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Oct 21, 2010 10:41 AM

ruined seasoning on grandmother's cast iron pans

Hi. I'm new here and a pretty inconsistant cook (but I love food and am improving). Anyway, I inherited my grandmother's cast iron pans and didn't know better and used them to simmer tomato based sauces. The acid ruined the 70-some year seasoning and now black bits of carbon are flaking off.

Please don't say, "Just continue to use it."

I don't want to eat the little black bits of carbon.

Would I ruin these pans if I sanded off the flakey stuff?

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  1. Hi Kristin -

    No, you won't ruin the pans if you sand them down -- some people recommend steel wool instead or even just a plastic scrubby (maybe with some kosher salt) if the flaking isn't too severe. Cast iron is pretty durable -- you can usually save even a pan that's completely rusted all over by sanding it down and cleaning it up.

    However, if you strip off a lot of the seasoning, you will need to reseason. Searching these forums will give you lots of opinions on the proper way to do that, but basically it involves putting some form of oil on the pan and heating it. Beyond that, there are lots of opinions on the proper temperature, type of oil, duration, etc.

    Anyhow -- the good news is the pans are not permanently damaged. It may take a little work to return them to their previous state, though, depending on how much seasoning is flaking off.

    1. Athanasius,

      Assuming you really do not want to just keep using the cookware, sanding is fine.

      Another approach to burn off muc (or all) of the seasoning. You can put the pan on the stove (with nothing in it) and heat it up. Eventually, smoke will start coming out and start burning off the seasoning. This should thin out the seasoning surface. You can simply remove the entire seasoning if you want. Pop the pan in the oven and put it through the self-cleaning oven mode for 2-6 hours.

      2 Replies
      1. re: Chemicalkinetics

        Chem -

        Yes, I agree. I didn't mean to imply that sanding was bad, only that it may not be necessary depending on how much damage has been made to the seasoning. At least one time in the past, I had some flaking in a cast iron pan, and with a little scrubbing and kosher salt, I got off almost all the loose bits. I probably still had black bits for one or two more cooking sessions, but then they went away. No reseasoning was necessary.

        Of course, if the damage is more severe, you're going to have to strip it further -- with sandpaper or whatever.

        I discovered the burning off approach by accident a few years ago (before I started reading stuff on CH or doing significant research on cast iron). I have an extra skillet I started using as a steam pan for bread baking, which I place on the floor of my oven and preheat before adding water right before putting the bread in. After a few months of this high temperature treatment, I was almost down to bare cast iron.

        1. re: athanasius


          I am not disagree with you. Sanding is a great method. Depending the situation, sometime it is easier to sand and something it is just easier to burn off the seasoning.

          Yeah, I think I alos discovered the burning off thing more of less by accident.

      2. Thanks, all. I think I'll sand it. I wish I had known about the tomato sauce thing...