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Sticky Cast Iron

I'm sorry to start a new topic as I know cast iron has been discussed very thoroughly, but I just want a quick answer to a specific question and I haven't found it yet in 20 minutes of reading old threads.

I botched the re-seasoning of a cast-iron skillet by not wiping enough oil out (and possibly baking at too low heat). I've found plenty of tips on how to properly season it next time, but what's the best way to strip off the sticky goo first? That stuff is tenacious! Any tricks, or is it just loads of soap, steel wool, and elbow grease?

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  1. Do you mean the sticky gummy yellowish substance? The following is what I do, but I am sure there are better methods somewhere. You can scrap most of the gummy substance with thin semi-flexible scarpes like an old credit card or a thin spatula. This will get most of the substance off. Then, I will put enough baking soda to thinnly cover the pan with minimal amount of water, maybe 1-2 drops of water. You want to form a thick paste of baking soda, while not dissolving the baking soda. The baking soda will loosen gummy substance with the pan and it will stick to gummy substance, making it easier to remove the substance. You may have to do this 2-3 times to get most of it off. Again use a scarper or a brush to remove it.

    I find baking soda to be much more effective than hand soap. You can use steel wool, but you may ruin it because the gummy substance will stick to the steel wool and will be very difficult to get all of it off. A metal brush or hard brush is better, but even then I will first scarp most of the gummy substance off withan old credit card off.

    Let me know if this helps.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Chemicalkinetics

      I'm not sure if it's yellowish-- I suppose it could be, once you remove it from the pan where it all just looks black. Scraping before washing sounds like a good idea, and yes, regular soap seems to be pretty useless in these cases.

    2. Assuming I understand you correctly and the gunky stuff is just vegetable oil that has gelled, so to speak, if it were my cast iron pan and I didn't mind smoking up the house a bit, I would just put it in the oven or on a burner and crank up the heat and let it caramelize. There's also some chance that heating it will turn the goo to a semi liquid that could be wiped out with paper towels and a very well protected hand, then heat to caramelize. Often times you can also clean a cast iron pan by heating it, then scrubbing it with plain old dry table salt. The sharp edges of the salt crystals will cut and polish the finish with very minimal (if any) damage to the cure. And my experience is that regular table salt has better scrubbing power than kosher or sea salt. Good luck! I think I'd try heating and wiping and/or the salt before cranking up the heat and letting the smoke settle where it may. But if all else fails and you have an outdoor barbecue.... '-)

      1. Agreed with the above. Toss it back in the oven at 350 for 30 minutes, then raise 375 for another 30 minutes, then raise again to 400 for another 30. Then turn the oven off, leaving the door closed, and let it cool. Voila. I'm saying 3 escalating temperature steps of 30 minutes each because if the layer is too thick, it won't de-gas properly and won't be as strong as it should be if heated too fast too soon.

        1. I have successfully removed by heating the pan on the stovetop and wiping with kosher salt, never tried the oven method. Stove top works very well. Good luck!

          1. Or, if you want to start over, spray it with Easy Off, put it in a sealed plastic bag, and check in in about 24 hours. (outside is best, but here, it's too cold, now...ymmv)

            3 Replies
            1. re: Beckyleach

              Do NOT use Easy Off on surfaces that will come in contact with food! ESPECIALLY porous surfaces like cast iron.

              1. re: Caroline1

                Easy Off and its generic equivalents are merely lye, long used in the manufacturer of both soap and things to eat, like hominy.

                A thorough washing--I soak my lye-cleaned cast iron in soapy water for about an hour--and then re-seasoning works just fine.

                I'm very picky about what I ingest (long ago quit chemical-laden foods, no HFCS, almost all natural fibers in my clothing and bedding, etc.) but lye doesn't worry me....admittedly, the FUMES are horrible, but I found that cheaper versions of oven cleaner were less nasty, and--of course--I never sprayed anything anywhere but outside, in fresh air.

                1. re: Caroline1

                  Previously, lye was among the many different alkalis leached from hardwood ashes.[1] ...
                  ... Lye is valued for its use in food preparation, soap making, biodiesel production, and household uses, such as oven cleaner and drain opener.


              2. Look, the sticky stuff happened because you didn't clean your cast iron after use. There's no secret. Use plain water (and yes, you can use soap -- sparingly) and some ordinary salt (kosher if you have it). You can buy a hard rubber scraper but an old credit card will work too and scrape off as much as you can. Then take a rag and rub that salt onto the wet surface until all the sticky gunk is gone. It takes a bit of elbow grease but it will come off. Then rinse the pan with plain water. Wipe dry. Now take a few drops of your favorite oil and wipe all the surfaces with a very thin coating. Take a clean paper towel and wipe the excess off.

                A well-seasoned cast iron will feel dry to the touch and look rather dull. It gets smoother over time.

                Use the pan.

                1 Reply
                1. re: Ambimom

                  Nope, I clean it after use-- The sticky stuff happened because I tried to reseason the pan by wiping it with oil and leaving it in a warm oven for a while, and I used too much oil and low heat.

                  Unfortunately I think one of my roommates has been scrubbing the seasoning off (which is why it needed reseasoning in the first place). I told him about the no-soap rule, so maybe he's ignoring it or maybe he's scrubbing too hard.

                2. One more thing....DO NOT USE CAUSTIC CHEMICALS on cast iron unless you are either a licensed blacksmith or a chemist. Plain water, salt, a occasionally a minute amount of dish soap is all you'll ever need.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Ambimom

                    Why not? What will happen? Why is it ok for licensed blacksmith or chemists?

                  2. I will probably try salt, then baking soda if that doesn't work. I'm a little skeptical of trying to fix it by just heating it more-- If I try that 3-stage heating thing and the results aren't satisfactory, will the goop then be even more difficult to remove?

                    I have a busy weekend ahead of me so I will probably do this next week, and I will report back with results.

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: sonia darrow

                      I will scrap what you can first with an old credit card, then you can use salt and baking soda for the finer removal. You will not completely remove all of the sticky residue by just a scrap and salt. So now, you heat up the pan on stove and season whatever still on the pan.

                      1. re: sonia darrow

                        You can burn it off entirely in the self-cleaning cycle of an oven, if you're afraid of lye.

                        Of course, you'll need to re-season after that, but it seems you know, now, that you need to season at a higher temperature. I've seasoned about 50 pieces of cast iron in the past year and a half; none came out "sticky" once I was advised by collectors to ignore those "350 degree" recommendations from some manufacturers' websites. I go with 475 and get great results.

                      2. Well, I'm afraid I can't report back about what methods I tried and how they worked: Before I got around to it, my roommate used the pan again and it's been completely stripped back down again! Actually my boyfriend used it too so I'm not sure who's responsible for the repeated stripping of the cast iron. Since this time it actually needed stripping, I'm not going to complain to anyone. I will just re-season more carefully, and then maybe hide the pan in a tall cupboard if this continues to be a problem.

                        Anyways, I guess the sticky oil must not have been too tenacious... I just assumed it was since I've dealt with semi-polymerized oil before and it's generally pretty horrible.

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: sonia darrow

                          Crumpled-up aluminum foil works well to remove "stuff" from cast iron -- no matter you melt it or de-gunk it in a solid state. Then wash with dishwasher detergent, rinse very well, heat to dry and re-season.

                          1. re: sonia darrow

                            don't let these vagabonds use your cast iron! I probably wouldn't even let a roommate use a stainless fry pan unless I knew they wouldn't bollocks it up :D. There were times where I'd leave my cast iron with stuff on overnight, rinse it under hot water the next morning, get the stuff off, then dry and make eggs with butter and still have next to no stickiness - sometimes there would be some if scrubbing was involved.

                            if this happens again, the "nuclear" option of a self cleaning oven is possible. Also works with pizza stones.

                          2. Vegetable oil is unsturated and polymerizes easily at heat, giving goo. Animal fat has no double bonds an is much better. Lard, bacon fat, etc.

                            As to fixing badly seasoned cast iron, the easiest way I have found is, as suggested above, a trip through the self-cleaning cycle of the oven and then start over.

                            7 Replies
                            1. re: therealdoctorlew

                              i have asked this stupid question on other threads but never received an answer - in those cases it was more questioning the bacon fat as an ingredient but .... don't laugh.... how does one get bacon fat? Must you make bacon and reserve the fat? Is that the only way? I know --- very stupid question.

                              1. re: smilingal

                                I fyou must get bacon fat, then you get it from cooking bacon. Many people save the left over fat from bacon.

                                As for using bacon fat for seasoning cast iron/carbon steel cookware, it is really about using lard. Bacon fat is just an easier and cheaper alternative for other people. The goal is lard, not bacon fat.

                                1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                  thanks - I was really inquiring how to get that when a recipe calls for it - so going one step further - having seen in professional kitchens bacon baked on a baking sheet in the oven - does that accumulate the bacon grease as well? - and how long can bacon grease be kept in the fridge?
                                  Oh - and another P.S. - lard = Crisco?

                                  1. re: smilingal

                                    I don't know exactly how long, but it should be pretty long. Many people keep their bacon fat at room temperature in the kitchen.

                                    Lard is not Crisco. Lard is pig's fat. It can be used to refer the unrendered or the rendered form. Crisco is really just hydrogenated vegetable oil. The hydrogenation solidify the liquid vegetable oil.

                                    1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                      so by your name it seems you know the technical background, but if one needs to cook with lard - where do you get that?

                                      1. re: smilingal

                                        The grocery store. A butcher. Make it yourself.

                                        1. re: smilingal


                                          Well, you can get a bunch of meat and cut out the pig fat and render it yourself, but most people don't do that.

                                          There are various commercially hydrogenated lard, which can be found in most supermarkets and inexpensive. Armour Lard is a good example:


                                          These lards have been hydrogenated to extend the shelf life. Some claim that these lards do not taste right. I have never tried them.

                                          You can always buy the real natural lard. The easiest place I notice is from the local farmer market.

                              2. citra-solv will get that stuff right off! then you can start the seasoning process again. citra-solv works on a lot of different kinds of problems. i couldn't believe how fast it removed the sticky grease stuff you're talking about! i've had to throw pans away before because i couldn't remove it. not anymore!

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: felanie77

                                  Which Citra-Solv product do you recommend? The Concentrate or Multi-Purpose Cleaner & Degreaser?

                                2. Lots of answers, varied results. My way is not the only way, but I believe it is the best way. My Mother was an Iowa farm girl, Grandma a Nebraska Native. I have cooked with cast iron for many (20?) yrs. I have made errors, and have gummed up an old Griswold pretty badly - comes from too much oil/Crisco/fat/....you get the picture - upright and not upside-down. For the record - Flaxseed oil is the only thing I will use to season.

                                  Warm the pan up a little on the stove - not too hot that you can't handle it. Remove from heat. Sprinkle some baking soda on it, and some course salt. Cut a potato in half. Use the potato to scrub the pan. Rinse and repeat with the other half of the potato. Hint - don't eat the potato.

                                  1. Thanks for the great comments. I got distracted while refreshing the seasoning of my cast iron skillet, carelessly forgot to wipe out the oil with a paper towel before putting the pan in the oven and ended up with the sticky mess that others have reported.

                                    This is what worked for me.

                                    I heated the pan on my stovetop until it was just smoking (yes, I'd left so much oil in the skillet that the gummy mess started to smoke). I then dumped in table salt and used a firm (but not wire) kitchen brush to abrade the gummy level. The first application yielded a brownish salt muck in the skillet. It took two more applications of the salt to get a relatively clear residue. I'd messed it up so thoroughly that the pan was still a bit tacky around the edges so I repeated the entire process (heated pan and applied the salt x3) and the problem was solved. I then re-seasoned it properly.

                                    Moral of the story? Do it right the first time.