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Nov 26, 2009 07:48 PM

Cast iron help, please!

I did a google search about cast iron and I read this very loooong and good thread here:

I have been using cast iron for about 2 years now. My first pan was a Lodge skillet, which was nearly ruined due to poor cleaning - not by me! But I saved it, or so I thought ... it's still not non-stick, though I have tried. After reading the thread above, I see what I didn't do right.

Okay, so here is the question. I have 3 skillets by Lodge, and a 6 qt. from IKEA. The big one gets rusty when the seasoning comes off. The middle one is the best, but scrambled eggs still stick in it a bit. The littlest one is newer, and still has the pre-seasoned stuff, that I didn't remove before I seasoned it with my not-so-awesome method. The 6 qt does fine - nothing seems to stick to it. I think it was pre-seasoned with something, or maybe enameled? But then, I don't make eggs in this pot ... I know it's not truly non-stick.

Should I strip them down to nothing and start fresh? I would LOVE to have cast iron skillets that are TRULY non-stick. Mine are great for most things, and I use them for everything.

Thanks for any advice!

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  1. Seasoned cast iron isn't completely non-stick, you'll still need to use some oil/fat/grease to get good release when cooking, especially eggs.

    As for starting from scratch.... "if it ain't broke...."

    Try it on the problematic Lodge skillet first. And remember the basics:

    1. It's gotta be CLEAN before you season it. The only exception is if there's old seasoning that won't come off unless you scrub excessively hard.
    2. It's gotta be DRY before you season it.
    3. It's gotta be uncomfortably WARM when you put the coat of oil/fat/grease on it that you'll be seasoning with.
    4. You want as THIN a coat as possible. Wipe it out with a clean paper towel so that it only looks 'wetted' with oil or grease.
    5. You need HEAT... 350 to 450 degrees (400F)
    6. You need TIME for the destructive distillation / polymerization / pyrolysis / carbonization of the coating to happen (about an hour with a thin coat at 400 deg. F)

    You're going to read a lot of advice about seasoning cast iron, and encounter the great "vegetable oil / Crisco / Bacon / peanut oil / mineral oil is best" debate (really doesn't matter) but you'll be fine as long as you avoid the common mistakes:

    - Too thick a coat of grease. Grease is hydrogen, carbon and some oxygen. The heat breaks it down into its components. Note hydrogen and oxygen are gases, and also note that they need to escape from the 'thickening' grease. Too thick and your seasoning layer ends up porous and weak because it's full of bubbles.
    - Too hot or not hot enough. You *need* a minimum of about 338 degrees to decompose oil. But at 338 deg. it takes _forever_. Over 450 degrees and you're pushing the process too fast, and not giving the gases time to diffuse through the polymerizing hydrocarbon chains forming in your seasoning.
    - Not enough time, including a gradual cool-down. Give it an hour at temp, then turn off the oven and let it cool down slowly.
    - Too many layers - Don't do more than 2 layers of seasoning this way *without* cooking in the pan between seasonings.

    Imagine you're trying to make a hockey puck out of unleavened bread. Too thick and the middle will never carbonize, too hot and the steam will make it puff up before it carbonizes, or could excessively char the outside. Not long enough and the middle won't be completely burnt.

    17 Replies
    1. re: ThreeGigs

      Thank you! :-) I'll work on the biggest skillet first and see how things go. My biggest problem before was putting to much Crisco on the pan, too thick. I thought more was better ... not so, I have now learned!

      1. re: ThreeGigs

        Oh, what about the rust that is on the skillet? What should I scrub that off with?

        1. re: spyderk

          For light rust, a Scotch Brite pad should work. If you need to get more aggressive, try steel wool (Brillo and SOS are fine, don't worry about the soap) or sandpaper. Power tools shouldn't be necessary, just a bit of elbow grease. Rinse well with hot water and dry pronto on the stovetop. A light schmear of shortening will get you back to where you want to be.

          Totally don't get the concept of stripping off pre-seasoning. (For that matter, don't get the concept of regular stripping off perfectly good seasoning and re-seasoning. Unless the pan is getting crusty, leave it be.) It is as good a start as any -- regular use is key to getting the pan the way it ought to be.

        2. re: ThreeGigs

          Two thumbs up ThreeGigs. that is the only way to season cast iron. No fancy oils or high temp oils, Crisco is good because it is low temp and don't worry about trans fats, they all get burned off. I only use mineral oil to wipe seasoned cast iron for long term storage (oils get rancid). The way I season all my cast iron is: turn oven to 150 degrees, add bare pan for about 10 min., remove, turn oven up to 400-450 degrees, wipe pan with grease, put pan in oven UPSIDE DOWN, wait till done smoking, wait another hour than turn off oven, let cool in oven till cool (over night). Do this one more time and start cooking. It may not be black but a some what copper color, don't worry, it will turn black with time and love.

          1. re: yakitat jack

            I've been experimenting and it seems that my vintage cast iron will get a darker color on the first seasoning (after I've stripped it down to bare metal) IF I cook it UNoiled at about 450 for a few hours, first. Then, I cool it down a bit, oil (I go back and forth between Crisco and olive oil) and crank the oven back up to nearly 500. If you take the pieces out every 15 mintues and wipe them down (using tongs! hot pads!) you'll be much less likely to end up with "leopard spots" on your finish.

          2. re: ThreeGigs

            Thank you for your post! I just bought my first Lodge CI skillet (10 1/4") and I absolutely love it. It came pre-seasoned but kinda felt like 50-grit sandpaper honestly.

            I'm treating this thing like my baby and have cooked on it everyday since I purchased it last week: steak, pork chops and chicken (with skin). I'm not a huge fan of bacon so I haven't tried that yet.

            I don't know how "smooth" or "non-stick" its supposed to be after being well-seasoned, but I have heard people talk about "ice rinks" and "oil slicks". I can't really imagine that since mine is very coarse and gritty. I would imagine a fair bit would have to cake itself on there until it could reach that point. Even then, won't it be gummy? Or should it be hard like a rock?

            So far what I've done to try to season it is: cook whatever on it (so far just pork, chicken and steak) and let it cool down when done, our salt on it, scrub it till the gunk gets off, rinse it in warm water, dry it with paper towels. At this point it looks like when I first bought it - except for a slight darker discoloration. I then put it on the stove on max until it's bone dry then wipe some olive oil on it and spread it around with a paper towl then stow it away.

            I have also tried to wipe some olive oil on the inside and stick it in the oven at 200F for an hour hoping to accelerate the seasoning process, but it just seems that the olive oil has heated up.

            I don't have many oils or Crisco for that matter. I did find some macadamia nut oil though. @ThreeGigs, do you recommend I try your method with olive oil or macadamia nut oil? I don't mind doing this all day, I really want a seasoned pan!

            1. re: classacts

              The oil you use really doesn't matter. Well, so long as it's reasonably pure. Some people swear by bacon fat, some by crisco, some by peanut oil. If you want to get really technical, a saturated fat should, in theory, make for a better seasoning agent than mono- or poly-unsaturated fat, and solid fats (as opposed to oils) should again, in theory, be better since they're more polymerized to begin with than oils.... but, in practice it truly doesn't matter enough to worry about.

              Just remember: nothing is going to happen unless the temperature is 350 degrees or higher. Whatever you put on won't decompose otherwise (and by decompose I mean a chemical reaction, not rotting). 400 degrees is good, you can hurry things up a bit by going to 450 degrees, and if you want to be a perfectionist, you'd want to bake your seasoning for an hour at each temperature successively: 350, 400, and 450 degrees. But that wastes energy and the difference between baking for an hour at 400, letting it cool and then using it to cook something is minimal, and only results in a slightly more durable coating of seasoning.

              1. re: ThreeGigs

                I'm not trying to argue with you, but many many people who put more thought into reconditioning and seasoning cast iron than they do into raising their children season in a 250 degree oven with excellent results. I've done it and it works just fine. I prefer to bump up to the higher temps at the end because it makes a much darker initial seasoning, but with a nice thin coat of your seasoning compound of choice 60 or 90 minutes at 250 degrees will put a perfectly good season on any pan. The biggest thing that most people do wrong in seasoning is applying way too much oil, lard, Pam, or whatever they're using which then turns into a sticky, gummy mess at pretty much any temperature. Apply your season then wipe off as much of it as you possibly can until you think there's none left at all, then wipe it again. After it cooks for 15 minutes take it out and wipe it yet again, and one more time at 30 minutes. Doing it this way either 250, 400, 450, or some combination of those three starting low and ramping up will work just fine.

              2. re: classacts

                If you're looking for an "ice rink" inside of a modern lodge pan prepare to cook in it daily for many years. It will happen eventually, but there isn't a magic button. When people talk about ice rinks and oil slicks they're almost always talking about vintage cast iron like Griswold. It was cast better and cast from higher quality ore and handled differently after casting. An 80 year old CI skillet will have a perfectly smooth bottom even when stripped down to bare metal, not the rough sandy texture you find in a modern lodge. It isn't an exaggeration to say that if you season well you can take a raw stripped Griswold and cook eggs in it with no sticking immediately after the initial seasoning. I've done it. A lodge will get there, but it takes longer and it will never look as pretty.

                Also, I would skip the salt unless there's something stubborn on the pan that you're trying to scour away. Try just very hot water and a stiff brush. If that takes everything off then call it good. If it doesn't take everything off, next time don't let your pan cool completely before you clean it. That should help a lot as well.

                1. re: chuff

                  Thanks ThreeGigs and chuff for your insight. I bought a half dozen eggs for the first time in years and I guess I won't be able to cook them like all the youtube videos I've seen. I'll opt for a lot of butter when cooking them instead.

                  I will try to wipe off as much of the oil as possible when seasoning it next time... I just don't understand how a microfilm of oil will really do anything at all... I don't mind seasoning it all day until it's smooth but I just want to make sure I'm doing it right and not wasting energy and oil.

                  I will try to put a very small amount of oil on the inside, wipe it down until it's barely there anymore then I'll bake it at 250 for 30 minutes then bump it to 400 for 30 minutes. What should I do after that?

                  If I can get a tried and true method down, I'll rinse and repeat for weeks if needed.. Just hope someday my gritty CI pan will resemble my grandma's Griswold.

                  Speaking of old school pans, are these hard to come by and are they expensive? Where can I find one (I'm in Manhattan) and does it matter who I buy it from? I suppose a second hand pan should be fine since I would be able to re-season it.

                  Thanks again!

                  1. re: classacts

                    I got the cast iron bug about a year ago and have since purchased probably 20 vintage pieces off of Ebay, with only one dud.

                    However, if you want to avoid the risk of getting fleeced, you might want to go over to the Wagner and Griswold Society forums, and simply put in a request. I've dealt with these sellers, as well, and they are amazingly trustworthy and have better prices than Ebay. My first request--for a #10 Griswold skillet--was met immediately with an offer of one for just TWENTY FIVE dollars, even though they were selling for twice that on Ebay, at the time.

                    I've since joined the Society, myself, because I was so impressed with the quality of the people I "met" there.


                    1. re: classacts

                      Well I seasoned it as @ThreeGigs outlined 5 times in a row yesterday. It seems to be a bit more smooth.. maybe like 100 grit sandpaper now. I'm using macadamia oil. How many times do you think it will take to be ice-rink smooth? I fried eggs on it today with oil and butter but they still stuck.

                      Any other suggestions to help season it faster?

                      1. re: classacts

                        classacts, We hate to be the bearer of bad news, but we bought a Lodge skillet in 1980, and gave up on it in January of this year, so the answer to your question is: at least 29 years. Of course, in 1980, we did not have the benefit of ThreeGigs's excellent and detailed advice -- I wish that we had -- but the procedure that we followed was very close to the ThreeGigs method, and we followed it, time after time after time, for 29 years -- and at the end of 2008 it still it was not glass smooth, and things stuck. The degree of roughness of the Lodge surface was simply more than the seasoning could fill in; the "valleys" got shallower, but the "peaks" were still there. And the wear resistance of the cast iron "peaks" to years of exposure to stainless steel spatulas scraping across the surface is simply amazing.

                        Finally, early this year, we broke down and bought a Griswold via eBay; we paid under $20 for a #9 skillet/griddle. We used the self-cleaning oven trick to strip what probably was a pretty good seasoning layer when we bought it (but echos of generations of mommies' "put that down, Johnny, you don't know where it's been" made us do it for sanitary reasons), and seasoned it anew, and it was "ice rink" from the first day.

                        The trick in buying Griswold cast iron on eBay is to pass on all auctions lacking one word, "Erie," and lacking one phrase, "sits flat," and to avoid the pieces that are collectors' items. The collectors items often sell at three-digit prices, but they do not COOK any better than the non-collectors items.

                        1. re: Politeness

                          Right. Your average sized Griswold skillet (a number 8 is the most ubiquitous) in either a "block" large logo (my preference) or small logo (1940s-'50's) is your best bet. Slant logo (like italics) is older; often more expensive. Next in order of frequency and thus lower price, probably, are #3, #5, #9, #10...then #7 and #6. Number 4's often are quite expensive--depends on the variation--and 11s, 12, and (never even seen one!) 13's are getting into high dollar collector territory.

                          ERIES (pre-Griswolds) actually can be had for a fairly decent price in sizes 9 and 8.

                          You might also consider any Favorite Piqua Ware skillet (I like them all! They went out of business in 1934, so you know you're getting a good one), or any Wapak skillet (except stay clear of the Indian Head motif. Those often are reproduced and sold, fraudulently, as originals)--especially those with the "Z" slash under the Wapak name. That company went out of business in 1926, so once again you're sure you're getting vintage. I've found #8s and #9s in these sizes to be quite reasonable, too.

                          1. re: Beckyleach

                            Ditto on the old cast iron. There is still plenty of it out there.

                            BTW, My favorite way of keeping seasoning on an (already seasoned) CI skillet is making southern style cornbread in it regularly.

                        2. re: classacts

                          Man, I wish I knew that. I mean, I've seen pictures of the old CI skillets and you can tell the quality of the casting is that much better.

                          I suppose I will have to order some Griswolds off ebay then. I love cooking in CI so much I don't care about spending extra money. I don't care about collectors items, I just want something with character and that cooks well.

                          My lodge is 10 1/4", is that a #8? I like the size as it not too big and I can cook a steak or 2 pork chops on it at the same time. I suppose for my purposes, I need a CI DO, 2 10 1/4"s, a smaller one for corn bread (I'm single) and a ribbed skillet for putting lines on meat and a griddle (flat that spreads over 2 burners).

                          Does griswold have all those? For the DO, I cook a lot of things with tomatoes (chili, stuffed cabbage, etc..) so I probably be best getting LC.

                          1. re: classacts

                            Here's a size comparison chart for the skillets, at least.


                            Your 10" skillet would correspond to a number 8...Griswold made lots of different sizes of dutch ovens, as well, in smaller sizes (hard to find until you get to #7) thru #13 (extraordinarily expensive when found at all!). Once again, a number 8 would be the most common and thus least expensive. Those grill pans are a pretty recent innovation, I think. You probably won't find anything earlier than the 1960's in that.

                            I find that I tend to "need" both a cast iron and an enameled cast iron dutch oven, because I get a better sear and nice, crusty bits when doing pot roasts and meat dishes, whereas the Le Creuset-types are better for slow braising and, of course, acidic ingredients.