in the pan. That means most marinades (season your steak with salt & pepper), no tomatoes, no wine, no lemon juice, no vinegar. Most of these will not really hurt your pan's seasoning (unless you use lots of something like vinegar) but in the beginning of the seasoning process you might produce some unappetizing metal flavors due to the reaction with the metal.

                      You will get some scratches in your pan from utensils but don't worry, just keep cooking with it and everythig will eventually turn black. It might take a month or 2 of regular use but you'll get there. Remember from my first post: patience!

                      As for what Lodge has on their website, I think it's a good guide. As you'll probably discover there are no magical tricks that they describe there, just a good first seasoning and start cooking with it.

                      Keep it dry and that's really all you have to do. The seasoning will build itself over time.

                      1. re: HaagenDazs

                        I really wish that my oven had a self cleaning cycle. If it did, then that would definately be my top choice. It's also recommended in the book, along with throwing it into a fire, which we know that I don't have the property to do that on. But my oven doesn't go higher than 500 degrees. ::sigh::

                        As for grill, there is a grill, right outside of our apartment. It's one of those non electric grills that you find at parks and rest stops. It's rusty, so I never paid much attention to it, but I guess I can just put my skillet right on to it, to cook with. I'd just need to buy some charcoal and matches.

                        1. re: amselby81

                          Those public grills are so under-utilized! Don' be afraid of them! They have MASSIVE iron bars on those things and they are great for cooking, in my opinion. Grab yourself a steak or 2 and you'll be the envy of the neighborhood. Granted the convenience factor isn't as nice as walking out your back door but a little preparation and love will get you real grill flavor. Grab a grill brush and a little hand trowel though, they tend to be a little muddy/ashy (use the hand trowel to scoop out any old charcoal and ash) and the grill grate tends to be cruddy (use the brush). I prefer real hardwood charcoal, but I'm positive you'll get a good result by using regular Kingsford charcoal. I'll bet you that you can get the grill up to speed and in good working order for under $10-$12 and after that, you'll have it up to speed and you'll have all the equipment to keep it in good working order. That means, hand trowel, grill brush, charcoal and lighter fluid for under $12. Just run by the hardware store and ask them where the grilling section is.

                          Use Steven Raichlen's site to answer any questions (below). He's goofy as hell but he tends to have some great advice. Just like cast iron pans, those grills need a little heat to burn off any old, accumulated crud. Don't be afraid, when I lived in our last apartment before moving to our house (less that 2 years ago) I used that community grill at least every 2 weeks for about 2 years. They really are perfectly fine cooking tools.


                          1. re: HaagenDazs

                            Actually HaagenDazs, I use unrefined peanut oil, which has one of the lowest smoking points of all oils.

                            Who uses 1/2 c cup of salt? If that's the cleaning method I'm using, I just use a few shakes, just enough to get a bit of grit in the pan.

                            1. re: mlgb

                              I'm back! Alright, so I reseasoned the skillet on Friday night. Prior to that, I had used the oven cleaner to clean off all of the old seasoning. To reseason, I used unrefined peanut oil. I set my oven to 400 degrees, and let it bake for 2 hours, just to make sure it wasn't sticky. I then let the pan cool off in the oven. I took the pan out, and I was delighted that the finish looked fantastic. It was a very nice dark brown color. It looked very even, and there were no "puddles" around the edges. I did have one problem with the seasoning, and that is that there were a couple spots, around the rim where there was no seasoning. The spots were where my oven rack was touching my skillet. It looked as if the seasoning may have bonded with my oven rack, and then it chipped off when I took the skillet out. It didn't happen all the way around the rim, just along one side. The spots are small, just the width of the bar things on my oven rack, and you can see the iron in those spots. Is there a way to spot season these spots, since the rest of the skillet looks great? Maybe use a little Q tip and dab the spots with oil, and bake it? Or would I need to coat the whole skillet? Please don't tell me that I have to start all over again.

                              1. re: amselby81

                                The spots are just on the rim where there won't be any food? I think you can just wipe a bit of oil around the edge, and start using it. Again, I wouldn't bother with the oven anymore. Just use a bit of oil in the pan and let it get hot enough to smoke up on the stove top (hopefully you have an exhaust), while sopping up any extra oil with a piece of bread to make some toast. This will help set another thin layer of seasoning. I would do this a few times and it should be black, not brown, by then. And if you use the salt and paper towel between, it will get shinier.

                                1. re: mlgb

                                  GRRR!!! My love for my cast iron is dwindling. Why does it seem that in my efforts to do everything right, that I get everything wrong? This is what happened this morning. First off, I have a cookbook for cast iron. It's the "Cast Iron Cooking for Dummies." It is Lodge approved, b/c they sell it on their website. Well, they tell you in the book that b/c cast iron retains heat so well, that you usually have to use a lower heat than recommended in a regular cookbook, but they say that their heat suggestions are right on, and that there are no adjustments needed.

                                  Well I started to make some Johnny Cakes, and the heat suggestion was medium-high. Since the book said that they've already adjusted the temps for cast iron, I didn't hesitate to set my stove to medium-high. The recipe suggests that you sprinkle water on the skillet to test the heat. If the drop pops around, then it's hot enough. I put oil on the skillet before doing this, and I guess that was my mistake. I think the oil was in the process of leaving another layer of seasoning, b/c when I sprinkled some water on it, I got "pits" where the water hit the skillet. It's like the seasoning parted ways in those spots. Obviously the heat was too high, so I cranked it back down to medium.

                                  I started to get upset about the way that the seasoning looked, but I figured that I might as well go ahead and cook on the darn thing. I finished the Johnny Cakes, but the pits were still there. There's still seasoning there, but it's like the areas around the pits are higher up, as if the seasoning is just thinner in those spots. I poured more oil on, and did the toast trick. It still looks different in those spots.

                                  I think I probably sprinkled too much water on, too. What I did was I stuck my fingers under the faucet, just to wet then. Then I went over to the skillet and sprinkled it on. It's not like I poured a cups worth, or even a fraction of a cups worth.

                                  I vow not to season again, I guess I'll just keep cooking on it, and hope that it smooths out. But I'm very discouraged.

                                  1. re: amselby81

                                    Alright, it looks like it'll be alright. I ended up frying up some squash and then cooked a sandwich, for my daughter, on it. There seems to really only be one spot, and it is black, and nothing is sticking to it. It's just not as smooth as the rest of the skillet. It's really strange, because it is a pretty big spot. It's about an inch and a half in diameter, and I know that I didn't have that much water on my fingers. So now I'm wondering what the heck happened to it while it was heating up. I spread the oil over the entire surface, so I know that I didn't miss this spot.

                                    I didn't witness it actually happen from the water. I just know that after I sprinkled the water on, then I noticed it. Since it's almost as black as the rest of the skillet, and it also seems to be smoothing out, I'm hoping that it will eventually blend right in.

                                    You can disregard my previous post, since it doesn't seem to be a huge problem. Probably just cosmetic. I just don't know how to delete it.

                                    1. re: amselby81

                                      I think I'd be tossing that book in the oven right about now!

                                      Just keep using it with some oil for a while. I would avoid the water testing! It sounds like you basically boiled off a bit of the seasoning, but as you've noticed it will build back up.

                                      1. re: mlgb

                                        i found this thread to be very helpful. thank you everyone.

                                        i just bought a 12" Lodge pan about an hour ago... wish me luck.

                                2. re: amselby81

                                  just wanted to say I went through the exact same set of problems! My Lodge pre-seasoned pan started to chip off in huge swaths, and in a kneee-jerk reaction I ended up overseasoning to fix the problem. I got big ol' bumps on my pan though--like drips of oil that never finished dripping off... Thanks to this thread I am gonna copy you! I also don't have a self-cleaning oven (or even a gas range, sigh) so i'll be doin the oven cleaner deal to start over on my seasoning. I cross my fingers at this point, but THANK YOU chow hounds, for making a link that actually addresses the diverse array of advise on the internet on cast iron care.

                                  BTW, I tried cleaning the bumps off with coarse sea salt and it totally did not work (sorry todao). I think I'm going to sick to cleaning with hot water.

            2. The cast iron fanatics (and Lodge) have tended to over-sell what cast iron cookware can do. That's too bad, because I think lots of folks go in with really high expectations and get frustrated. They give up before they get a chance to see why cast iron is such a remarkable cooking material.

              So let's get real about cast iron!

              1) No matter how well-seasoned, cast iron never really gets a non-stick finish. That said, it can be remarkably slick with just the lightest schmear of oil applied to a hot pan.

              2) MANY foods and cooking techniques aren't really appropriate for cast iron (due to reactivity and slow response to temp changes). That said, just about all the foods that form the foundation of traditional American cuisine work really well in cast iron. (Some, like fried chicken and corn bread, can't be done properly with anything else).

              3) Cast iron is high-maintenance. You can't let food sit in it very long -- you have to clean it out ASAP after dinner. Even oil needs to be drained out immediately - letting bacon grease sit in the pan will lead to a rancid rusty mess if not attended to.

              All of my cast iron pieces (Lodge 12-inch camp oven, Lodge 12-inch skillet, and 2 Rome waffle irons) seem to have gone through an "ugly period" where the initial seasoning or pre-seasoning wears off. The surface, which had a nice deep plack patina, starts to turn to more of a salt-and-pepper look. Food sticks like crazy and the bare metal rusts if the pan isn't dried and oiled post haste.

              The only thing that seems to save the day is just lots and lots of use, and continuous reapplication of seasoning. I know it's hard work, but you are just going to have to make lots of bacon, eggs, french toast, pancakes, hash browns, and fried chicken (especially fried chicken). Give our family a call if you need someone to shoulder the heavy burden of eating all that stuff.

              Eventually, the "salt" turns yellow, then brown, and finally black. Until that happens, just use the pan for frying. You will need to use a little oil each time. Keep the heat medium low. To borrow a sports cliche, this is a marathon, not a sprint. Until you have a mature pan, stay away from high temp sears and blackening (the fond will bond to the weak seasoning and pull it up when you de-glaze or scrape it off). Also stay away from "wet" dishes like stews and chilis, as the moisture will soften the seasoning.

              Food crud and crusty grease are not seasoning. If left on the pan, the greases can go rancid and give your food an off-flavor; the crud absorbs moisture which leads to rust. By all means, wash the pan with hot water, using a plastic scrubby and a little dish soap if needed. Just wipe the pan dry right away, sparingly apply a coat of veg oil inside and out, and heat the stove on the range just until the pan starts to smoke.

              Please ENJOY using your cast iron. Stay within its limitations, and you will have lots of delish meals along the way.

              4 Replies
              1. re: MikeB3542

                Mike, that was exactly what I needed to know. Thank you.

                1. re: DabbleBabble

                  I don't agree with #3. As a lazy person, it's okay to wait until after dinner or even the next morning to do cleanup. In fact there is day-old lamb chop grease waiting for me now. Just reheat the mess slightly and it comes right out.

                  It's a good idea to warm the pan on the cooktop after cleaning if you've used water to drive out any remaining moisture. If you still have a good patina it's okay to store it without wiping it down with oil, especially if you use it everyday.

                  There isn't much I don't make in cast iron.. maybe delicate sauces or very thin fish fillets. I also don't boil water in it. But I do use if for tomato based sauces (if you don't eat much red meat it's a good way to get iron into your diet).

                  1. re: mlgb

                    By all means, eat first. Relax. Enjoy dinner. It won't go bad that quickly. The pan needs to cool off before you are going to want to mess with it anyway. Just plan on taking care of business before heading to bed.

                    MLGB is absolutely right about clean-up. Heating up stuck-on food does loosen things up (what you learn with a lot of cast iron cooking is that if you have the cooking temp in the ballpark, the food -- particularly protein like meat and egg -- will release on its own when it is cooked properly and will stick if you try moving it around before it is ready.)

                    I have personally had bad experiences leaving grease overnight, but that was with a relatively new pan (pre-seasoned Lodge). With use, the pan becomes a whole lot more tolerant.

                    1. re: MikeB3542

                      Yeah, I have an Ikea pan that was given to me that is similar to Lodge. I can't be as casual with it, compared to the older smoother pans that were seasoned from raw metal. I think the rough texture and preseasoning creates a separate set of problems. If I were in the market for a new pan I'm not sure I'd get a Lodge.

              2. I love my cast iron pans and the ones I use are old and have always had a beautiful seasoned finish to them. However, recently, my favorite pan (a deep fryer) started chipping around the edges and no longer has the smooth finish on it. And it has evidence of deep scratches in the finsh also.
                Although I have asked the question, all I get is "It wasn't me" but I have an idea that my teenager tried to "help mom" by getting the black stuff out of the pan! As upset as I got, I know whoever touched my pans, will not be touching them again for sure!
                Don't worry, I didn't kill the kid - she meant well.

                So, now I have the seasoning flaking off around the inner edges, deep scratches on the bottom, and now, I have noticed that If I don't dried it immediately and wipe it down with a paper towel dipped in lard, it will form a thin layer of rust!

                But does anyone have any suggestions on how I can straighten this out? The age of this pan is what makes me the most nervous, will these sussestions still apply to a very old pan?
                Any suggestions would be appreciated.

                2 Replies
                1. re: clpnoz


                  Maybe it really wasn't your daughter. Some time these things (seasoning peeling off) happen. I didn't read all the suggestion above, so I don't know if those methods will work or not, but you can always try to reseason the deep fryer in your oven.

                  1. re: clpnoz

                    I like to use coarse salt mixed with oil as a mild abrasive to remove flakes as much as possible and then just keep cooking with the pan. This usually fixes the problem eventually for me.