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Cast Iron seasoning peals everytime I make stroganoff (sp?)

I want to love my cast iron skillet. For the most part, I do. But my husband really loves beef stroganoff (sorry if I butchered the spelling). I try to make it at least once a month. When I make it, I use the cast iron lid and let the beef stew in beef broth for a few hours on the stove top. This must wear down the seasoning, b/c when I'm finished with the dish, I always have some seasoning that peels off.

I've had problems with my seasoning before. This is my first cast iron piece, but I've gotten recommendations from this site before. I also bought a book called "Cast Iron for Dummies." I've tried stuff that didn't work in the past, but a few months ago I stripped the thing down to the bare metal, sanded it down for any unseen rust (since someone said that it could be rust causing my problems). And I used peanut oil, baked at 350 degrees for 2 or 3 hours, and then I let the skillet cool down in the oven. I cooked lots of fatty foods and I even gained 10 lbs to prove it. Lots of bacon, lots of burgers, and steak. The seasoning seemed to be doing very well, and then I started making stroganoff again. Sure enough, I had peeling. I reseasoned, since there were spots that were peeled down to the bare metal. This happens every time I make stroganoff.

It seems to do the peeling around the rim, where the lid sets on the skillet, and on the sides closer to the top. Should the seasoning be doing this? I hear that I shouldn't have to reseason a skillet. Should I just leave it alone? But then the next time I make stroganoff, more will peel off, right?

I do not wash my skillet. Most things I can just wipe right out with a paper towel. If I make something saucy, then I just spray the skillet down with warm water with my sink sprayer, and then dry it with a paper towel, put it on the stove, warm it up, and then put a thin coat of oil or lard.

Do I have a defunctional skillet? How am I supposed to develop a fantastic seasoning if everytime I make this dish it flakes off? This is the only dish that I make that I use the lid. Is it b/c I use the lid and let it stew? There's alot of condensation going on in the pan at that time. Still, I would have figured that many before me have made stewed meals in their cast iron. Would they have to keep reseasoning?

I'm just frustrated.

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  1. This is just one person's opinion, although I've been cooking on cast iron for 30 years or so, but it just isn't the best for really wet dishes like soups, stews and sauces that need to be boiled or simmered for more than a few minutes. Your description of the problem and how you use your skillet are excellent, so here's my 2 cents:

    I'm not sure the 10 lbs was worth it, but you did an excellent job of the initial seasoning of the skillet. The problem is what happened after.

    You don't want to clean cast iron too much by using soap and/or harsh abrasives, but if you don't clean it enough, your seasoning layer will get too thick. And the outer layer will be mostly charcoal that will flake off into whatever you cook. You say the peeling starts near the rim and sides, which are the coolest parts of the skillet. Makes sense, as these are the coolest parts when you cook, so they may not be reaching the temperature you need to build up or maintain the seasoning, but the oil and other stuff that splashes up the sides does get hot enough to turn to a sort of weak charcoal/seasoning layer.

    I have two suggestions:

    1. Buy an enameled or clad stainless steel skillet for stroganoff and other wet dishes.

    2. Clean the skillet a bit more aggressively. If the seasoning on the bottom is not flaking, giving just the sides a few rubs with a brass brush or scotch brite should do it. Cleaning cast iron is an art, and there are several methods that work, including the one you use, but the sides are mostly not cooking surfaces, so it's no big deal if you overclean a bit, as long as you coat with oil or lard afterward to prevent rust.

    1. People tip toe around cast iron too much. You are not cleaning it thoroughly enough. Which is understandable given all the non sensical recommendations for cast iron care.

      Cast iron is great for simmering and slow cooking, dont listen to Zeldog. In fact Boston Baked Beans are traditionally cooked in cast iron.

      Cooking acidic tomato sauces in it can pick up iron into the dish, though it isnt anything to worry about. Not that this modern culture wont post dire warnings and fearmongering about it.

      Seasoning a pan isnt about creating a layer of gook on the surface of the cast iron, but rather having that gook in the micro cracks and crevices of the porous cast iron.


      1 Reply
      1. re: EscapeVelocity

        A nice description of what seasoning is, but I didn't say you shouldn't cook wet dishes in unlined cast iron.


      2. What you need to do, is get that sucker over to the sink with some Dawn dishwashing detergent and hot water, and scrub it vigorously with a steel or brash scrubby. Rinse it off, towel it dry, and sit it on the stove till the next morning. Then fry up some bacon in it the next morning....and do a quick light soap wash and rinse afterwards(no scrubby). Back in business!

        You need to think of seasoning a pan as a continuous process....not something that you do once and then never wash again. Cast iron isnt delicate.

        7 Replies
        1. re: EscapeVelocity

          If your cast iron seasoning is peeling, it means that your pan is not seasoned properly, it is merely not clean. Cast iron seasoning is not a coating, it is metal treating. Last night my wife and I made posole in my favorite skillet, a 15" cast iron. This was a true one pot meal. We started by browning the pork then added tomatoes, hominy, onions and spices, covered it and let it simmer for a good hour. There were no off flavors and clean-up was simply fill the skillet with warm water and use a stainless steel scratchpad to clean it out. Put the clean skillet on a hot burner and let it heat up until it is dry.

          1. re: powillie

            I'm sorry, but this really frustrates me. If it's not seasoned properly, then what did I do wrong? Please! Tell me. I want to know. I don't really understand how your post applies to me. If the seasoning flaked off with just a spritz of water, wouldn't more come off with a steel scratchpad? I stopped using abrasive stuff on it, after I unknowingly used the rough side of a scotchbrite sponge, and scrubbed the original Lodge Logic seasoning off. No soap was used when I did this. It was after my first time using the skillet that I did this, and that was the beginning of my woes. Since then it's been season...flake...season...flake....lye bath...season...flake...season...flake. Like I said, after the lye bath, I did a seasoning of peanut oil at 350 for 2 or 3 hours and then cool down. The pan was upside down, the layer of oil was thin, b/c I know that a thick layer will peel. I just don't know!! I feel like throwing the darn thing out. It doesn't peel for anything else, just stroganoff.

            1. re: amselby81

              I was given a 6" skillet that had been outside for years. It was muddy and rusty, and appeared beyond hope. I began it's salvation by using hot water, soap and a coarse metal scratch pad to get it as clean as I could. Next, I took it to the bench grinder and used a wire wheel to clean the metal further. This was followed by another cleaning with soap and hot water. I wiped it out and let it air dry. I then put it in the toaster oven at 400 for thirty minutes or more. I wanted the metal to get really hot all the way through so that it expanded and opened the pores of the metal. When the skillet was really hot, I took it out and poured a small amount of canola oil onto the cooking surface. I took a wadded-up paper towel and tongs to distribute the oil all over the surface of the skillet. I let it cool to room temperature, then I ran it under hot water and used the metal scratch pad to clean any residue. I repeated the heat treatment two more times and it was ready to go. The skillet has a rich black sheen and a smooth surface. To maintain, I use hot water and the same metal scratch pad. This has worked for me and I would hope that it would for someone else. Good luck.

              1. re: powillie

                I understand it's commonly written on the Internet (so it must be true) that the pores of the cast iron "open up" in an oven as cool as 350 to 400 degrees during the seasoning process and that this is the key to seasoning. But this makes no sense to me. The melting point of cast iron is something like 2500 degrees Fahrenheit. How can heating a pan up to it up to a fraction of that temperature influence the molecular structure enough to "open up its pores."

                I'm pretty sure what happens in seasoning is that the iron becomes hot enough only to enable applied fat to bond slightly to the metal. The does fill the pores and this makes the surface smoother in the process, but the pores don't have to "open up" for this to happen. They're already open.

                The cast iron is not like a human being at a spa sitting in a sauna to open their pores in anticipation of a facial and massage. Human skin pores and cast iron pores are not the same thing.

                I've seen from reading this board that there are very strong feelings with regard to seasoning cast iron and this is not to say to that the methods described here do not work. For the most part they do. But the concept of pores opening, closing and even "breathing" at 400 degrees is a bunch of hooey.

              2. re: amselby81

                Not sure why it peels for stroganoff only.

                If you do throw it out or decide to expand your cookware selection, I'd highly recommend you look into getting an enamel cast iron dutch oven.

                1. re: amselby81

                  I agree with powillie - seasoning is not a "coating." If stuff is flaking off into your food, you're not cleaning the pan deeply enough. We use the abrasive side of a scotch-brite pan every time when we clean ours, and pretty hard elbow grease when things are stuck. Rinse, air or paper towel dry and spray a light coating of spray-oil on it is all we need and it's good to go for whatever we cook in it next. You don't have to keep seasoning and seasoning it, maybe that's the problem, it's building up layers of oil on it that it doesn't need.

                  1. re: rockandroller1

                    I think you have nailed it. I scrub my cast iron every time I use it. If you leave bumpy bits of blackened, ex-food charcoal then those bits will reappear in your food at some time. Do you use tomato or vinegar in your stroganoff?

                    I also agree with EscapeVelocity. Don't pussyfoot around with cast iron. I use a stainless steel scrubber to clean mine. Lots of people will say wipe with a towel or you will lose the seasoning. Well I can tell you that it doesn't. I do it almost every day.

                    Consider seasoning at 500 - 550. You will get a more glass-like surface. And the BBQ is the best place to do it if you don't want to stink up the house. Remember that next time you fire it up. And if you use cast iron on the BBQ it makes it far easier to clean and a lot less flare ups.

            2. Cooking "wet" dishes in cast iron can be a challenge. A trouble spot of mine is where the surface of the liquid usually is -- all of my dutch ovens and my pan have a discernable "water line" where the seasoning is thinned out.

              First of all, don't give up! Chili, stews, beans, and even stroganoff are all naturals in cast iron.

              Second, no need to go extra greasy. Even with all that use, the sides most likely aren't getting hot enough long enough for those surfaces to build up additional seasoning. So all you really have on the sides is the initial seasoning layer. All that liquid, heat and steam soften it up -- it de-bonds from the iron and flakes off.

              Consider leaving the pan in your oven while baking -- no need to run the oven hours with nothing but an empty pan. The idea is to accumulate multiple thin layers of seasoning. My dutch ovens, which are more troublesome since more regularly use for stew or chili, get regularly tuned up with no-knead bread and popcorn.

              2 Replies
              1. re: MikeB3542

                Thank you. I'll try your advice about keeping it in the oven when baking. That sounds simple enough. :)

                1. re: amselby81

                  The truth of the matter is that cast iron is easy to use and clean. There is a bunch of superstitions surrrounding its seasoning and care. The fact of the matter is that normal use, is all you need to keep it seasoned and performing well. You dont need special seasoning sessions, avoiding washing, or any of that other crap....though it wont hurt it.

                  Dont believe the hype.

                  BTW, its ease of care is probably exactly why there are so many opinions on how to keep care of it, because it is so easy to care for and tough virtually anything is fine.

              2. My cast iron pans haven't been seasoned since I got them, probably 20 years ago. I just wipe them out with a scrubby sponge (no soap!!) under very hot water. The outside, and to some extend, the rim do have some chipping or peeling of the built up black varnish that seems to accumulate after the first 5 years or so, but never enough that bare metal is exposed underneath. The inside, especially the bottom, is a smooth satiny black miracle surface. We've made things like spaghetti sauces (acidic , simmering a long time) many times, and it's never done anything to the pan itself.

                1. I'm still curious what this substance is that is peeling off. You say it's the seasoning. As others have mentioned, seasoning shouldn't peel off since seaoning is the process that happens when fat is burned into the iron and "seasoning" is not a substance in and of itself. What does the substance look like exactly?

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: taos

                    It looks like small black flakes. The flakes are bigger than pepper flakes, to give you an idea of the size of flakes. And they are shiny, too. I can rub my finger on the side of my skillet and I can feel it flaking off. When I look at the spot where it's flaking, I see gray, like it's the bare metal. If it's not seasoning, then what else can it be?

                    1. re: amselby81

                      its just gunk.

                      stuff spatters, lands near the top and sticks and burns on well enough to survive your oh so gentle cleaning. But when you are stewing something the moisture gets under the semi-cured gunk and it steams it off (speaking from personal experience here). I suggest you listen to several posters who have mentioned how tough the actual seasoning is. Scrubbing it with a green pad, even with some soap if you need to isn't going to hurt is. I don't recommend soaking the pan in water overnight, but a good scrubbing now and then shouldn't affect the seasoning.

                      1. re: KaimukiMan

                        ditto that, it's gunk and you need to clean it more deeply. I scrub my pan and see the metal color in patches but it's still very, very smooth. Air dry, spray with spray oil, back in the cabinet and it's good to go for next time.

                  2. Cast iron is not the best choice for long cooking wet dishes of any type!

                    Much like carbon steel woks, once seasoned, it's best to rinse with hot water after use, use a stiff brush to remove any stuck on bits, then heat and apply a light coat of oil before storing. Placing a paper towel thats been folded to create an air gap between pot and lid will help.

                    A stainless or an enameled cast iron dutch oven would be a better choice for making long cooking wet dishes.

                    1. Okay, so searching the Internet gave me the closest thing to what I understand is the be all and end all for cast iron. From the site: http://www.richsoil.com/cast-iron.jsp

                      "I became a bit obsessed with understanding this stuff and was getting more confused by the minute until this fella Alan straightened me out in a forum: "What you want is a layer of heavily polymerized fat which typically includes a fair bit of carbon black bound up with it." So it is polymerized fat which is hard and slick. The carbon is the black stuff. A couple of chemistry savvy friends explained to me that "polymerized" means that the substance re-arranged its molecules to be in a different state (I hope I have that right). In this case, slick liquid oil becomes slick, rock hard solid oil. Apparently, this is very similar to how paint works.

                      This is the beginning of my education. It turns out that there are an infinite number of kinds of seasoning layers. It depends on the type of oil, the quantity of oil, the temperature, the duration of the heat. Some have lots of carbon, some not so much. Some make a glassy layer and some make a "sticky" layer that turns squirmy slick when heated. Some stick to the skillet better than others.

                      The oil/grease will often go through a sticky phase before becoming a seasoning layer. If you have too much oil/grease, you might never get past the sticky phase! The moral of the story is that thin layers are best.

                      I once tried to do a thick seasoning layer. It came right off as gross black stuff all over my food.

                      One time I watched a fella seasoning a commercial steel griddle by patiently pushing some oil around the hot surface. In the beginning, it started to get yellow blotches. By the time it started to get brown blotches, the fella started to make pancakes. The more pancakes he made, the more seasoned the surface became. I think variations of this are the best approaches."

                      It is also my understanding that animal fats are best. I know that doesn't work for everyone but most "Recipes" for seasoning call for lard. I myself use bacon/smoked pork shoulder fat.

                      So to the OP, it sounds as though perhaps your seasoning layer is too thick.


                      1. From my experience older cast iron made in america is of a higher quality. Personally i have never had any "peeling" and would agree with earlier posts that seasoning is a treatment of the metal, not a coating. In my opinion you could have inferier cast iron, or may have comparmised the coating of the metal by sanding it. www.blackirondude.com has good info on old and new cast iron as well. not saying newer cast iron is worse its just I doubt the purity of the metal from developing countries.

                        1. While I respect those in the traditional cast iron camp, I'd recommend you visit Target or Amazon and buy a Lodge enameled 3 or 6 quart dutch oven or 3 quart casserole (whichever size works best for your needs). Or even the 11" enameled skillet. The lid from the 6 quart dutch oven fits it and both pieces together are very versatile for about $100. Target has them in stock in their stores and Amazon frequently runs them on sale, especially on Fridays.

                          The enameled cast iron will do everything you would want that traditional cast iron will do and clean up is much easier. Something sticks. just soak it for a few minutes. And soap and water is its friend. Even a little barkeepers friend lightly to take off any pesky stuck on stuff.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: citizenconn

                            I don't agree that enameled cast iron does everything as well as naked cast iron. My decades-old naked dutch oven has most often been used for goulash and pot roast (both of which have onion, bay, and clove) and rarely for anything else. It seems to be impregnated with those flavors and contributes something that isn't there if I make the same recipe in my enameled one. Or perhaps it's the iron itself, but the recipes taste different in different pots.