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Re-seasoning cast iron?

I was given a couple of very old cast iron pans that are in terrible condition. Can they be cleaned and then re-seasoned? They are covered in a sticky gunk and grease. I tried washing them (no luck) and also put them in a slow oven for an hour or two (no luck). Any ideas?

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  1. Steel wool,wire brush, what ever you have that will take it down pretty much to bare metal. Then study this, http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/578098 . There are lots of opinions on seasoning methods. My favorite has been coating with Crisco shortening,place upside down in a warmish oven with a cookie sheet or something to catch any drippings below it, and give it a few hours.

    1. Oven cleaner, then wash, then steel wool, wire brush etc, then treat as new cast iron; frying bacon at low heat works pretty good.

      1. I use a wire brush attachment for my cordless drill. It makes life far easier. Just do this outside, because it can get messy. Buy a large stiff wire brush attachment (steel wire, not copper) and it will last for ever.

        1. Easy-off oven cleaner (the no-stink kind) will clean the pans nicely.
          A little steel wool or maybe some wet and dry sandpaper should get you back to raw cast iron. Then season as if new. Good luck. The old ones are better than the new ones for some reason.
          Also, I have never tried it but heard about it, put it in the oven on the self clean cycle.

          1 Reply
          1. re: billieboy

            I had a set of cast iron grates from a b.b.q that were really a mess and rusted.I. put them in my oven on self clean, man what alot of smoke, had to set up a bunch of fans but it completly clean them. just have to reseason them now. would recommend this if you can air your house out easily.

          2. Like szaydel says, if you have a power drill, get a wire brush attachment (steel, not brass) and get medieval on those pans. Do it outside for sure, and don't wear your Sunday best.

            Putting them through an oven cleaning cycle is a labor saving but energy intensive alternative. Just wash off the ash when done. Don't forget to take out the racks. Heavy pans and high heat = bent racks.

            Ditto reseasoning with bacon. The best part: you get to eat some bacon!

            1. I disagree with all these posts actually (OK Zeldog mentioned it)... but only if you have a self-cleaning oven.

              If so, you can ignore the harsh chemicals and forget scratching up your cooking surface with a drill and wire brush attachments. Simply put it in your oven and push the self-clean button. Problem solved.

              6 Replies
              1. re: HaagenDazs

                I did this once and my skillet caught on fire ...

                  1. re: HaagenDazs

                    Sitting here today, I can laugh about it.

                    But at the time it was quite dramatic ... oven locked, my precious skillet going up in flames, trying to find a screwdriver to disable the fire alarm way up there on the ceiling ...

                    1. re: ipsedixit

                      so what happened to the skillet?

                      1. re: chuckl

                        It survived, and was definitely clean and in need of re-seasoning.

                      2. re: ipsedixit

                        Not to poke fun... sorry! The oven interior can handle the flames in the event it happens. The self-clean cycles get upwards of 800-900+ degrees - VEEERY hot. The flames don't cause smoke, the oil/crud was. In other words, even if the flames weren't a part of your afternoon adventure, the smoke would still have been there.

                        By the way, you can disable the locking mechanism. Of course this comes with a disclaimer! We are lucky enough to have a guy here in Atlanta who has done massive amounts of research and is currently about to open his own restaurant. Read here for more info: http://www.varasanos.com/PizzaRecipe.htm Your world of pizza is about to change.

                1. Cooks Country on PBS covered this recently. They just used a paste of salt and water on a rusty cast iron pan, with steel wool I think, then re-seasoned. Might work with a gunky one and you might find more info at cookscountrytv.com.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: greygarious

                    "terrible condition" and "sticky gunk and grease" is probably more than some salt and steel wool can handle.

                  2. OK, I have yet to see anyone with this technique, so here goes:

                    I was given a pan with burned-in hamburger grease blackened and sticky. Oh, yeah and the rust spots from somebody's attempt to chisel off the gunk. I simmered the pan on low, filled with a 50% vinegar solution, refilling as it evaporated. About two hours of this, and then rinsed. Refilled with plain water, and simmered another hour, with a water changeout halfway through. The first rinse still smelled like vinegar, the second didn't. Oiled while hot, wiped, and cooked scrambled eggs the next morning: No off flavors. I've done this with lemon juice also, especially for pans that accidentally got soap in them. Just a few minutes and the soap is g-o-n-e. If you don't think vinegar is strong, try this: put a rusted bolt in a glass of vinegar overnight, then scrub it. Pretty amazing. I would never use a really harsh chemical on cast iron; that's just my opinion, though.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: toomanypots

                      nice one, i've got a cast iron pan with a wooden handle (so i can't put it in the oven) that I might try this on. thanks. how long did the whole process take you?

                      1. re: chuckl

                        "... About two hours of this... rinsed. Refilled... simmered another hour..."
                        Three hours for that one; I have also simmered/scrubbed/ repeat for four hours. Did I mention that the first pan was found being used as a dog food scoop??

                    2. Has anyone tried submerging their cast iron pan in Coke?

                      Wouldn't the acidic qualities of Coke (or any soda for that matter) strip away any gunk or seasonings on the pan? Heck, Coke can strip away paint on a car, why not gunk from a pan ...

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: ipsedixit

                        Never tried it, but I think patience would be an issue here. It's the phosphoric acid that eats away at things and frankly it would eat away at the metal faster than any organic deposits (crud) in my opinion.

                        More here:

                      2. I don't like using harsh cleaners or steel wool except when all else as failed. I just start a set of coals in the bbq and put the pan in there and let everything burn off and then wash, dry, apply a thin layer of lard and and give it another run on the bbq to reseason.

                        oh great just saw that yet again someone bumped an ancient thread. I guess I'll have to remember to check dates.

                        1. if they are bad enough that u dont want to fill the house with smoke..or if they are really rusted...
                          check your phone book for a machine shop or auto shop that does media blasting...
                          it will take off any scale/rust or serious build up of crud....
                          then u can clean with soapy water and re-season the fresh surface...
                          in case anyone else want to check an old thread...

                          1. I have always put mine in a 500 degree oven for an hour or more, then scrubbed them with a nylon brush. I have never had that not remove gunk. I can't imagine "gunk" not coming off with this procedure. If the gunk is old food and built up "patina" it should come off. If it is not just food and grease- then I would worry more about that.

                            1. Every few years we routinely throw the pans with the caked on grease and such in the fireplace with a nice roaring fire. They get red-hot and all of the gunk burns off. Just leave them in the fireplace until everything cools. Wash the ashes off the pan and re-season. Easy as pie and it is the right time of year for a nice fire in the fireplace. My Dad's 91 and he said they did this every year when he was a kid.

                              11 Replies
                              1. re: empressfrancis

                                I picked up a skillet at a big yard sale that was sticky and had lots of build up inside and out. I got a wood fire going in the BBQ pit and put it in there over night. The next day i washed it and dried it good but the inside had a red rust look to it, so i got a SOS pad and scrubed the inside of the skillet for about 30 minutes untill it had a dull shine to it and then oiled and baked it for an hour at 300 degress.
                                This is the first time I have tried to bring an old skillet back to life, so what do you think did I clean it enough, is this thing ready to use?

                                1. re: BigDog741

                                  Sounds perfect to me. Yes, the SOS is my tool of choice and I applaud your using 30 minutes of elbow grease! That pan will be someing you can pass on to your heirs! Bravo!

                                  1. re: empressfrancis

                                    Thanks, just wanted to check with someone, Didn't want to wind up with lock jaw!

                                    1. re: BigDog741

                                      LOL I've been eating out of cast iron (without even getting all of that "red stuff" out as scrupulously as you did) since I was able to go off the baby bottle. Am now about to collect SS and am still using the old cast iron my parents got USED when they were married in the 40's. Imagine some of it has got to be close to 100 years old by now. I still pick some pieces up at thrift stores and garage sales from time to time. Clean them up via the fireplace and re-season and they are good to go. Some I keep and some I give as gifts. Again...it will last for generations so love it and treat it well. BTW, it will horrify some, but we always washed ours out after use with the last of the dishwater in the sink...BUT we always dried it on the stove with the flame...never any rust that way. We oiled on an as-needed basis, and mostly it got it's dose from just frying a steak or such. Enjoy!!!

                                      1. re: empressfrancis

                                        I'm really glad you said it's ok to wash our skillets with the dish water, I've been reading all these posts that say you should just wipe'em down or just use hot water and not to offend anyone, it made my skin crawl.

                                        1. re: BigDog741

                                          I wash my cast iron and carbon steel cookware with detergent.... though I don't and won't do it all the time. I think it is perfectly fine to do it occasionally.

                                          1. re: BigDog741

                                            Well, everybody's got to do what works for them. The thing you have to keep in mind is that washing with dish soap (We even used SOS pads and "Chore Girl" copper scrubbers.) takes off the oils you seasoned them with, so you must get them really, really dry and a hot stove is the best for that. If you will only use the pan occasionally, but I can't imagine why, but if so, I'd suggest oiling again, particularly if you live in a really damp area or pack up to only use when camping. Then wash before using. We have used ours daily for half a century plus so I never worry about that re-oiling. I only do that if I've done the fireplace treatment. Relax. Remember, that you are getting healthy eating with the pans by adding extra iron to your diet each time, too! In time you will make memories for your family. "Mom always fried chicken in this pan." "This is Daddy's corn bread pan." "We always melted the butter for the popcorn in this little pan." :-)

                                            1. re: empressfrancis

                                              BTW I NEVER NEVER NEVER put it in the dishwasher.... The detergent is too harsh, and some well-meaning person did that once and I ended up with a rusty pan and had to start over...

                                              1. re: empressfrancis

                                                Ms. Francis, I took my flea market skillet for a test drive this morning with a pan of Williams sausage (patties not link) an she did just fine! My wife bless her heart can't cook sausage to save her neck, her words not mine, so that's my job. It taste so much better than when cooked in one Paula Deens WONDER PANS. To steal a line from Gen. Mcarthur: Old Iron skillets don't die, they just rust away: well this old soldier is refit and ready to keep on cookin' for along time to come.

                                                1. re: BigDog741

                                                  :-) My Daddy'd be proud of you! You now have an heirloom! Sunday blessings to you!

                                              2. re: BigDog741

                                                Why would that make your skinc crawl? When you cook in the pan, it kills anything that might be growing on it?